The decision to adopt a child is a big choice for a couple to make and once they have agreed on it they are usually eager to bring their new baby or child home. However, as elsewhere, adopting a child in the Czech Republic can be a long and painful process. There are long queues of childless couples waiting to adopt kids- and seemingly - a lack of children. Yet at this time there are 22 thousand children in institutional care waiting to find new homes. Dr. Petra Vrtbovska from the Prague Institute for Foster Care explains what's keeping them there:
"As in many other countries there are a lot of couples here who want to adopt children but these people usually want healthy, white, new-born babies. There is a lack of such children and queues and queues for newborn babies. So it is a mistake when people say "we would like to adopt kids and kids are not available". The twenty two thousand institutionalized children who are waitin to find a home are older, they have some relationship with their biological parents and they often have physical or psychological problems - as a result of which it is much harder to find new homes for them. For them the best type of care would be foster care - in some cases adoption - but placement needs to be supported so that the parents understand these children and are able to help them - not just give them a home - in most cases that is not enough. "
Although it may take years, an abused or abandoned child who finds a new home at a relatively early age still has a fair chance to overcome their insecurity, learn to trust people and interact in a family and wider social environment. But for the thousands who never manage to leave the orphanage life is much harder. In the Czech Republic this concerns mainly Romany children. Those who end up in an orphanage have little chance of ever finding a new family. Dr. Vrtbovska again:
"As far as Romany children are concerned there are two sides to the problem. One is a hidden prejudice against Romany kids - the racist belief that every Roma kid will steal, every Roma kid is lazy. So there is prejudice. At the same time ethnicity plays a certain role in how we are, how we behave. It determines our temperament and emotions and when people adopt a Romany child they should understand that the children will grow up as a Romany and may be different from them. So personally I would encourage people to adopt a Romany child but only those people who can appreciate diversity, who can handle children who will be different from them and that is not the case with everyone."
Experts in the field are doing their best to help families who have children in foster care or have adopted a child to overcome all possible hurdles and build a relationship founded on trust. There is now a drive to ease the way for both parents and children in order to give as many institutionalized children as possible the chance to be part of a normal family. Dr. Vrtbovska says that those who do not get this chance are heading for big trouble.
"In the Czech Republic children's homes still look very, very old-fashined. There are still thirty, forty or fifty children in one big building. And the educational groups are still made up of at least eight children. They are moved from one section to another, from one institution to another and combined with the original trauma this type of life-style leads to future disasters. Most of these young people are seriously disturbed. It is an emotional and social problem -because these institutions are able to feed kids - they have got clothes and they are not hungry but emotionally and socially these young people are not able to function which creates an enormous ongoing trauma in them."
Apart from the emotional damage institutional care does to individual children, it also has a wider impact on society as a whole.
"It is also very difficult for society because these people end up in the streets, on drugs, in psychiatric clinics, prisons... so it creates very big problems on both sides. But I always tend to pity those poor young people more because they suffer enormously and society should do something about it when they are young. It is very difficult to do something about it when they are twenty-five."