Prague, June 14 (CTK) – The Slovaks passed a law saying abandoned children under the age of three must not be raised in institutions and they later extended the ban to include all children under six, while the Czechs have not set any such age limit yet, daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) writes on Wednesday.

The Czech Republic is one of the few European Union member countries that still have institutions raising abandoned babies. In 2015, 1666 infants were placed in institutions, the paper writes.

According to the Czech Association of Child and Family, the Czech Republic is the last country in Europe in which children under three can be sent to children’s homes.

The Slovak reform started with handing all the agenda related to care for abandoned children to one ministry in the late 1990s. In the Czech Republic, institutions for infants are supervised by the Health Ministry, children’s homes by the Education Ministry, foster care and adoption and the offices for legal and social protection of children by the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry.

“It seems to me that the care will remain problematic unless the agenda is united under one ministry,” Marek Rohacek, head of the Slovak NGO Navrat focusing on foster care and adoption, told HN.

Czech experts hoped that the present government would unite this agenda, especially as the prime minister and the health, education and labour ministers are all members of a single party, the Social Democrats (CSSD), but they remain disappointed.

“It is a tragedy. Not only an election period was wasted, but mainly the lives of thousands of children,” psychologist Radek Ptacek, from the General University Hospital in Prague, told CTK last week. “The system is producing new generations that will not be able to pass common interpersonal relations to others,” he said.

In 2006, Slovakia passed the law on social and legal protection of children that introduced the lower age limit of three years and professional parents who replaced the facilities caring for abandoned babies and who are employees of a children’s home but they raise children in their homes, the paper writes.

“Children in their care are waiting for their adoption or for their own failed family to recover so that they can return to it,” Rohacek told HN.

The changes in the Slovak child care system have been gradual. In the early 2000s more than 6,500 children were raised in institutions and this number fell to 4,744 in 2016, including almost 1,500 children living with professional parents.

Czech Health Minister Miloslav Ludvik (CSSD) said children need the institutions because they will receive the required health care there. “Institutions for infants must remain as healthcare facilities,” he said, adding that he is against the setting of the lower limit of age for placement in these facilities.

Czech expert in family care, Miroslav Macela, told CTK that institutions have a strong tradition in the country and the issue does not depend on the political background.

Rohacek told HN that experts in the Czech Republic often argue that infants’ institutions are a reasonable solution, while in Slovakia nobody would dare say this officially, even if they believed it was so.

He said it seems paradoxical that the homeland of psychologist Zdenek Matejcek, whose research showing that institutional care leads to psychological deprivation of children has become known around the world, still placed babies in institutions.

The fact that institutions for abandoned infants are indispensable in the Czech Republic was challenged by the Zlin Region, which has already abolished them and started the reform even though the relevant law is missing, HN writes.

The paper writes that Slovakia also changed the environment in children’s homes, replacing big facilities with groups of a dozen children that have five alternating carers. The children’s homes move from large buildings to family houses or smaller buildings.

Rohacek admitted that not all directors of children’s homes welcomed the reform and that the changes were not always made smoothly. “It is easier for a director to count the yoghurts when all children are under one roof than when they are in families within a region of 100 kilometres,” he said.

Czech Labour Minister Michaela Marksova plans to submit her final version of the child care reform to the government by the end of the month. However, even if other ministers supported the reform, there will not be enough time to push it through parliament before the October elections, HN writes.