Government Has Agreed to Amendment of Laws to Make it Possible to Remove Children from Parents only in Extreme Cases (Diagram/Chart and Statistics - Inside)

Date

2018 12 05

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The Government has agreed to proposed amendments of the Law on the Fundamentals of Children’s Rights Protection and other laws prepared by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, whereby the children’s rights protection system that started in July will be improved. The amendments do not affect the definition of violence against children, but they propose elimination of the need to define levels of risk and transition to an assessment of the child’s situation and needs. Removal of children from parents or guardians would be possible only in extreme cases.

Even when it is established that a child definitely needs protection, the child would not be removed from the parents or guardians immediately, but  initially an attempt would be made to ensure the child’s safety through temporary care. Such care could be offered by relatives or other emotionally close people, or a safe environment could be created by lodging the child in a family crisis centre with one of the parents – the one that does not present a risk to the child’s life, health or safety.

“Temporary care, when the child is cared for by relatives specified by the parents or family friends or the child is with one of the parents – the one that does not present a risk to the child – may become the so-called ‘cushion’ that protects a child from being taken from his parents. By this amendment we want to stress that removal of a child from parents due to a court order should be an extreme measure, only used when all other measures have been to no avail. In any case, parental cooperation and the desire to protect the child from violence will remain a crucial aspect”, says Linas Kukuraitis, Ministry for Social Security and Labour.

On the basis of Statistics Department information, in 2017 there were 6 deaths of children due to violence in their close environment. Police Department data indicates that in 2018 there were no deaths of children due to violence in their close environment.

COMPREHENSIVE STATISTICS ABOUT VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN IN LITHUANIA

 

HOW WOULD THE SYSTEM LOOK?

According to the amendments offered, if the child rights protection professionals get a report about suspected violence against a child, they will assess the child’s situation and needs. Currently, there is no longer any assessment of the level of danger that the child faces.

If no violations of the child’s rights are identified, the child rights protection professionals would end their investigation and depart. In cases where the report is confirmed, there would be two options: to establish whether the child and his/her family need help; or decide that the child definitely needs protection – and in all cases the child would stay with the family, but with different measures of assistance being applied.

 

An assessment of the child’s situation and needs can end 3 ways:

1.           The investigation ends due to lack of necessity for establishing a need for help for the child/family or protection for the child.

2.           A need for help for the child/family is established + case management process is commenced.

3.           A need for protection for the child is established + case management process is commenced, including mobile team services.

Even when a need for protection for the child is established, the child would not be taken from the parents or guardians, but this means that there is a real threat to the child’s safety, health or life associated with the child’s functional and social environment risk factors, especially when the child’s parents represent a risk to the child.

Once a need for protection for the child is established, temporary supervision would be arranged for the child. This means that the child is not be taken from the parents or guardians, but he/she takes lodgement with relatives or family friends specified by the parent, or these people take lodgement with the crisis-affected family and start to look after the child. There may be cases when the child and one of the parents, the one that poses no threat, will be lodged at a family crisis centre.

During the temporary supervision period, a mobile team consisting of a social worker, psychologist and a specialist in diseases of dependency would provide their services to the child and family. A case manager would also be assigned to the family to make a long-term family assistance plan and to organise the necessary professionals.

 

Temporary supervision would be of two types:

1.           The child may be lodged with relatives or other people specified by the parents having an emotional relationship with the child (place of abode: child’s parents’ house or home of relatives or other people emotionally linked to the child).

2.           The child and one of the parents or relatives – one that does not represent a danger to the child – may be accommodated in a social service institution providing social supervision.

Temporary supervision would last up to 20 working days. If during that time there is still no guarantee of a return to a safe environment, the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service would initiate judicial action for a process to specify a temporary guardianship arrangement for the child.

There would only be two instances where it would be possible to get a Court Order under the law to remove the child from the parents or other family members: first, when the parents or guardians do not agree to other temporary supervision arrangements; and second, when the temporary supervision arrangements are not adequate to ensure a safe environment for the child.

