The number of children in state care has increased significantly in the Czech Republic due to housing shortages and other issues. According to a report by the 8000 Reasons initiative in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports, the number of children living with foster parents or in children’s homes has increased by a third since 2009. While 18,600 children lived with foster parents or in children’s homes fourteen years ago, there were 24,700 children in such situations at the end of 2020, an increase of 6100.
The report cites gaps in covering basic needs such as food, hygiene, and safety as the most common reasons for placing children outside their immediate families. Housing shortages, which often result in families living in hostels, are another factor. Child abuse or neglect is the reason for removing children from their families in one out of ten cases.
Barbora Křižanová, the initiative’s manager, noted that housing shortages are often the first problem a family faces and can escalate into other problems that are difficult to address. Without adequate housing, it is challenging for people to maintain proper hygiene or prepare their children for school. “For families in debt and housing shortages, it is difficult to meet the needs of their children, although they would be able to do so in many cases if they were in a different situation,” added Jan Klusáček, a ministry analyst.
One client of the Housing First project, which involves the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, shared her experience of having six children and living in a three-room city apartment. “But my past is not very nice because we didn’t have stable housing. We usually weren’t given contract extensions, so we ended up on the street with our children,” she said anonymously.
While these families could keep their children, one mother lost hers due to debt and living in unsuitable accommodations. The children were returned to her after two months when the organization found her new housing. The organization’s coordinator, Eva Nedomová, said that Romani families, in particular, face similar difficulties finding rental housing.
While economic or housing conditions should not be the reason for removing a child from their family, they are often a contributing factor that disrupts a child’s upbringing to the point where it cannot be provided in the family environment, according to Aneta Lednová, a ministry spokesperson. Pavla Skálová, head of the social affairs department in Šumperk, also acknowledged that there must be more reasons for removing a child from their family than just housing.
Pavel Šmýd, the Foster Family Association chairman, added that parents may not have the necessary parenting skills to care for their children, even if they want to. “There are many reasons parents cannot take care of their children; some suffer from addiction and other problems,” he said.
The report found that children are often removed from families in regions with high rates of excluded localities, such as the Ústí, Karlovy Vary, Moravian-Silesian, or Plzeň regions. Excessive debt is another factor that plays a role in removing children from families.
Barbora Křižanová noted that while services are available to support these families, they are often insufficiently staffed or located in areas away from where they are needed. “These services are available, but especially in regions with problems, they are understaffed, and when they reach the child, it is often too late. They cannot support families to the extent required. And yet there are families where a small intervention would suffice,” she said.