Children’s right to family life

Lumos/Chris Leslie

About 5 million children in the WHO European Region have intellectual disabilities. Often they are placed in institutions and live apart from their families, subjected to discrimination and neglect. Evidence continues to surface of the survival of abusive practices across the Region, even in countries that have carried out far-reaching reforms. Health is an essential to the development and social inclusion of these children, but their basic health needs – both physical and emotional – are often neglected.

Care in the community

Experts agree that care in the community is the right option, but it involves more than just moving children and young people with intellectual disabilities into community settings. Support must be delivered at many levels to include them in the community, from health care, social services and education to support to families and carers. Without such comprehensive and integrated support, they can remain isolated.

Way forward for Europe

A WHO initiative, called “Better health, better lives” seeks to ensure that all children and young people with intellectual disabilities are fully participating members of society, living with their families, integrated in the community and receiving health care and support proportional to their needs. WHO/Europe will launch the initiative at a conference in Bucharest, Romania on 26–27 November 2010, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which will result in a declaration that covers four key objectives:

  • promoting and supporting good physical and mental health and well-being for children and young people with intellectual disabilities;
  • eliminating health and other inequalities and preventing other forms of discrimination, neglect and abuse;
  • providing support that prevents separation and allows parents to care for and protect their children; and
  • supporting these children and young people in realizing their potential and making successful transitions through their lives.

Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) support the initiative and are participating in the conference. They will be instrumental in taking the agenda forward in countries and holding policy-makers to their promises. This is a step towards helping children and young people with intellectual disabilities to lead meaningful lives as part of the community.