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Lithuania: developing the childcare system

In the last decades, Lithuania underwent a deep demographic change. It is an ageing society with a low fertility rate (1.6% in 2012), high migration rate and a declining population. The number of children has declined from 1 million in 1998 to 600 thousand in 2012. The level of child poverty remains high – around 33 % which corresponds to the total at- risk-of poverty and social exclusion rate.  The number of children living in at-risk families remains high. Those families are characterised by various kinds of dependencies and other factors which interfere with taking appropriate care of their children. The children of those families are the main issue for the child care system. Two measures – development of child day-care centers (CDCC) and development of open youth centers (OYC) and open youth spaces (OYS) – have been chosen to address vulnerable groups of children and youth facing particular risks. 

Improvement of well-being of children and youth at risk 

In 2012, the employment rate of residents aged 15–64 reached 62.2 %, and it increased by 1.9 % point over the year. In 2012, the employment rate among men aged 15–64 made up 62.5 %, and among women – 61.9%, and, over the year, it increased by 2.1 and 1.7% respectively. Women play an active role in the Lithuanian labour market. At 61.8%, the female employment level was above the EU average (58.5%) in 2012. Women with children under six years old are even more likely to work: 72.5% were employed in 2012, compared to an EU average of 59.1%. However, significant differences exist between the wages paid to men and women. At 12.6% in 2012, the Lithuanian gender pay gap is narrower than the EU-27 average of 16.2% (2011 data). In the labour market, extra support is provided for parents, foster parents or guardians raising children up to 8   years of age through active employment tools (subsidies, work rotation, etc.). 

The National Development Program for 2014-2020 commits itself to the wellbeing of the child and family, to strengthen and to preserve public health. Prevention of child poverty, social exclusion and equal opportunities are in the focus of this goal, as well as participation of the families raising children in the labour market. The following main measures are foreseen under this programme: investment in the accessibility of child care, development of social and health services for families, strengthening of the protection of  children’s rights as well as the development of services and assistance for children at risk (children with behavioural, emotional, mental disorders, having addictions or other special needs, children who experienced violence, children liable to crime, street children, children whose  parents are in prison, children from families at social risk, children with single parents and etc.).

Another important programme – the Programme for Child Wellbeing 2013-2018 - was passed in 2012. This continuous program aims to create preconditions for children to live with their biological families, by developing and providing preventive and integrated services for children and families and, in case of the loss of parents’ guardianship, ensuring adequate conditions for guardianship or adoption, which correspond to the best interests of the child to grow in the family environment or in the environment close to it, adequately preparing for an independent life.      

Another positive experience includes integrated services for families in crisis situations that are financed by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour by provision of project grants. Those services include social assistance, provision of the goods of first necessity, information, mediation, consultation and representation services. Families in crises are provided with meals, safe temporary housing, psychological, legal, medical consultation, assistance in finding a job and temporary child care. These activities reduce the number of children placed in care providing institutions. They give the opportunity for the family to overcome the crisis and for the child to remain with their family. The majority of beneficiaries of these services are families raising children up to 3 years of age.

Another tool reducing the number of children in child care institutions is provision of services for guardians and foster parents. A special system of training and assistance has been established and a special training program has started in 2008. In the period of 2008-2012 more then 1,500 guardians and foster parents participated in this program.

Investing in child-day care centers

Child day-care centres are a good practice example of supporting the participation of children in play and cultural activities. Those centres are established in the municipalities of Lithuania and often managed by NGO’s. Currently there are 175 child day-care centres and about 5,000 children from socially vulnerable families attending them, which covers about a quarter of the demand. The children have a possibility to come to the centre after school, to do their homework, to pursue leisure activities with their peers, and to have warm meals and a favourable environment for their development. The state budget funds are intended to finance the children's welfare programme 2013-2018, one of the measures for the development of the activities of the centres in municipalities, non-formal education and social care services for children and their families. The implementation of these measures in 2013 is intended for 7.5 million Lt. 

Children’s participation in decision-making processes is implemented by including their representatives in councils and working groups. In Lithuania, from 2005, the Child Wellbeing Council unites representatives of the relevant ministries and NGOs and the Pupils Parliament. The Pupils Parliament is comprised of representatives from different regions of the country and they cooperate with public institutions, working groups, etc. In 2012, the Child Wellbeing Council met twice and discussed the questions on Child Medium Supervision Law .  Children also have their representatives in School Councils, which consists of teachers, parents and students.

Conclusion 

According to the Recommendation in the field of reduction of child poverty and social exclusion, three strategic directions could be distinguished: 

- Prevention, meaning the provision of accessible services for children and families and ensuring the environment of the biological family. It also includes reconciliation of work and family responsibilities, the child care system, integrated complex services in case of crisis in the family, positive parenting etc. 

- Intervention when assistance is needed for the family and child. It covers cases of families at social risk, cases of mental illnesses, dependencies, violence and abuse, human trafficking etc.

- Integrational direction, which is aimed at the participation of the child in the life of society, ensuring the child’s wellbeing, positive social and emotional education in the family, and inter-institutional and international cooperation.

European Economic Area funds will be used to encourage open youth work

European Economic Area funds will be used to encourage CDCCs to open OYS as the number of CDCCs is much bigger and they are much better territorially distributed than OYC.  The current situation shows that CDCC is mainly attended by children from 7 to 14 years and later the numbers of elder children, youth is decreasing. The short survey of CDCCs  (No = 109) showed that 62 % of them  would see a possibility for elder children and youth (14-29 years) to attend CDCC and to work with them in open youth work principles.  The main obstacles up to now to have OYS in CDCC are: a lack of staff and their competencies to work with older youths (35%) and material resources / funding (81%) (larger premises, adjustment of premises to the needs of elder children and youth; equipment renewal, purchase of new tolls/ instruments;  organizing occupation, activities;  purchase of external services). The Programme will contribute to the development of CDCC and OYC, OYS in Lithuania, and the services of these centres directly influence the improvement of well-being of children and youth at risk. It will also contribute to the development of competences of the staff of these centres and the expansion of services provided by CDCC and OYC.

The information in the country profile was last updated in February 2014.

 

The website www.pagalbavaikams.lt of the Helpline for children, where all important information for children is presented, plays an inclusive role for children. The website www.pagalbavaikams.lt was awarded as the winner of international E-content contest World Summit Award (WSA) in Cairo (Egypt) in the year 2012 – the best project in category E-Inclusion and Participation. Lithuania participated in such a contest for the first time. The Helpline for children prepared recommendations for communicating with children who have emotional issues in the year 2012 and distributed them in 254 educational institutions.