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Minister on adoption in Latvia: people want children no older than five

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUPainful questions in Latvia and often promises to find more funding for pensioners have been present in the country’s government halls for years. The difficult topics regarding orphanages and support of families that have disabled children do not become easier with time either. Why is social inequality Latvia’s bleeding wound? This and other topics were discussed by BNN with Latvia’s Welfare Minister Ramona Petraviča.

«Adoption in Latvia – nearly all potential parents pick children aged three to five years. Preference given to girls»

One of the main priorities for the new welfare minister is improving adoption rates in Latvia and making sure orphanages provide family-like conditions for children. Petraviča says Latvia already has a long queue of people waiting to adopt children. Unfortunately, the problem is that nearly all potential parents want children three to five years old. On top of that, the main demand is for girls.

«The situation is especially hard for disabled children – they are picked for adoption far less often than other children,» the minister said.

Low benefits represent one of the reasons why disabled children and not often adopted. «Parents are unable to leave work. Additionally, disabled children require parents to be present all the time. However, a situation in which a child is put in an orphanage costs the state far more – care of such a child in a social care centre costs the state EUR 800 a month,» said the minister.

It should be added that families with children suffering from a serious disability receive benefit of EUR 106.72 in addition to the family state benefit, as well as special care benefit of EUR 213.43.

The minister says the government has allocated only EUR 8.6 million for this year’s welfare sector’s priorities. She proposed allocating EUR 2.7 million of the aforementioned amount to increase benefits for disabled children. This means the current amount of EUR 213 could reach EUR 313 this year.

According to the ministry’s latest data, there are 621 children in need of adoption in Latvia. 405 of them are older than ten and 160 children are invalids.

It should be said that between January 2016 and December 2018, a total of 18 disabled children were adopted in Latvia by local and foreign families. At the same time, the minister said four disabled children in Latvia are currently in the middle of their adoption process.

In relation to ways of contributing to children’s adoption in Latvia, Petraviča said the following: «We are working on a pilot project to help provide apartments for young parents with disabled children. Those apartments have to be fitted with everything disabled children may need. If it is not possible to find families for them, they could settle in those apartments. Still, this idea is in a pilot project stage,» said the minister.

Meanwhile, to resolve the situation and expand integration opportunities for disabled people, the minister plans to become more involved in the process of helping those people find jobs. To make the process more effective, Petraviča says it is necessary to amendment Labour Law, because employers are reluctant to employ disabled people, because it is hard to fire them if things don’t work out.

To improve the situation with adoption in the country, the minister plans to implement a new form of support for adopters – a child adoption benefit for every adopted child. The planned benefit amount is EUR 107.50 a month per child aged under six and EUR 129 a month for a child aged seven to eighteen years.

She believes it is not possible to put an end to orphanages, but it is possible to reduce the number of orphans. «I have no dreams of completely shutting down orphanages. However, I do want to make them [orphanages] as close to family-like as possible for children – making sure no more than eight children live in one house».

«Money should be invested in people, not concrete»

There are a lot of people subjected to poverty risk in Latvia. The level of guaranteed subsistence minimum in Latvia is EUR 53. For poor families, this is EUR 128. «These numbers have not been reviewed since 2008, except for the guaranteed subsistence minimum that was partially corrected in 2018. These amounts are not indexed either,» said the minister.

«It should be added that municipalities can provide additional income [for the poor]. This income could reach EUR 400, but this depends on the municipality,» says Petraviča.

She told BNN that Welfare Ministry has developed a minimal income improvement plan – from 2019 to 2021 – to reduce poverty and social inequality. According to the minister, the main goal of the plan is increasing minimal pensions, changing calculation base – from EUR 64 to EUR 94 – as well as increasing social benefit minimum to EUR 94.

«My priority has always been people – money should be invested in people, not concrete. Ministries are aware those are very expensive processes and, considering this year’s budget is more or less a technical draft, there is no money for any new priorities in the current plan. This is why the plan [to increase pensions] has been pushed to 2020. Improvement of the minimal benefit system is our priority number one for the next year’s plan.»

Petraviča reminds that the fiscal space is limited and all parties have agreed to not breach the limited financial space. «To change the pension system this year we would need around EUR 19.6 million. We would require a bit more than that in 2020.»

The minister says the Saeima will start working on the 2020 budget draft in April. «We will have to fight then to increase minimal pensions and social benefit minimum. A year after that, once we have completed our objective, we will be able to talk with municipalities to convince them to increase guaranteed income minimum.»

What should pensioners do now, when most of them do not have enough money to make ends meet?

«Pension indexation will be performed this year. It will be a large-scale process, because we will be indexing not only pensions but also the EUR 1.50 bonus for every year of work experience from 31 December 1995 and EUR 1 from 1996 to 2011. These bonuses were never indexed in the past,» says the minister. She also promises to perform a more massive indexation for people with work experience of 45 years or more. It will be 80% instead of 70%. She adds that «it would be ideal if we could apply 100% for indexation, not just part of this amount.»

Petraviča stresses that everything Welfare Ministry changes by one euro results in millions.

«We cannot promise a better life for residents next year»

Petraviča said there is still a lot to do in the welfare sector. «The biggest obstacle is that we always face reality of funding – the amount of money is what it is,» said the minister.

«With the implementation of the technical budget, we cannot promise for life to become better immediately,» said the minister.

She explains there is another problem Latvia and Welfare Ministry will have to address is the shortage of qualified workers. «We will likely have to discuss this at the next couple of meetings. One of the options provides for reducing the number of days applicants have to apply for work. The current term is 30 days and if no local person applies for work, employers may consider foreigners. We could reduce the term to 14 days.»

As for the ministry’s outstanding tasks, Petraviča said: «I want to start with the ministry and take a look at all the budgets – what we can spend and what we have already spent. We have to look at what we can do with our existing budget. Then we will move forward, because we have a lot of priorities. Children and seniors, who live on their own and are older than 65, are at equal risk of poverty. Children who have only one parent are also at risk of poverty.»

«I have to convince the entire coalition and all parties to agree that this is a priority matter – we have to invest in people, and people can wait no longer. How long can a pensioner wait? We shouldn’t invest in concrete alone. There are things we need, sure. However, these are also very painful and sensitive affairs the state should resolve,» concluded Latvia’s Welfare Ministry.

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