Committed for more than 20 years to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), states and professionals strive to promote the child’s best interest all over the world. In spite of its wide ratification and the efforts of many civic and professional organizations to create safe and positive environments for children to grow to their full potential, the rights of the children are still far from being fully respected. This is true also for Europe and especially for Eastern Europe or for countries where political governments are less efficient to protect families and children from the effects of economic crises. In spite of the overall ratification of the CRC and its many amendments – by both the UN and by regional international bodies like the Council of Europe – there are different forms of social disadvantages and exclusion that continue to reduce individual or groups of children’s chances. Children living in poor families, Roma and other minorities, migrant children or left behind by migrant parents, children with disabilities and chronic diseases have less opportunity to successful schooling, healthy development, safety and participation to social life, happiness and fulfillment of individual potential. Difficulties persist in these areas and have been repeatedly recognized in both developing and developed countries, in spite of the progress that has been achieved in increasing school participation and reduction of mortality.
In the last decade there is a growing demand to look at child protection from the larger perspective of human rights: children have not only the right to be protected from violence, which is paramount for all human beings, but it is legitimate for them to claim respect as citizens, to have their voices heard, to participate in the social life of their communities, and to get support for all these rights by side of their caring family members. To ensure that these principles are met and that services in place are improving the quality of life of children in a comprehensive manner, it is essential to collect data on, and from children, as well as on and from their family members and workers. This is especially important when children are vulnerable to having their rights ignored or they are at risk of harm.
Eastern European scientific literature in children’s rights and child protection is still less represented or visible in indexed data bases than other areas of the social sciences. This is why the present volume aims to highlight some of the agenda of Romanian researchers and their fellows in the region. It focuses on children’s quality of life and their protection against violence, and highlights areas that need to be addressed by the child welfare systems.
To cover this comprehensive perspective, the current issue of the Romanian Social Work Review has selected studies which cover a large area of topics at the intersection of rights, well-being and protection. Readers are invited to review 3 articles focusing on children rights in developing countries and societies affected by economic crises, 4 articles on the prevalence of violence against children in their own families and in schools, 3 articles on children’s well-being in different social, family or impaired contexts, 3 articles on services and professional competences, and finally 3 articles on social and educational inclusion of children with disabilities.
A well known children’s rights analyst, Manfred Liebel acknowledges the fact that in spite the wide-spread current debate on children’s rights there is still little attention given to the meaning these rights have for children from diverse social and cultural contexts. Therefore, his article reveals four examples of marginalized groups of children from different parts of the world (street children in Guatemala and India, child refugees in Europe, and AIDS orphans in Africa). The author explains that the practice of children’s rights has to be in tight connection with the daily life experiences of vulnerable children and shows examples of how this could be done.
The work of Smiljana Simeunovic Frick, from Republic of Moldova, takes the discussion into the framework of monitoring and reporting process connected to the CRC. The article explores how the Committee on the Rights of the Child, as the authority in monitoring the Convention, defines and perceives the role of children in this process. An analysis of the General Comments, which contains the interpretation of the CRC monitoring, shows that the Committee takes a clear position in favor of children's participation in this process. Both the representatives of the Government and the NGOs are encouraged to involve children in monitoring their rights, as well as to support children's monitoring activities.
The paper of Paroula Naskou-Perraki presents a legal perspective on children’s rights in Greece. It takes a critical stand on the progress and weaknesses of the implementation of the CRC in the Greek legal framework. It is a detailed and well informed overview referring to laws protecting children’s rights, with a focus on vulnerable children like Roma and migrant minors, and the legal procedures used by professionals and judges. In spite of its more legal than social framework, the topic is of great interest for Romanian and other social workers, who can compare the strengths and weaknesses of their own national legislations with the Greek model.
The next section of the issue is focusing on child abuse and neglect (CAN) prevalence data. Three articles submitted by the School of Sociology and Social work Cluj-Napoca present data from the Balkan Epidemiology Study on Child Abuse and Neglect project (BECAN) related to Romania. This is an international collaborative project financed by European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development . The first article authored by Imola Antal et al. makes a general overview of the results of the project. Mapping CAN was achieved by applying ICAST questionnaires to large sample of school-children and their parents, as agreed in the Balcan research consortium. The extent of the study is unique for Romania, and the resulting data base is an excellent source for researchers to link demographic data with indicators of child abuse and neglect. Among many other interesting results, it shows that abusive physical punishment is still widespread in Romania, although positive discipline is largely reported both by parents and children. The data justifies questioning previous knowledge about sexual abuse being more frequent in girls, drawing attention to vulnerabilities of adolescent boys.
Another article, authored by Ágnes Dávid-Kacsó et al. scrutinizes the parenting methods of the sample, from a gender perspective. Data show that for children aged 16, psychologically and physically abusive methods are used more frequently by mothers, compared to fathers. Continuing the series, the article of Cristina Baciu et al. analyse the differences in CAN, according to residence. Data show that children in urban areas are more vulnerable to emotional abuse, while those from rural areas to physical abuse. Other types of maltreatment such as sexual abuse and neglect do not significantly differ according to children’s residence. Other statistically significant differences in favor of parents from urban areas, like for positive discipline, were also registered.
