Mother and child homes (MCh) provide shelter to the needy (also fathers and caretakers with children) 24 hours a day or on a temporary basis (up to 1 year at most). The facilities’ standard has been defined in the ordinance of the Minister of Social Policy of 2005. This document relates not only to living conditions and care but also to help in handling crisis situations, e.g. by the development and implementation of programmes designed to help the persons staying in MCh become independent.

Tasks related to providing places in such facilities should be performed by district family assistance centres as well as social welfare centres or family assistance centres in cities with district rights. Though, only 6 of 21 facilities of this type placed the needy in mother and child homes, run mainly at the local government’s order. As many as 14 facilities sent such persons to homeless shelters (designed for women and mothers with children), hostels at crisis intervention centres and to secured apartments, being also the property of local governments. In over half of them the service standard was lower than the one defined for the MCh (none of these facilities were obliged to guarantee that standard). The District Family Assistance Centre in Sztum was by no means prepared in institutional or organisational terms to provide places to the needy. The facility management explained that the lack of actions was caused by the little scale of the problem in the region. Though, the NIK data did not confirm that diagnosis.

The media and the Ombudsman have already noted that the number of the MCh is too small and that mothers with children and pregnant women stay e.g. in homeless shelters which do not ensure required conditions and psychological assistance. It is hard to estimate, though, how many facilities in Poland meet the standards specified in the Minister’s ordinance of 2005 because no list of such facilities has ever been created. The data of the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy show that in 2018 there were 31 mother and child homes in Poland in place which gave shelter to more than 1300 persons. According to the Central Statistical Office, there were 63 active MChs (including branches) which provided shelter to nearly 3200 persons (which was three times as many as was reported by the Ministry).

Two maps showing the number and location of homes for mothers with minor children and pregnant women in 2018. Source: reports of the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy and the Central Statistical Office

The social survey outsourced by NIK revealed that in 2019 it was mainly women who used the MCh (99%), mainly with primary education (41%) and vocational education (31%). Over half of those women (54%) had their own monthly income, usually lower than PLN 1.8 thousand. They usually had one or two kids, of 3 years of age or younger.

The survey that covered 200 persons from 32 facilities nationwide (not only the audited ones) showed that the most critical type of support needed by the MCh subjects was the shelter (75%) but also separation from the perpetrator and psychological aid.

Results of the social survey outsourced by NIK. Question: What kind of support is the most important for you at the moment? Replies (in total): Shelter - 75; Separation from the perpetrator – 13; Psychological aid – 9; Help in taking care of personal matters – 2; Learning life skills – 0; Hard to tell – 0.

In the course of the audit NIK verified how districts supported persons with children and pregnant women in need of shelter from January 2016 to June 2019.

Identifiying needs

Already at the stage of identifying needs some issues occurred. None of 32 commune or district social welfare facilities considered the need to provide shelter or assistance to mothers, fathers and caretakers with children and pregnant women as a separate social issue. They rather treated that need as a symptom of the persons’ helplessness in terms of child care and education. They tended to connect the situation with the family breakup and dysfunctionality, homelessness or addictions and most frequently as a follow-up of domestic violence. Such persons were not perceived as a separate group needing help. That’s why no actions were planned to solve their problems.

The NIK audit indicated that mothers, fathers and caretakers with children and pregnant women who needed shelter in the audited period made up not more than 7% (usually 0.5-1.5%) of the total number of persons using social assistance in individual communes and districts (in relation to the number of their inhabitants it was 1.5% maximum). At the same time, one could observe a trend of increasing demand for shelter in the locations where essential infrastructure was in place. Children’s caretakers and pregnant women usually expect to receive aid in the place or near the place where they live. They would rather not split with their families and friends. They do not feel like changing school or doctor for their kids, or giving up work. They are also afraid that in case they are moved far from their place of residence their chances to get a flat from the commune resources will go down. For instance, in case of Kętrzyn the nearest MCh was 100 km from the town.

Districts identified the scale of needs in this area based on the number of requests submitted by persons seeking shelter in a MCh. However, the number of such requests was quite small because the needy often were not aware of the right they had to use such assistance. Also the community monitoring was used to estimate the demand. It was carried out by social workers and family assistants. Also some informal knowledge was used for that purpose, provided as part of cooperation with the commune social welfare facilities.

NIK is in the position that such measures were insufficient and thus potentially ineffective. For instance, the Director of the District Family Assistance Centre in Koszalin assured that she had information about persons needing shelter in MCh because she had regular contact with the local social welfare centres. NIK has established, though, that four persons in the audited period (two mothers with two children) and two pregnant women found shelter in a private facility, independent of the local government. It should be added that in some cases the parents of children who are not yet covered by compulsory schooling avoid contacts with social welfare centres in fear that their parental rights will be taken away from them.

