April 3 2015 Advocacy success: Child protection and care system reforms passed in Lithuania Almost 40% of children who lose parental care in Lithuania are placed in institutions. According to government statistics, over 3,800 children are living in institutions, while 20,000 more are growing up in vulnerable families. Research carried out by SOS Children's Villages Lithuania and the Vytautas Magnus University shows that these children do not have the same good start in life as their better-off peers. Through the Care for ME! campaign, SOS Lithuania has successfully advocated for child protection and care system reforms in the country to better protect and promote the rights of these children. SOS Children’s Villages Lithuania has been working to reform the child protection and care system in Lithuania as part of SOS Children’s Villages International’s global Care for ME! campaign (2012-2015). On 24 March, 175 national and local policymakers, practitioners, NGO representatives and international experts attended the closing event of the campaign in Lithuania to take stock of its achievements and look forward at the next steps for the reform. Key successes of the Care for ME! campaign in Lithuania A national strategy and plan for de-institutionalisation was adopted by the Lithuanian government. The decision was made to allocate EU funding to implement necessary reforms. These represent two crucial steps towards achieving long-lasting change for Lithuania’s child protection system. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which will ensure the needed coordination between the different ministries in implementing the de-institutionalisation plan was signed by the Ministries of Social Security and Labour; Health; Internal Affairs; Education and Science; the Association of Local Authorities of Lithuania; and the NGO Council. The MoU demonstrates the high-level of political commitment to reforming the child protection and care system in Lithuania. The way forward Speeches at the closing event of SOS Children’s Villages Lithuania’s Care for ME! campaign on 24 March. From left to right: Kristina Miškinienė, Head of the Committee of Social Affairs and Labour of the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania; Audrius Natkevičius, National Director of SOS Children‘s Villages Lithuania; Algirdas Seselgis, Minister of Social Security and Labour of the Republic of Lithuania; Dag Malmer Halvorsen, Ambassador of Kingdom of Norway to Lithuania. Photo: SOS Archives Important legislative and policy progress has been made, but the success of the transition to a quality child protection and care system is now in the hands of the Lithuanian municipalities. SOS Children’s Villages Lithuania has worked closely with the municipality of Varena to develop quality support and care services for children at risk of losing parental care. “Thanks to the development of complex community-based services, families are strengthened to take care of their children. Professional foster care and other family-based care forms are being developed so that we don’t have to rely on institutions to provide care for children who cannot live with their biological family.” said Ms Danute Mazaliauskiene, Head of the Social Support Division of the Varena district. The pilot model in Varena will bring practical content to the new legislative definition of community-based services, which will be adopted in the near future. Furthermore, it will serve as a model for other municipalities, of which many representatives were present during the closing event. “There is a historic opportunity to achieve lasting positive change for the most vulnerable children in Lithuania” said Mr Audrius Natkevivius, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Lithuania. He warned, however, that “continued commitment of all the different actors at all levels” would be necessary to ensure that reforms are carried out successfully. SOS Children’s Villages International is committed to implementing the UN endorsed Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children in Lithuania, Europe and around the world to ensure that all children have the opportunity to grow up in a safe and empowering family environment. The Care for ME! campaign of SOS Children’s Villages Lithuania was implemented through a project supported by Oslo Sanitetsforening BRUSETKOLLEN AS (a Norwegian foster care organisation) and financed by grants from the European Economic Area (EEA).