In June, the national preventive mechanism (NPM) of Slovenia conducted unannounced content-specific visits of four institutions and several residential groups providing education programmes for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioural disorders. On several occasions during its previous visits, the NPM had found that the institutions had different rules of behaviour and conduct and procedures for taking educational measures in the event of their violation. Therefore it decided to examine the situation.
Between 5 and 17 June, two members of the NPM, a representative of the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia and a representative of the participating non-governmental organisation Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs visited the Jarše Youth Home, the Planina Residential and Counselling Center, the Malči Belič Youth Care Centre and the Logatec Education and Training Institution. They examined in more detail whether the individual institutions had adopted internal acts that regulate the rules and measures in the event of violations, how they implement the procedures following violations, how they inform the children and adolescents about the rules and measures, which violations are the most frequent, and how the institutions act in such cases. During the visits they also paid attention to signs that might suggest torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, since these institutions are considered places of deprivation of liberty as defined in Article 4 of the Act Ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (MOPPM).
They found that the rules of behaviour and conduct of the institutions are written in different forms (e.g. as a rulebook, as part of the education plan or as individual rules without the measures) and that these rules and measures in cases of violations are also not regulated to the same level of detail. The educational measures are mainly imposed orally and are typically determined by a teacher or a team of teachers without the participation of children and adolescents. In general, children and adolescents do not use complaint procedures.
The members of the NPM spoke to some of the children and adolescents, who said that although they are familiar with most of the rules, they do not always agree with the measures imposed in the event of their violation or think the measures are too strict or unjust. Most children and adolescents also see no use in complaining against the measures imposed.
For all the visited institutions, the members of the NPM found that some measures (e.g. restriction of home leave during weekends, confiscation of mobile phones and compensation for damage) could, in particular circumstances, constitute an excessive breach of the rights of the children and adolescents residing in the institution. They also found that the institutions lack the appropriate legal basis for adopting internal acts containing such rules (e.g. triple compensation for damage incurred).
In its final report of 22 August 2019, the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia therefore recommended that the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport prepare an appropriate legal basis.
A legal basis would enable the institutions to implement the NPM recommendations to adopt internal acts that fully regulate the rules of behaviour and conduct. They could provide detailed and unified definitions of violations, educational measures, procedures in the event of violations and complaint procedures. The NPM also believes that, at least in the event of a serious violation, the children and adolescents should be informed in writing about the educational measure. They should also be informed that they can file a complaint and with whom. It should be clearly defined who determines particular measures, who imposes them, and in what way the children and adolescents participate in the procedure.
Adopting a legal basis would provide more unified standards for the rules of behaviour and conduct and the educational measures in the institutions, ensuring comparability and facilitating the monitoring of the implementation of the rules and measures. Additionally, it would enable better predictability and limit the (current) possibility of unequal or even arbitrary educational measures and treatment of children and adolescents in cases of violations of the rules of behaviour and conduct.
In September, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport responded to the final report, stating that it had prepared a proposal for a completely new act on the treatment of children and adolescents with emotional and behavioural disorders and problems, with the aim of establishing a unified legislative solution for the comprehensive treatment of children with emotional and behavioural disorders in residential care institutions, now treated by different sectors.
After the act is adopted, expert centres will be established and the educational programme and norms for each of the defined forms of work will be renewed. The proposal for the act also defines internal rules and their drafting. The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport explained that the basis or guidelines for dealing with crisis situations in the Slovenian residential care institutions for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioural disorders will be prepared in 2019 as part of the public call for proposals for research projects in the context of the 2019 targeted research programme.
Source: The Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia