The provision of foster care to children in foster homes, family children’s homes and educational care centres belongs to the districts’ tasks. This task is financed mainly by districts, with the aid of communes. There are over 70 thousand children in foster care at the moment. Every year a dozen or so thousand new children up to 18 years of age are covered by foster care and a few thousand return to their biological families.

Foster care is mainly a consequence of dysfunctionalities in biological families (addiction of parents 41.7%, helplessness in terms of child care and education issues 28.1%, domestic violence 3.8%). Foster care resulting from orphanhood covered 4% of kids, half-orphanhood – 7.3%, and a stay abroad of at least one parent to earn a living (so-called Euro-orphanhood) – 2.2% of children.

A graph showing a little gradual decline in the number of children in foster care (foster homes and foster care facilities) over 5 years (from 2014 to 2019). The total number of children in foster care was: 77348 in 2014, 76503 in 2015, 74757 in 2016, 73129 in 2017 and 72339 in 2018. Source: Information of the Council of Ministers about the implementation of the Act on Family Support and Foster Care System in 2018 (and in previous years).

A child that cannot be taken care of by his or her biological family is covered by foster care, either institutional- (about 25%) or family care (about 75%). A child can be taken away from his or her biological parents or legal guardians and placed in foster care under a court order. In extraordinary situations, emergency measures are taken. When a child’s life or health is threatened, he or she is taken away immediately, regardless of the time of the day and without the court order. This pertains to pathological communities, with domestic violence, addictions (alcohol, drugs, legal highs). In compliance with the law, children taken away from their parents or legal guardians on an emergency basis should be placed in a children's crisis centre (starting from 10 years of age) or an emergency foster home (up to 10 years of age).

The control over organisers of foster care, foster families, persons/ families running family children’s homes and educational care centres lies within the hands of district governing bodies, via the district family support centres and the foster care team, operating as part of the support centre. The district family support centre, being the most frequent foster care organiser, signs agreements with foster families, and also pays them remuneration and benefits.

Key responsibilities of the foster care organiser include:

  • recruitment of candidates for professional- and non-professional foster families as well as persons willing to run family children’s homes as well as the qualification of the candidates;
  • periodic evaluation of the situation of children staying in foster care;
  • presentation of the district head and the district council with an annual report on the work results;
  • reporting of information to adoption centres about children with clear legal status to find them adoptive families.

Besides, districts – via the district family support centres or other organisers:

  • control educational care centres;
  • cooperate with the heads of those facilities to clarify the children’s legal status.

The district family support centre:

  • is obliged to deliver complete documentation related to the child staying in the facility,
  • its representative should participate in meetings of the team for periodic evaluation of children’s situation,
  • usually recommends to the family court a foster care facility or a foster family for a child,
  • is obliged to ensure a required number of foster homes in a district and enable an immediate transfer of children below 10 years of age from a foster care institution to a foster family.

Emergency assistance in children's crisis centres and emergency foster homes satisfies only the basic needs of children, not always in line with the law or care and education standards.

A map showing the number of children taken away from their biological families in 2017 in Poland under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act by a social worker due to a threat to the child’s life or health in 16 provinces. Source: a report of the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy on the implementation of the National Programme for the Prevention of Domestic Violence for 2014-2020 covering the period from 1 January to 31 December 2017.

The audit in 15 districts and cities with district rights pointed to a deficit in foster homes, also emergency foster homes. The reason is that district family support centres or other foster care organisers ineffectively acquire foster parent candidates. As a consequence, even small children are placed in children's crisis centres. In the audited local government units that was more than one third. Though, the Foster Care Act (FCA) clearly states that children up to 10 years of age should be placed in foster homes as soon as possible. In 2018, some children below 1 year of age stayed in children’s crisis centres.

An infographics showing the number of children in foster care, also below 10 years of age in educational care facilities. The total in Poland (data of the Central Statistical Office as of the end of 2018): 71800 children in foster care of whom 16655 in foster care facilities, including 3293 children below 10 years of age (of whom 209: below 1 year of age, 568: 1-3 years old, 2516: 4-10 years old).  In 7 provinces audited by NIK: 37231 children in foster care of whom 9216 in foster care facilities, including 1664 children below 10 years of age (of whom 131: below 1 year of age, 490: 1-3 years old, 1043: 4-10 years old).  In 15 districts/ cities with district rights surveyed by NIK: 8921 children in foster care of whom 2554 in foster care facilities, including 894 children below 10 years of age (of whom 52: below 1 year of age, 201: 1-3 years old, 641: 4-10 years old).  Source: NIK’s own analysis based on the data of the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy and data obtained in the audit.

