null Derogatory institutional sanctions, bad automatisms, probable abuse - report by the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights on the operation of the Children’s Home of Zalaegerszeg

A comprehensive investigation conducted by the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has uncovered specific and systemic improprieties in connection with the operation of the Children’s Home of Zalaegerszeg and the treatment of the children being taken care of therein.
The Commissioner has received a complaint that children are regularly abused and not properly taken care of in the Children’s Home of Zalaegerszeg operated by the Ministry of Human Capacities. Acting upon that complaint, the Commissioner has ordered an unannounced on-the-spot inspection of the Children’s Home.
The report on the inspection states that in certain groups the number of children with dual needs (i.e., children with both disabilities and special needs) exceeds the statutory limit, which infringes the children’s right to protection and care. It is unacceptable that, referring to the children’s interest, they are automatically qualified as home-schooled, meaning that they, as students, have to enter into a legal relationship with an internal, quasi segregated school and to meet the academic requirements thereof. The closed system of operation of individual homes for children with special needs makes the practical training of children participating in vocational education impossible.
Ombudsman László Székely has found it a grave violation of the law that, by the decision of the Home’s Director, one of the children was under health monitoring, restricting the child’s personal liberty, for almost one and a half months, far surpassing the statutory maximum of 48 hours. The on-the-spot inspection has also uncovered that “special” sanctions are applied as punishment in the Children’s Home against children who break the rules or who are difficult to handle. Some of the children indicated during their interviews that deprivation of the possibility to stay in the open air is a form of punishment in the institution.
The report also points out that, while smoking is prohibited on the premises of the institution, some members of the professional staff use smoking or the deprivation thereof as a means of reward or punishment. The investigation has also found that the children regularly abuse each other. The Ombudsman has emphasized that the enforcement of the rights of children living in the system of child protection services to protection and care is the State’s responsibility. The professional staff shall be responsible for calling attention to the harmful consequences of smoking, providing help to kick the habit, and for preventing, reducing and handling violence among the children using the methods of education and psychology.
During the interviews, some of the children spoke about being verbally and physically abused by the professional staff. The children’s rights representative has received eight complaints in the course of a couple of months, and complaints have been lodged with the guardians also on eight occasions. The investigations launched by the Home’s Director have found the complaints unfounded; however, the interviews made with the children and the information received from the children’s rights representative and the guardians make the fact of abuse probable.
In connection with the operation of the Children’s Home, the Commissioner has requested the competent prosecutor to launch a legal compliance procedure. Furthermore, the Ombudsman has made a recommendation to the Ministry of Human Capacities to carry on with measures aimed at battling unlawful practices restricting the personal liberty of children placed in special children’s homes. The Commissioner has requested the Director of the Children’s Home to put an end to the unlawful restriction of personal liberty, and to ask for methodological help in order to handle aggressive behavior among the children. He has also suggested making it possible for children living in homes for children with special needs to get high school education matching their abilities, as well as reviewing the grounds for home-schooling.