MULTIPLE cases of Slovak children taken into foster care by social services in the UK initially provoked negative reactions among Slovaks towards the British authorities. But as more details have emerged via the Slovak media, criticism has come to be directed at the Slovak child protection authorities too.

So-called ‘forced adoptions’ of Slovak children in the UK became a controversial news item in the media in August after TV JOJ broke the story of five children from near Humenné, in eastern Slovakia, who were placed in foster care in the UK after being taken away from their parents, Miroslav Goroľ and Veronika Čonková. The couple were the parents of nine children, four of whom accompanied them when they moved o the UK in June 2012. The fifth child taken into care was born to the couple shortly after their arrival in Britain. When the couple failed to find work in the UK their case came to the attention of British social services, which later resulted in their children being placed into temporary foster care.

British authorities have taken about 100 Slovak children away from their parents in the past three years; some of them have already been adopted by new parents in the UK, the Sme daily reported.

The Slovak media have voiced suspicions that the British authorities have been taking Slovak children away from their families in order to satisfy demand from British citizens wanting to adopt a child as fast as possible. However, no verifiable evidence has been published to back up such allegations.

The Boór case

More recently, another case involving Slovak children taken into care in the UK caught the attention of the Slovak media. The case concerns the Boór family, whose two sons were taken away from their parents, who subsequently divorced. The boys were put into temporary foster care by a court ruling on July 19, 2010. The children’s mother and grandmother then missed a May 2012 deadline for appealing a subsequent court ruling in which a judge refused to place the children into the care of their grandmother and thereby authorised their adoption, the Slovak Foreign Ministry explained in a statement which it published on September 18 in response to media attention to the case.

On September 6, the head of the Centre for International Protection of Children and Youth, Andrea Císarová, who travelled to London after the cases were exposed by the media, appealed the ruling and requested that the court forgive the delay in appealing. On September 18, the court decided to grant the mother another chance to appeal against the previous ruling to give her sons up for adoption.

“It is necessary to realise that the UK is a member country of the EU, with an independent judiciary whose rulings should be respected on the one hand, but on the other hand there are remedies that can be used,” the statement reads. “At the same time, Slovak citizens must keep and respect the laws of a country they are staying in, remembering that the British laws in this area are composed differently than the Slovak ones.”

Meanwhile on September 18 about 150 people gathered in front of the UK Embassy in Bratislava to protest against the adoption of the two boys in the Boór case.

The Centre for International Protection of Children and Youth also got involved in the case of the five children of Veronika Čonková. Císarová attended a court hearing on September 21 after which the court ruled the children could be reunited with their parents.

Císarová confirmed that the most recent developments in both cases prove that when Slovak authorities, principally her centre, intervene in the British courts on behalf of Slovak citizens, parents may not necessarily lose their children, the Sme daily wrote.

Embassy's response

In a response to reports in the Slovak media, the British Embassy told The Slovak Spectator that the British government “strongly rebuts [sic]” allegations against British social services, saying that “social services in the UK are among the best-regulated in the world” and “any involvement of local authorities is based on full and fair assessments”.

“We want to reassure all Slovak citizens, that British social services only take children into care when they have serious concerns about the well-being of the child,” the response read. “For British social services and the independent legal system, protection and welfare of children is the highest priority.”

Meanwhile in Slovakia

Media coverage of cases of children taken into foster care has also drawn attention to the lack of response on the part of the Slovak authorities.

Reporting on Císarová’s intervention in a British court in the Boór case, Labour Minister Ján Richter admitted that the Labour Ministry had first received information about the case in July 2010 and that the Centre for International Protection of Children and Youth had begun acting, but with no results. The minister said he dismissed the then director of the centre and replaced her with Císarová, who has since managed to begin cooperation with her counterpart in the UK, the TASR newswire reported.

As a result of the newly-launched cooperation, British social services will directly inform the Slovak Centre for International Protection of Children and Youth about similar cases of broken-up families.

In Slovakia, MPs from the parliamentary human rights committee attended an inquiry at the centre, which was initiated by Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) MP and former deputy labour minister Lucia Nicholsonová.

Nicholsonová also filed a criminal complaint regarding alleged child trafficking, abuse of the powers of public officials, and marring the tasks of public officials. She said she would like to inquire about the centre’s activities concerning children sent for adoption from Slovakia, so-called inter-state adoptions, saying that there are suspicions that children are being sent abroad if they cannot be adopted by Slovak families and that the centre does not follow up on how the children are doing with their new, foreign families.

The centre is now preparing a report from its files concerning adoption cases, to be presented to MPs on September 28. The Slovak ombudswoman, Jana Dubovcová, said she is planning to analyse the report and then propose systematic measures, according to the Sme daily.

“I am convinced that the British courts proceeded correctly and in line with the Convention on the Rights of Children,” said Dubovcová, a former judge, as quoted by Sme, adding that Slovakia “shouldn’t be looking over the fence into another’s garden”.

Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák announced he was planning to check on the work of the Slovak Embassy in London, too, Sme wrote.