In four districts/ cities with district rights, not a single emergency foster home was found. Also, in one of them, no emergency foster homes were functioning. Only 2 of 8 district family support centres (in Warsaw and Cracow) provided foster homes to children below 10 years of age. Also, this is where small children stayed in the children's crisis centres for a short period. Districts and cities with district rights run campaigns to acquire and train foster parents but the interest in having a foster family is low. According to NIK this a system issue.

In some cases, children stay in children’s crisis centres and emergency foster homes for several months or even years (a record-breaker stayed in a crisis centre for 6 years, until he or she turned 18). In compliance with the law, it should be up to 3 months in a children’s crisis centre and 4 months in an emergency foster home. On the other hand, a longer stay in such a facility may be a consequence of prolonged court proceedings but in the audited children’s crisis centres, there were also children with a clear legal status. The uncertain and temporary nature of that care is a breach of the children’s right to due care and education and harms their development.

When the length of a child’s stay in a crisis centre or an emergency foster home is not predefined, it is hard to plan long-term activities (such as specialist examinations and medical diagnoses, specialist treatment, treatments spread in time or therapeutic classes).

The scientific research shows that a prolonged stay of children in crisis centres or emergency foster homes is reflected in slower physical and emotional development. It also results in social skill deficits, also related to family life.

An infographics showing the length of children’s stay in children's crisis centres and emergency foster homes. In 15 audited facilities the average length of stay was 8.5 months and the longest stay was 72 months. The number of children staying in the audited facilities for more than 18 months: 109 out of 1470.  The number of children staying in emergency foster homes for more than 12 months: 46 out of 135. Source: NIK’s own analysis based on the data obtained in the audit.

NIK stands in a position that this is a nationwide issue as the main causes include a deficit of vacancies in foster homes and lengthiness of court proceedings. Individual districts cannot handle that on their own, so the system support of activities taken by the local government units is essential. A crucial issue is the efficient exchange of information about vacancies in foster homes and children’s crisis centres. To monitor this data on an ongoing basis, a central register of foster homes and children’s crisis centres of all types should be created, and a systematic update of the information should be provided. Directors of crisis facilities should immediately transfer children below 10 years of age to foster homes but they lack the required decision-making powers.

The directors of children’s crisis centres linger with the information obligation towards the court about the admission of new children. Also, they do not hurry with filing motions to start proceedings to examine conditions on whether children could return to their biological families or be placed in adoptive families. The director is obliged to submit such a motion in court within 18 months from the date of placing a child in foster care. According to NIK for the benefit of children, this period should be shortened.

NIK has identified minor irregularities about most directors of the district family support centres and other organisers of foster care. For instance the directors:

  • did not enforce child maintenance for children who stayed in institutional or family foster care for more than 12 months;
  • improperly monitored court proceedings and did not move to the court to clarify the legal status of children staying in foster care for more than 18 months from the admission date.

It happens that foster families are not free from pathologies, such as foster parents’ alcohol abuse or domestic violence. These incidents may point to the absence of sufficient verification of candidates for foster parents and insufficient supervision over such families by foster care organisers.

In some cases, the child assistance plan developed by foster care coordinators in cooperation with family assistants (the latter not always, though) was purely formal and was no basis to work with a child. In 10% of cases, the plan did not include a long-term goal, such as placing the child in a biological or adoptive family.

All facilities provided children with proper conditions to learn, keep hygiene, rest, and play, although at different levels. In some cases, the limit of places set by the governor is exceeded (which has a negative impact on the conditions of the child’s stay). In two cases the limit excess was significant and long-term. In children's crisis centres, there are acts of peer violence, theft and escapes.

People running emergency foster homes said in a survey conducted during the audit that foster families cannot rely on adequate support. They do not have access to diagnostics and specialist doctors and have to settle for very low remuneration.