However, as at present, child rights protection specialists will be able to get Police assistance to do an urgent check of a safe environment for the child, and if no need for help for the child is established, the child will be returned to his/her parents or guardians.

 

OTHER INNOVATIONS

As well as doing away with specifying levels of threat, a transition to assessing the child’s situation and needs, and specifying a temporary supervision institution if necessary, there are other minor amendments proposed for the legislation:

•             Children’s rights protection specialists would take part in case management sessions as required and requested by the case manager. This would speed up the process.

•             A right would be established for specialists to make audio or video recordings during assessments of a child’s situation, so that these could be used in court as evidence. This would create conditions for objective assessment of the situation in relation to security for the child.

•             It is proposed to establish a right for the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service to get data urgently (within 2 working days) from national registers (cadastres) and official registers, classifications, information systems and data files controlled by State and Local Government institutions, establishments and enterprises.

•             Responsibility would be specified in the administrative offences code for natural persons supplying untruthful information to the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service or for hindering the establishment of care (custody) for the child. The fine for the offence would be in the range of €30 to €140.

 

Once the Government agrees to the amendments to the Law on the Fundamentals of Children’s Rights Protection, the Administrative Infringements Code and the Civil Process Code, the legislation will be debated in the Seimas (parliament). If the Seimas approves the amendments, they will become effective from 01 May 2019.

 

WHAT REMAINS CONFIRMED AND UNCHANGED

The children’s rights protection system introduced from July 2018 differs in some respects from the previous one, and the proposal is to preserve these changes. For example, this is the first time that Lithuanian legislation confirms the right of families in crisis to receive assistance guaranteed by case management and mobile teams, whereas in 2017 violence against children and corporal punishment were banned.

 

Fundamental aspects that it is proposed to preserve:

It is proposed to preserve the existing definition of violence against children. Violence against children is the deliberate causing of harm to children through action or inaction, and the harm may be direct or indirect, and it may be physical, psychological, or sexual in nature. The harm is constituted by the fact of a child’s death, damage to his/her health or normal development, pain or danger to life, health or normal development, or by lowering of the child’s self-respect and/or dignity. Failure to look after a child properly will also be considered an instance of violence against children.

It will not be considered an instance of violence against children when physical force is used against a child, possibly resulting in physical or psychological harm, when the purpose of the action was to avoid an even larger danger to the child’s safety, health or life, and this could not be achieved by any other means.

Assistance for families in crisis. When the amended Law on the Fundamentals of Children’s Rights Protection comes into force in July 2019, a family will immediately be offered assistance as soon as a breach of a child’s rights is detected: a case manager will immediately be appointed, who will marshal the resources of various professionals; and in instances of immediate danger to the child, a mobile team will be available, which includes a psychologist, a social worker and someone experienced in dealing with diseases of dependency.

Response outside of working hours, weekends and holidays. Since July 2018, the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service has been reacting to events not only during working hours, but also after hours, at night, on weekends and holidays. Statistics indicate that the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service gets most of its calls from the Police about conflicts in the home affecting children after hours and on weekends.

Police respond within 1 hour to any report form children’s rights professionals concerning the need to immediately relocate a child to a safe environment. It may take longer to react to a report that a child is facing danger of possible violence, but this should not take longer than 6 hours. Reports of other possible breaches of children’s rights will be dealt with within 3 working days.

Permission for removal of a child may only be granted by Court Order. So that the decision to remove a child from his/her parents or guardians does not rest with just two professionals, the Court will be approached within 3 working days with a request for the issue of a Court Order for the protection of the child. If the Court does not issue an order, the child will be left with the parents or guardians, but the family will be provided with assistance.

One system, not 60 different sets of rules. Until 01 July 2018, the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service essentially did not take part in the decision-making process, and decisions were made independently by 60 separate local government bodies. Now the system works in a unified manner, with the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service looking after children’s rights, in collaboration with local government authorities, police, courts and the prosecutor’s office.