It is the local authorities that should be aware that some caretakers with children or pregnant women need shelter. But the truth is they did not always get such information. The NIK audit revealed that 11 of 15 district social welfare facilities that did not provide shelter in MCh, did not notify district governors or presidents of cities or towns about the need to establish those facilities or commission e.g. local organisations to run those facilities.

Satisfying needs

NIK has found that 32 district and commune social welfare facilities received on average from 1 to 96 requests for shelter per year. In the audited period thanks to the assistance of those facilities shelter was provided to:

  • In MCh – from 15 to 77 persons, including 8 to 48 children,
  • In other facilities run by or at the order of the local government – from 1 to 61 persons, including 1 to 44 children,
  • In facilities run independently from the local government – from 1 to 29 persons, including 1 to 17 children.

However, the very running of a MCh (or commissioning other bodies to run one) did not mean that districts and cities with district rights were properly prepared to satisfy such persons’ needs. In three audited facilities the number of places available was smaller than needed. Therefore, in one of them 12 persons were refused assistance, 14 others were entered on the waiting list and two persons were sent to private facilities, independent of the local government.

An additional difficulty in the access to some MCh and other facilities providing shelter were some restrictions, concerning e.g. the child’s age or sex of the person seeking help. For example, the MCh in Gdańsk defined the maximum age of children as 6 years, the City Social Welfare Centre in Katowice offered shelter only to women with children and the District Family Assistance Centre in Cieszyn provided support only to violence victims. One of the audited facilities did not admit women with more than three children.

A referral to MCh did not guarantee an adequate standard level. At the level defined in the ordinance of the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy the standard was provided only in 1 out of 8 facilities. NIK had no objections to the technical and aesthetic condition of rooms where the needy were staying. NIK’s reservations concerned the absence of separate sleeping rooms for persons with children, the shortage of bathrooms (there should be one bathroom for 5 persons). Also there were no programmes in place that would help the subjects become independent. Inhabitants of the MCh in Racibórz were not properly separated from the perpetrators of violence. One could enter the building through a damaged fence and the entrance door was locked only for the night. The Director of the District Family Assistance Centre in Racibórz who took care of the facility was not aware of the condition of the building and had never ordered its inspection.

Another issue was the availability of facilities providing shelter to persons with motor disabilities. None of the 8 audited MCh provided that kind of support, neither did 28 of 36 other facilities audited by NIK. However, only 2 of them (a hostel and a homeless shelter) had a legal obligation to do so. Limitations in using those facilities resulted among others from: improper location of the entrance door (one could reach it only through the stairs), the lack of appropriately furnished bathroom or devices enabling the disabled to use rooms on higher floors.

No information about assistance availability

The NIK audit also showed that there should be a commonly available source of information saying that eligible persons can receive aid in a MCh. The reason is there is no register of such facilities or a list of other institutions (also independent of local governments) providing assistance of that type. As many as 27 of 32 district and commune social welfare facilities audited by NIK did not provide information about the MCh in the Bulletin of Public Information.

To make things even worse, the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy and the Central Statistical Office posted different data on the number of such facilities, places available or persons staying there. The audited local governments lacked credible information not only about the mother and child homes operating in Poland but also about facilities in their immediate neighbourhood.

On the other hand, the persons in need not always knew about the existence of such facilities. In some cases mothers with children placed in homeless shelters were not aware that in line with the Act on Social Assistance they had the right to be referred to a special facility of a standard guaranteed by the law.

Recommendations

The NIK audit has shown clearly that in the audited period not all districts and cities with district rights provided shelter in MChs to mothers, fathers and caretakers with children as well as pregnant women being the violence victims or in another crisis situation. This is a breach of the Act on Social Assistance. NIK is of the opinion that even if the demand for shelter in facilities of this kind is lower, a district should be prepared in organisational terms to provide it, if necessary. This can be done, e.g. by signing a relevant contract with another district or a foundation.

In the audited period, 7 of 32 social welfare facilities financed a stay in private facilities for their subjects. It should be stressed that those facilities are independent of local governments and have no legal obligation to meet all standards for an MCh. According to NIK the central or local administration bodies should be given the opportunity to control the quality of services offered by such facilities. Also, system solutions should be applied to them, such as the obligation to run their register and to give permits for their operation (which may also force the assurance of adequate quality of offered assistance).  

Article informations

Date of creation:
23 October 2020 01:43
Date of publication:
23 October 2020 01:43
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
23 October 2020 01:43
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
A child and an adult walk through a tunnel, holding their hands. © Mateusz Grynicz / NIK

How districts provide shelter to mothers with children and pregnant women

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