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A Win for the Children

Center for International Development Senior Associate Lisa Petter holds a photo of a foster child from the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 24, 2017) — On February 15, 2017, 1,400 children in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina were given a better chance at happier, more fulfilling lives.

The University at Albany was well-represented and shared in the joy of the moment when the Federation Parliament House of Representatives adopted the Law on Foster Care by a 66-1 vote. The vote followed a unanimous vote in the House of Peoples the week before, which was preceded by two unanimous votes in committee.

Three years of dedicated work by members of UAlbany’s Center for International Development had been rewarded. On hand at the vote was Christian Haupt, chief of party for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Strengthening Governing Institutions and Processes (SGIP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina project. Hugely pleased also back home was Lisa Petter, CID senior associate and SGIP project director.

“I cannot tell you how important this vote was for the children and families in the Federation of BiH who need a safe and legal alternative to institutional care,” said Petter. “It was the privilege of our CID home office staff to have worked with the Federation’s Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and with our extremely dedicated team in Sarajevo, led by Christian Haupt. They helped the Ministry craft a law that drew broad support from the public, within the professional community and across the political spectrum.”

In the Federation of BiH, roughly 1,000 children live in orphanages or group homes and nearly 400 in families that have received little or no government support for the children’s care. “These children live without the family support they need to help them to reach their full potential,” said Petter.

CID in Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Foster parent Nevenka Kapetanović talks on the benefits of the Draft Law on Foster Care at the Federation Ministry of Labor and Social Policy press conference lead by Minister Vesko Drljača (left) in the Federation Parliament in November 2016. (Photo courtesy of USAID/SGIP)

Since the Dayton Peace Accords brought an end to war in 1995, many attempts have been made to create safe, legal alternatives to institutional care for children in the Federation — as well as for its adults who cannot live on their own — but a comprehensive modern foster-care system solution had not been found.

CID worked with the Federation Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to create comprehensive legislation by determining the most workable policy, helping the Ministry in Sarajevo to conduct research and broad consultations with social work practitioners and civil society organizations that care for the children, and assisting them to draft the legislation, incorporating findings from public hearings.

The resulting provisions included increased professional oversight of children placed in homes and support for families desiring to aid the children but previously lacking the resources.

“The Federation of BiH Law on Foster Care will be a major support for the vulnerable children and families in the Federation who need a legal alternative to institutional care,” said Federal Minister Vesko Drljača. “With optimal conditions for foster care, the children without parental care or elderly people with disabilities will have better opportunity to live in a family environment, which provides better circumstances for their quality mental and physical development while decreasing their stigmatization by a part of the society.”

Opposition party Member in the Federation Parliament’s Upper House, Mira Ljubijankić, also voiced her support of the legislation. Many foster parents, such as Nevenka Kapetanović, were elated. “This legislation supports the life in family and parental love,” said Kapetanović. “If a child grows up in a family, he has the opportunity to have a real hug when he needs it and his priorities could be discovered more easily.”

USAID funds SUNY/CID’s work in Sarajevo to improve accountability and transparency of governance institutions. USAID recently extended the project through September 2018.

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