Overhaul of Latvia's child protection system planned for next year

There are holes in the current child protection system in Latvia, and a large number of children have to live with abusers, according to the State Inspectorate for the Protection of Children's Rights (VBTAI). 

In order to improve the situation in the field of children's rights, from next year Latvia plans to significantly overaul its child protection system, reported Latvian Radio October 23.

The reform of the child protection system envisages renaming VBTAI to the Child Protection Center from next year, as well as introducing a new "Children's House" institution to provide all the necessary help to abused children in one place.

In addition to the name change, VBTAI will also have to work on better synchronizing the child protection system, making sure that the participating institutions, such as schools, healthcare institutions, social services and others, work in unison and exchange information.

Arta Bārzdiņa, head of the Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Clinic of the Children's Clinical University Hospital (BKUS), told Latvian Radio that the current system has several problems.

"Feedback closes that circle when we get an answer, what happened to that child that we've reported, what happened next, where he's gone, is he safe? Because we start [something], we initiate this cascade of institutional actions. And then it's – listen, have you heard what happens next with him? No, I don't know anything," said Bārzdiņa.

The circulation of information was also mentioned as the main problem by the "Dardedze" children's rights protection center. Anda Avena, the center's communication manager, said that professionals, such as junior doctors and preschool teachers, lack knowledge about domestic violence and are often unclear about the signs that indicate possible violence, especially at an early stage.

Avena also emphasized that in the reform of the child protection system, the main goal is to ensure that intervention takes place earlier than at present.

"The doctor could report to the social services. Currently, there is no such norm in the legislation. There is a law to report to the police, but in our opinion, it is already much too late, then we are really struggling with the consequences."

The inter-institutional program "Children's House"  envisages providing all the necessary help to abused children in one place. It was created with the aim of preventing re-traumatization during investigation and legal proceedings, stated Prime Minister Evika Siliņa (New Unity).

"It offers a 'one contact point' approach, according to which all relevant institutions, such as the police, social services, child protection services, physical and mental health service providers and the prosecutor, cooperate in one place on behalf of the child," Siliņa explained.

Initial plans foresaw the implementation of the "Children's House" plan a couple of years ago, and a trial period of the project started as far back as 2017 , however, the project was postponed due to various bureaucratic procedures.

The head of VBTAI, Gunita Kovaļevska, told Latvian Radio that problems in the field of children's rights protection in Latvia are caused by the fact that violence against children must be proven. "For example, a sexually abused child is interrogated several times, because the work is not done accurately enough the first time, and then the child is forced to go through this experience again and again. There are really countless problems, mistakes, carelessness and the like in the system," said Kovalevska.

It is planned that the Children's House will be located in the premises of the Children's Clinical University Hospital. It is based on the Barnahus concept in Iceland, which was the first country in Europe to start creating such a data-based inter-institutional cooperation model in 1998.

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