Professor Kevin Browne, expert on child care and protection from the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology, is working with leading children’s writer, JK Rowling, as part of a High Level Group to ensure the respect and protection of the rights of children and young people in Romania and eastern Europe.
Professor Browne has been working for many years with MEP, Baroness Emma Nicholson, to remove children from care homes in Romania and other European countries. Together with JK Rowling they have launched a charity to help young children who are placed in institutional care to create both awareness of their plight, and to raise funds.
Thanks to the dedication of Kevin Browne and Emma Nicholson, Romania has become an example of good practice within Europe. In the last four years a total of 22,000 children have been put back into family based care, half of these have been returned to their parents or relatives. The number of Romanian children with disabilities in care homes dropped from 7000 in 1990 to 1000 in 2002. In addition the number of foster families has increased from almost none to over 15,000 and, due to a change in legislation, it is now no longer possible to institutionalise children under two years old.
Professor Kevin Browne says, ‘Children in care homes under three years of age are at risk of harm because the early years of life are critical for brain development. Normal development requires the opportunity for frequent one-to-one interactions with a parent, therefore high quality instititional care should only be used as an emergency measure to protect or treat children. Even then, it is recommended that they are placed back into family based care as soon as possible’.
‘Already the numbers of children in care homes in Romania are falling, but nevertheless, the numbers are still high compared to other European countries and more work needs to be done, so I am delighted that Jo Rowling is highlighting the needs of children in Eastern Europe and that Emma Nicholson’s political skills are placing child rights on the policy agenda of governments. In this way they both ensure that the expertise and research that my team and I have developed, with funding from the EU Daphne Programme and the World Health Organisation, is not only heard, but put into practice.’
JK Rowling says, ‘Every child deserves the right to a loving and decent environment in which to grow up. I am keen to help in any way I can to ensure that the work of the charity continues throughout Eastern Europe.’
The plans of the new charity are to use the knowledge and experience gained in Romania and apply it to other parts of Europe where there are significant numbers of children in need. It is hoped that the successful combination of high level political action and an influential forum of international experts will next be applied to Moldova, where the government has expressed a willingness to change the nature in which children are protected and their rights upheld.
Kate Chapple, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164.