Amendment to shorten the wait for foster parents

Every year, hundreds of children without parents wait for a foster family, either through adoption or foster care. It can be a long haul. The amendment to the Act on Social Protection of Children by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MLSA) is intended to shorten this time.

Prospective foster parents still have to wait about a year from the first application to the child’s adoption, during which they must undergo mandatory training and assessment, including psychological evaluations. For applicants for adoption, the process is often much longer.

Moreover, the regional authorities responsible for foster care often prolonged this peripeteia. The capacity of training centers varies from county to county, and the waiting times in some are disproportionate.

The amendment should be in force by January of next year. For example, it provides that an applicant for foster family care does not have to undergo training and professional assessment in the county where they reside but anywhere in the country. Foster parents who take a child will not be automatically removed from the register, which is what happened today. They will not have to undergo the training and psychological tests again if they decide to have another child.

“The current system of foster care mediation is lengthy and administratively demanding, especially before applicants are registered with the relevant regional authority. One of the important modifications is, for example, the standardization and simplification of the professional assessment of the applicants’ psychological capacity,” Jakub Augusta from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs said.

The amendment also provides an increase in the state allowance for accompanying organizations for foster parents, which amounts to CZK 48,000 a year per family. According to the amendment, it should be increased to 66,000 if they are long-term foster parents and to 72,000 for so-called “transitional foster parents,” who mostly have young children in their care and can only have them for one year.

A step towards the abolition of infant institutions

With the adoption of the amendment, the Czech Republic will move closer to the dissolution of infant institutions for vulnerable children under the age of three, which should close by 2025 at the latest.

Experts welcome the legislative changes introduced by the Ministry of Marian Jurečka (KDU-ČSL). “The amendment reflects the experience of the last ten years. The big problem with foster family care is the long, non-transparent, and complicated process that foster parents and adoptive parents go through. Sometimes it even discourages applicants,” Barbora Křižanová of the 8000 Reasons initiative, which helps homeless children, told Právo. The name is derived from the total number of children in institutions of various types.

“In some regions, there is indeed a very long wait for the preparation, and it is right if the applicant can complete it in another region,” Křižanová said. “We also welcome the significant steps toward repealing the law that anchors infant institutions. We have long observed that the number of children under three in these facilities has declined. At the moment, there are 138 of them in the whole country. The concept of institutional facilities for these children is outdated; there is no need for them,” she said.

She added, however, that the ministry’s top priority should be prevention and support for biological families. “This is a fundamental problem that the amendment does not address. It is about removing the causes of children being removed from their families, often for socio-economic reasons. For example, a law on affordable housing would help,” Křižanová said.

Finally, there will be an overview

The bill also enshrines in law for the first time that counties must keep records of applicants and available children. A central register of foster parents and children available for foster care has long been called for by professional organizations and, for example, by Pirate Deputy Speaker of the House Olga Richterová.

“For a long time, we have wanted it to be known across the country where there are free children and foster parents, and this is now being introduced. If it is used sensibly, I believe that fears about children and foster carers being too far away will not be realized,” Richterová said. Until now, regional authorities have been reluctant to cooperate much with foster parents from elsewhere, arguing precisely that taking a child from one region to the other end of the country might be contrary to the child’s best interests.

However, the foster associations are concerned about what the practice will be. The amendment introduces a register of foster parents and children only for individual regions, with the proviso that if no suitable foster parent can be found for a child in an area, the authority should immediately contact another part. “There needs to be a real, central registry that can be consulted by authorized persons when a suitable family is sought,” Radka Švecová, head of the Professional Association of Transitional Foster Parents, said.

“The way it works now is that the county sends inquiries to other counties, asking if they have a family available. This often takes up to thirty days and prolongs the child’s stay in transitional care or an institution. The current regulation does not address that either, and we will comment on it,” Švecová said.

There are roughly 11 000 foster parents in the Czech Republic, about half of whom are so-called “kinship foster parents” who take care of their grandchildren, nephews, and nieces.