Friday, 17 July 2015

Greek austerity may be an economic tale but children are the human cost

Many perspectives have been shared about the social and economic repercussions that the current third EU and IMF bailout proposals for Greece may have. The impact of these tough austerity measures is yet to unfold for the country, for the other southern states, or indeed Europe as a whole.

But moving beyond a purely economic lens, there is already evidence about the extent of deprivation and youth unemployment of more than 50% during the past five years of the first and second bailout programmes, meaning that the likely effects of the third are easier to predict, at least for this generation.

The links between poverty and a range of risk factors for child mental health problems and related outcomes is well established. Nevertheless, the reality hit home a few weeks ago when I joined the Children’s SOS Villages in Greece in training their prospective new carers, or “mothers” and “aunts” as they are widely called. These carers work in a similar way to foster carers and residential care staff in other welfare systems. The villages were established in Austria after World War II to care for orphan children and since then their model has successfully spread across more than 120 countries.

Their model may slightly vary, but their target groups are typically children without parents, for a range of reasons, or those who have been abused and/or neglected. Consequently, it came as a surprise to realise the extent of child abandonment (neglect, an inability to care for them or even asking social services to look after them) for predominantly financial reasons since the beginning of the Greek crisis.

The organisation has responded by diversifying its remit in Greece. In the absence of an increasingly stretched health and social care sector, they have now extended their services beyond the traditional villages to support, relieve and prevent abuse and neglect, running eight social centres in Greece’s major cities to help keep families together.