According to an analysis by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, there are about 28,000 children in foster care in the Czech Republic, which is an above-average number in the European Union. Every year, the number of children who grow up outside their biological family, whether they are in institutional care or in foster care, increases. Financial difficulties are a common reason for removing children. The number of people experiencing financial difficulties and living on the poverty line has recently increased. This has been influenced by the COVID pandemic, rising energy and food prices and inflation. For this reason, the Lighthouse Project was launched by the Tereza Maxová Foundation for Children together with ING Bank. The aim is to help socially vulnerable families and single parents; the long-term goal of the project is to support parents in need and prevent the unwanted removal of children from their families. Since the start of the project in 2022, 124 families have been helped.
"The most common reason for removing a child from the care of his or her parents is neglect of upbringing, usually caused by a lack of parental competence or the family's unstable economic or housing situation. The state system does not have sufficient tools to prevent issues in parental care and poverty. We know from experience that many families or single parents find themselves in difficult situations that they cannot resolve without targeted support. Families are often threatened with the removal of their children and their placement in institutional care, usually due to the threat of losing their housing," says the director of the Tereza Maxová Foundation for Children, Terezie Sverdlinová.
Experts across sectors agree that when children are removed from their families, the consequences are unfortunately more often addressed than the causes. In addition to one-off solutions in the event of an acute crisis, the Lighthouse Project offers long-term programmes that help increase financial literacy or the ability to enter the labour market, thus preventing the often difficult situation of child removal.
The project partner is ING Bank, which has been cooperating with the Tereza Maxová Children's Foundation since 2006. This year, the Lighthouse Project won 2nd place in the TOP Responsible Company Helping the Environment category in the TOP Responsible Company 2023 competition. This award is given annually by Business for Society, the largest platform for responsible and sustainable business in the Czech Republic.
"Initiatives supporting the education of children from orphanages and foster families have a firm place in our socially responsible activities. With the Lighthouse Project, we expanded our cooperation with our long-term partner - the Tereza Maxová Children's Foundation - and we also focused on prevention and support for parents who find themselves in difficult life situations. I am pleased that in its first two years of its operation, the project has already helped several dozen parents to maintain a stable economic background, to enter the labour market or to get out of the debt trap, thus enabling their children to continue to grow and develop within their families," said Erik Fortgens, CEO of ING in the Czech Republic.
Child removal prevention, career counselling and financial literacy courses
The Lighthouse Project is divided into several parts, the first of which is dedicated to the aforementioned topic of preventing the unwanted removal of children from their families. In cooperation with the OSPOD, the aim is to provide targeted assistance to families who have fallen into a difficult social or other threatening situation. The financial support is one-off, the parents' cooperation is a prerequisite and, of course, a safe family environment for the child.
The other part of the project is focused on employment in the labour market, in the framework of which single parents had the opportunity to attend Career Counselling courses. The main benefit is an increase in self-confidence and motivation to continue living independently through help with finding a suitable job. "The original idea was that as many clients as possible would start work after the course. However, the reality is somewhat different. Mothers in the shelter are often not in a situation where they have a place to put their children and can go to work. But they can already take very concrete steps, actively using the job centre's offer. I was pleased to see that all of the trainees eventually applied for retraining. The director of the facility says that the morale among them has risen tremendously and that there is hope that they will find employment," says career counsellor Kateřina Šamanová.
The last part of the Lighthouse Project is to increase financial literacy through seminars that take place in refuge centres and shelters. The aim is to enable mothers to manage their finances, run their households and prevent financial problems once they are reintegrated into mainstream society. During the theoretical part, clients learn how to make a budget for the whole month, how to deal with debt issues and how to create a financial reserve. The practical part includes individual mapping of personal debts, working on repayment schedules, creating a family budget and cheap shopping options.