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Ending Institutionalized Childhood

BUDAPEST – In September of this year, the Bulgarian prosecutor launched a homicide investigation into the deaths of 238 children with disabilities, who had been living in state institutions in Bulgaria. The children died over the past decade from malnutrition and starvation, treatable infections, pneumonia, “accidents,” and neglect. Of the 238 cases, 149 children died in the institutions where they lived rather than in a hospital, raising alarm about why, on the brink of death, a child was not transferred immediately to a hospital intensive-care unit.

Abuse and neglect are not unique to Bulgaria. Successive governments across central and eastern Europe are responsible for a systemic failure to provide adequate support to families with disabled children, often resulting in abandonment and institutionalization. Without a stimulating family or family-like setting, such children cannot develop their full potential. Institutions cause deterioration in a child, even where neglect and abuse are absent.