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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December, 2003, 16:05 GMT
Healthy boy rescued from psychiatric ward
By Jenny Cuffe
File On 4

Constantin Carcea and friends
Constantin Carcea (middle) has been celebrating his freedom
An 18-year-old boy wrongly held in a Romanian psychiatric hospital has been released after BBC Radio 4's File On 4 programme highlighted his case to the government.

Romania's abandoned children, placed in state institutions in the dying days of Ceaucescu's regime, are now reaching adulthood.

Under pressure from the EU, which has made child protection a measure of its readiness to join, the country has closed many of those institutions since 2001 and returned 20,000 children to their homes or foster placements.

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But File on 4 has uncovered disturbing evidence that some older teenagers are being dumped in institutions for the mentally ill and disabled because there is nowhere else for them to go.

We visited Harlau Hospital in north east Romania near the border with Moldova with Rachel Bentley, director of a British charity called Children on the Edge.

She wanted to see if she could find an 18-year-old boy she had recognised on a previous visit earlier this summer.

Fetid atmosphere

Constantin Carcea is an 18 year-old, with no history of illness or disability, who was brought up in Halaucesti Placement Centre where he excelled at history and maths.

Why did he think he was there? .... because the director of the childrens' home didn't like him.
She could not understand why he had been sent to a hospital instead of continuing his studies or going out to work.

When we arrived, Constantin was in a ward surrounded by older men who were lying expressionless on their beds. He greeted us with a huge grin and chatted to us in good English as he showed us around the building.

In the hallway, men and women - some elderly, some physically disabled - were milling around, dressed in grubby, ill-fitting clothes. The atmosphere was fetid.

Romanian hospital
Conditions in Romanian hospitals are very basic
In an office at the end of a dark corridor, we found a nurse preparing phials of medicine. She said Constantin was one of three youngsters admitted five months ago who had no problems and, as far as she was concerned, should not be there.

She did not know who had sent them to Harlau but agreed that there was no way of telling when, if ever, they would get out.

Later, Constantin told us that he was given regular doses of diazepam, even though he had no trouble sleeping and was not violent.

So why did he think he was there? He said it was complicated, but he thought it was because the director of the children's home didn't like him.

Institutionalisation syndrome

Dr Olympia Macovi, a member of the Commission for Minors which oversees cases of mental and physical disability, agrees that this is the most likely explanation.
A 23-year-old woman with epilepsy clasped her round the waist and begged to see an optician who could prescribe new glasses for her

She has checked his medical records and confirms that a doctor has written that he is mentally deficient. But she knows the doctor and says: "He is not to be trusted". The only problem she can verify is that he suffers from "institutionalisation syndrome".

According to Rachel Bentley, Harlau hospital had greatly improved since her first visit but she was dismayed to find another six young people there from Halaucesti Placement Centre who could be leading normal lives out in the community with some support.

One is a 23-year-old woman with epilepsy who clasped her round the waist and begged to see an optician who could prescribe new glasses for her.

'EU pressure'

"There's not enough social workers or money," Rachel told me.

"People are acting according to EU pressure but with the same mindset from the Ceaucescu period. They honestly think they're doing a good job."

We asked the regional authority for child protection about the use of a psychiatric hospital for youngsters who have spent their lives in care but were told that young people over the age of 18 were not their responsibility.

So we spoke to the head of the Department for Handicapped Persons, Constantin Stoenescu.

New life

He could not explain why a healthy teenager should be sent to an institution like the one in Harlau but agreed to monitor and assess the situation.

Fortunately for Constantin, he does not have to wait for Romania's creaking bureaucracy to act.

A few days later, Rachel returned to the hospital with authorisation for his release and he is now working on a farm project organised by Children on the Edge.

The other young people will have to wait longer for their freedom.

File On 4: BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 9 December at 2000 GMT and repeated on Sunday 14 December at 1700 GMT.

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