Situation of children in alternative care under the spotlight in Portugal

Only 3% of Portuguese children in out-of-home care live in families

During the 3rd International Conference on Childhood and Adolescence (ICCA), which took place on 24-25 January 2019 in the city of Porto, Eurochild individual member, Sérgio Costa Araújo, independent researcher and professor at the School of Education of the Polytechnic of Porto facilitated a panel on the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care (also known as deinstitutionalisation or DI). 

“For Portugal, where only 3% of children in out-of-home care live in families, discussing the need for deinstitutionalisation reform is a pressing issue,” said Mr Araújo. “I am happy that the situation of children in institutional care becomes a part of the national debate,” he continued. “It is particularly encouraging to see that ICCA became the first Congress in Portugal to devote a specific panel on deinstitutionalization; in every edition this commitment to raise awareness about the situation of children in alternative care with a larger audience at national level is renewed,” Sérgio Araújo concluded. 

During presentation entitled ‘Benefiting children growing up in institutional care: the need for deinstitutionalisation reform in the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care in Europe and Portugal. Situation in 2019 and further developments.’ Mr Araújo showcased an example of the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children campaign, including the case of countries where cultural acceptance of residential care is highly spread, just like in Portugal. Sérgio Costa Araújo reinforced one of the campaign’s objectives that countries with high prevalence of children living in institutions should embark on the transition from institutional-based care to family-centered and community-based care with the help of EU policy guidance and targeted funds. 

He also highlighted the importance of already existing ex-ante conditionality 9.1 in the regulations on using the EU funds for deinstitutionalisation reform. According to Mr Araújo, the EU support for the transition to family- and community-based care should be prioritized in all Member States and not only 12 countries where the EU identified a need for the reforms.

The implementation of the European Code of Conduct on Partnerships (ECCP) through greater involvement of civil society in all stages of EU-funded programmes, which suffers from several deficits in some member states of the Union, has been identified as another pre-requisite needed for the successful implementation of the reform. Finally, Sérgio Araújo brought up the need of supervision of how EU funds are used for deinstitutionalization to ensure that they are in line with national strategies and action plans so that they can lead to systemic change. 

The researchers Francisco Branco and Elisete Diogo presented results of a research on the work of foster families in Portugal during the panel on DI at the 3rd International Conference on Childhood and Adolescence. They shared evidence showing the importance of extending and strengthening foster care provision in Portugal as a privileged response in the placement of children in public care system. 

Isabel Pastor presented the project from “Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa” that is now reconfiguring its own institutions prioritizing the application of different types of family care measures on detriment of residential care, especially for children up to six years of age. It underlined that one of the limitations to family-based care is the absence of "friendly" legislation – the current tax and labour penalty framework. 

João Pedro Gaspar presented the PAJE initiative that intends to help the autonomy of young people above 18 years of age when leaving residential care.

About the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children Campaign

Led by Eurochild in partnership with four international organisations and civil society in 16 European countries, the campaign’s goal is strengthening families and ending the use of institutional care for children in Europe.   

About children in alternative care in Portugal 

Almost ¼ of all children in Portugal are at risk of poverty and social exclusion . According to a report by Relatório Casa (2017), the number of children in institutional care in Portugal has increased between 2014 and 2016. Furthermore, the study reveals that fewer children left institutional care, due to family reunification or other reasons, in 2016 (2,513) than in 2015 (2,612). This shows a lack of both local services and of the ability of national policies to prioritise child protection systems reforms. Alternative care is not sufficiently used, as for instance the total number of children in foster care is a mere 261. Unfortunately, this issue is not addressed in Portugal’s Country Report nor in the CSRs of 2018.