The next session looks at service provision and its providers. Gabriella Tonk, Júlia Adorjáni, Éva László review the processing of CAN cases by the Romanian case surveillance system. Using document analysis of hundreds of case-files collected from one third of the Romanian Directorates of Child protection, the study shows the absence of standard investigation procedures and of instruments for risk and needs assessment. Case reviews show the absence of clear thresholds or reference points in decision making and for intervention planning. Therefore, the study raises an important question in child protection services: the need for evidence-based instruments in all phases of case management.
Salomeea Popoviciu et al. also discuss child protection procedures, this time from the perspective of involving mothers in service planning and in the change process. Interviewing caseworkers, the authors reveal that mothers with children recorded in protective services are mostly viewed by professionals as worthless and without resources. The authors demonstrate how this attitude contribute to the disengagement of mothers and argue for the importance of engaging clients, even those who may at first seem hostile and indifferent in the parenting process. This is an important topic to be further pursued by researchers, in order to look at possible ways of engaging mothers in positive parenting.
Looking for the effects of training and the use of expertise in the area CAN, Adriana Fărcaş and Maria Roth explore and compare the attitudes of Romanian medical staff and medical students towards detecting and reporting CAN. As presumed, medical staff in pediatric hospitals and medical students does not have a systematic training in CAN, but many have optionally participated to training opportunities in this area. The results indicate that experience with CAN cases has contributed to the foundation of a CAN knowledge base of the pediatric medical staff, but it does not empower respondent nurses to report children-victims of violence.
Dan Ratliff, Riccardo Rossano and Antonio Panico use an eco-systemic approach, to review the existing research on Romanian migrants’ and their left behind or migrating children. The authors argue that before reporting on negative effects of migration on children, evaluators need to understand social, political, cultural, community, family, and individual factors and the relationships of these factors on well-being of children and their families. One of the important conclusions of the review is that parental migration negatively affects left behind children mainly due to the impoverished conditions in which they live. This is the main reason that motivates parents’ labor migrations. The article represents a strong base for further research on the mechanisms of adaptation of immigrant Romanian families in Italy or other foreign country.
Using data from the UNICEF study on the Children and Young people in difficult economic times in Macedonia, Maja Gerovska Mitev presents interesting data that allow the analysis of the effects of the economic crisis on children’s well-being. The author’s critical views provide us with a valuable framework to assess the vulnerabilities of those families most at risk in difficult economic times. The analysis is focused on three important aspects: households standards, participation to education and health indicators for children and young people. The paper points at critical aspects of the social welfare system that fails to offer lasting support for the most vulnerable families and their children.
Strongly connected to the CRC provisions, the next three articles are focusing on children’s well-being. The work of Brînduşa-Antonia Grigoraş, Sergiu Bălţătescu and Maria Roth rely on previous research of dr. Bălţătescu in the frames of the International Society for Child Indicators and presents the results of an exploratory study of the subjective well-being of children aged 12-14 from Romania. The novelty of this study is the use of a participatory rights based approach, allowing children to express their views, opinions and perceptions on their own lives and well-being. The data helped revising the questionnaire and transform it into an instrument that in the future will allow international comparisons between children’s well-being data.
Looking at schools as an environment of victimization of its students, Diana Dămean analyses the effects of violence in the secondary schools. Using scales from the School Success Profile questionnaire, she conducts a comparative analysis between a national sample of students and a local sample from vocational schools. The findings indicate that school violence has a negative impact on the trouble avoidance behavior of adolescents, which is an important indicator of school success.
The last section of the collection of articles is focusing on children with vulnerabilities and special needs. Claudia Oşvat presents the services of a Community Center run by an NGO, with long standing programs and competences in running successful programs to support families and preventing children from dropping out of school. Evaluation showed that adolescents included in the programs of the Center value school more, and become better integrated in their schools work and peer groups.
Camelia Stăiculescu and Monica Ungureanu question the efficiency of social inclusion of children and young people with social disabilities in Romania. They focus on the results of a survey conducted with families who have children and young people with disabilities in their care. Results illustrate the efforts and the difficulties of children and young people with physical disabilities to participate in education, work and any form of social life, training and their need for support and services. Inclusion in work is not seen as possible without accession to supportive social economy programs.
The qualitative study of Adela Popa is also focusing on children with disabilities. It is based on a research carried out with educators in a preschool setting. Research was focused on risk and resource factors influencing social inclusion of preschool-aged children with special educational needs. The conclusion she reaches states that professionals are well aware about the factors that endanger inclusion and also the factors that can promote it, but they do not establish connections between these categories, and cannot see their own role or other professionals’ role in possible collaborative services.
Scientific knowledge represents power for those who know how to use it, so we recommend this Journal to social workers and social-policy makers involved in Child Welfare. It is essential for both politicians and professionals to access scientific literature, learn from its criticism and implement its conclusions. This critical perspective is meant to better accommodate children’s needs and to point to ways capable to efficiently improve services and have a positive impact on children’s chances to happiness and success.