Blog by Maria Herczog, Chair of Family, Child, Youth Association
Early years start with the birth of a child, but in Hungary most of the maternity wards are separating newborns from their mothers after birth. There is a complete lack of awareness among mothers and health professionals of the importance of the bonding and attachment in the first days of life. Out of the 80 hospitals, only 20 are baby-friendly.
Only 16% of the children attend daycare programs under the age of three, as there is a long 3 years paid parental leave in Hungary and there is a common and strong belief that mothers should stay at home taking care of their young children until they turn three years old.
Maternal depression is high and services or activities such as parenting support, programs for parents and children (play groups, toy libraries, etc) are almost non-existing, especially in smaller settlements.
Attending kindergarten is compulsory from the age of 3 but there is a shortage of qualified and motivated kindergarten teachers – many are leaving due to the unfavorable circumstances, the groups are large and often in overcrowded settings, without adequate support by special educators, psychologists, speech therapists etc. The parents can be fined in case children are absent without any proof of illness, family allowance can be taken away and, in extreme situations, children can be separated from their families, regardless of the root causes of the absence.
There are more and more segregated facilities, where wealthy parents take their children often also to avoid contacts with Roma children. There are a lot of barriers concerning the integration of children with special needs, like chronic disease, or disability, autism, – due to the lack of professionals and assistants, overcrowded facilities, fear (like in case of children with diabetes or hemophilia, etc), and the rejection on behalf of the parents of the healthy children.
In remote areas and poor regions there are very few professionals. Pediatricians, family doctors, health visitors, psychologists are hard to find and often screening and/or treatment is delayed or never happens. Because of the lack of family support and of foster parents, there is an increasing number of children placed in institutions.
Several EU funded projects target children living in precarious situations in Hungary, but many of those programs lack of transparency and do not work in an integrated manner.
What needs to be done
- A central EU data monitoring and information system would be necessary to make sure all the projects work in a more integrated and coordinated manner.
- It would also be essential to discuss the traditional approaches and beliefs regarding the early years of a child.
- Access to services and support need to be guaranteed to every child and family.