According to NIK, districts and cities with district rights should comply with statutory principles for the benefit of children. They should make sure that children’s crisis centres and emergency foster homes provide only ad hoc and short-term care to minors in crises. Currently, the children’s crisis centres and emergency foster homes often act as socialisation childcare facilities  and family children’s homes or permanent foster homes.

Recommendations

NIK has formulated the following recommendations:

To the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy to take actions to change  the Act on Family Support and Foster Care System:

  • to establish a central register of data on persons acting as professional or non-professional foster families and persons running family children’s homes.

Under the effective law such registers are currently run by district heads;

  • to establish a central register of educational care facilities, regional care and therapy facilities, and emergency pre-adoption centres and the register of vacancies in such facilities.

Under the effective law such registers are currently run by governors;

  • to shorten the term of 18 months after which the foster care organiser (in case the causes of placing a child in foster care still exist) moves to the court to issue ordinances to clarify the child’s legal status;
  • to shorten the term of 18 months after which the director of the children's crisis centre, is obliged to move to the competent court to examine conditions enabling the child’s return to his or her biological family or his or her placement in an adoptive family;
  • to enter an authorisation for the Minister in the Foster Care Act to settle the following provisions in the ordinance: 
    • plans of developing and implementing child assistance plans and family assistance plans to coordinate actions both related to the child and his or her biological parents;
    • participation of the family assistant and probation officer in meetings of the team for periodic evaluation of children’s situation.

To local government units (foster care organisers/ district family support centres/ city family support centres):

  • to provide foster families with fully-fledged assistance specified in the Act, specifically in terms of easier access to doctors, specialists, and therapists;
  • to ensure required number of vacancies in foster homes for children in crises, especially for the ones below 10 years of age;
  • to make sure district-/ city family support centres and city social welfare centres adhere to the principle that the children admitted to children’s crisis centres and emergency foster homes on an emergency basis should be transferred to foster homes or socialisation facilities as soon as possible;
  • to monitor court proceedings and reliably represent the interest of children placed in foster care, particularly in terms of enforcement of child maintenance due to the children remaining in foster care, especially for more than 12 months, and related to the clarification of their legal status, in order to shorten their stay in an emergency foster care facility;
  • to move to the competent court to clarify the child’s legal status within 18 months from the date of placing the child in foster care.

Heads of educational care facilities, including emergency centres, to:

  • settle cooperation with district family support centres and city social welfare centres (including family assistants), courts (including probation officers), the child’s biological family, and other persons close to the child – to improve the quality and effectiveness of activities aimed to clarify the child’s legal status and duly represent his or her interests; 
  • to file motions to competent courts concerning the point of a given child’s stay in a facility and within statutory deadlines (this should be done after meetings of the team for periodic evaluation of children’s situation);
  • to monitor legal proceedings concerning children – to make sure their interest is protected and their stay in foster care is shortened;
  • move to the court to settle ex officio the legal status of each child staying in foster care for 18 months;
  • adhere to the principle that the children’s stay in emergency childcare facilities should be short-term; this is to be done by requesting and informing the district family support centres and the competent court both about placing children below 10 years of age in a facility and about prolonging their stays;
  • move to the court and the district family support centres to immediately transfer children with a clear legal status from an emergency facility to socialisation facilities or foster families;
  • report children with a clear legal status to adoption centres.

NIK stands in a position that its recommendations from 2017 after the audit called “Activities taken by districts to develop and support foster homes”, addressed to the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy as well as to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health remain valid. They include among other things:

  • the Foster Care Act should include an authorisation for the Minister of Social Security to issue templates of documentation essential to develop a periodic evaluation of the child’s situation, the child assistance plan, evaluation of foster families, and evaluation of the point of the child’ continued stay in foster homes;
  • the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy should cooperate with governors and districts’ governing bodies to develop a foster family control model, ensuring the benefit and safety of children and privacy of foster families;
  • the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy and the Minister of Justice should develop more effective solutions forcing cooperation between the administration of justice and foster care organisers, including improvement of information/ correspondence flow;
  • the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy and the Minister of Health should take measures to ensure the availability of health services to children staying in professional and non-professional foster homes.


Article informations

Date of creation:
15 September 2020 16:13
Date of publication:
15 September 2020 16:13
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
15 September 2020 16:13
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
Four children's drawings of a house © Children from Children's Home no.1 in Pęchery

NIK about children’s crisis centres and emergency foster homes

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