The effects of child welfare reform on levels of child abandonment and deinstitutionalization in Romania, 1987-2000

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Greenwell, Karen Fern

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High rates of child institutionalization are a legacy of Romania’s socialist regime. After the fall of the dictator in December 1989, Romania was found to have one of the highest rates of child institutionalization among postsocialist countries in the region. During the postsocialist decade (1990-2000), widespread poverty and ineffective child welfare policies have caused high levels of child institutionalization to remain persistently high. Romania is one of the ten postsocialist countries in Eastern Central Europe that has submitted its application for membership in the European Union. Among the necessary political and socioeconomic reforms that Romania has taken in its transition to a democratic society, a major criterion for EU accession is to improve the problem of child institutionalization. Since 1990 the Romanian government has implemented several major child welfare reform measures aimed at improving this problem. However, in addition to being hampered by economic constraints, empirical data on the dynamics of child institutionalization have not been readily available for policymakers to formulate effective child welfare policies. The objective of this study is to collect and analyze empirical data for the purpose of examining the effects of Romania’s child welfare reform legislation on levels of child abandonment and deinstitutionalization. While the results may provide new information for stakeholders, another important objective is to provide a model for compiling and analyzing data from local institutions in order to inform national policy. The study draws on event history data collected on 21,089 children ages 0 to 3 years who lived in state-run orphan institutions between 1987 and 2000. These data comprise about one third of all institutionalized infants over this period and they represent trends in ten of forty counties outside of Bucharest. These data are the first to make known at a national level the direction and magnitude of child institutionalization and deinstitutionalization throughout the transition period. Moreover, this individual level data is sensitive to the effects of national legislation. Demographic approaches are used to estimate the effects of legislation on levels of child abandonment and on levels of deinstitutionalization. A major finding is that while transition period reforms have had a significant impact overall on deinstitutionalization, there has been a relatively small impact on reducing levels of child abandonment.