Budget allocation for child protection in Kosovo
As they say the devil is in the details. Usually the decentralization of the public administration is a good thing and is considered important to the effectiveness of local democracy, as people can have more influence on decision-making processes. But when decentralization comes with an insufficient provision of suitable mechanisms, social services can suffer. If central authorities solely see decentralization as a means of delegating responsibility to local authorities without building their capacity to sustain them financially, the process of transformation can become complicated and unsustainable. Kosovo is currently facing problems of budget allocation in the area of child protection and the prioritization of other areas over child wellbeing, which limit human resources and child protection frameworks.
At the same time, change must be fostered from the bottom up in order to ensure best practice and a de facto implementation of advocacy recommendations. Firstly, local authorities’ responsibilities must be clearly defined in terms of the minimal services they need to provide. These services must be verified according to minimal quality standards and subjected to independent quality monitoring. Moreover, the funds required for ensuring a good functioning of services during decentralization need to be clarified in order to facilitate a realistic and transparent budget allocation. The main issue is that local authorities do not generally have sufficient resources to support such services, and allowing these authorities to deal with financial aspects without equally guaranteeing them support mechanisms from the central level is problematic.
Amongst ChildPact countries, Kosovo is not the first to experience decentralization challenges. For instance, let us think about the case of restructuring in Romania. In 1999, following the decentralization of responsibility of child protection services towards county councils/committees, a major financing crisis emerged in this area (during which some institutions faced severe food shortages), which was solved through urgent intervention on behalf of the EU. In 2005, central authorities delegated the responsibility for ensuring prevention and support services was to local authorities (in cities, towns, communes) in the absence of fund transfers meant to ensure a certain level of sustainability. This approach has had negative results given that these child protection services are currently underdeveloped, and the consequences are evident when we look at the large number of children that are still taken care of under the existing protection system.
Taking such aspects into account, KOMF (the Coalition of NGOs for Protection of the Rights of Children in Kosovo) worked to offer policy options on child protection in Kosovo by providing a brief budget analysis on social protection policies. The analysis, entitled Is tax-payers’ money reaching the children in need, elaborated the financing of current social welfare policies with special emphasis on child protection and provided sustainable mechanism alternatives to finance social services.
Klevis Vaqari from KOMF explains: “the budget increase for the social assistance scheme will have a minimal cost for the budget of the Republic of Kosovo but great effects in improving the well being of children in need of protection, as well reduce the development of negative phenomena such as: school dropout, abuse, trafficking, begging, child labor, delinquency and other asocial behavior, for which child poverty is considered to be the potential factor. Over the longer term, such negative phenomena will have a major impact on the state budget.”
On the basis of their analysis, KOMF presented two recommendations meant to influence stakeholders to think about policy options that could improve the financing of social services and schemes:
1. to define a specific grant for social services in order to provide at least a minimal level of child protection in Kosovo, and
2. to increase the budget for the Social Assistance Scheme, hence contributing to the capacity of the monthly social assistance benefit to meet better nutritional and welfare needs.
This approach has served as a platform for advocacy targeting the Kosovar Prime Minister and political parties ahead of the last general elections. Following the elections, more bodies have been targeted, including the new Assembly deputies, with the help of the Commission for Human Rights, Gender Equality, Missing Persons and Petitions and the Commission for Health and Social Welfare. KOMF also created press releases for the international day of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Consequently, on the International Poverty Day of the 17th of October 2015, the Minister of Labour and Social Services decided to increase the amount of the social assistance scheme by 25%. While closely following the process, KOMF was part of the group working on the draft Law on Child Protection, drafted for the first time in Kosovo. Apart from sparking discussions between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, KOMF’s recommendations convinced the government to include a specific grant for social services on its agenda. The grant was incorporated in the aforementioned draft law, which the Assembly is currently expected to discuss.
All things considered, paying close attention to budget considerations during and after decentralisation is important, as a smooth transformative process can only be achieved if local authorities are supported. Furthermore, if child protection is not prioritised on the government agenda, budget allocation plans will not be considered a priority either.