22/09/2005 - Many children worldwide live without the protection of their families, being orphaned, separated, abandoned or at risk of being abandoned. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recently held its Day of General Discussion on the issue of "children without parental care" in Geneva and a preceding NGO event highlighted the need for international guidelines for the protection of children without parental care.
The Day of General Discussion aimed to identify practical recommendations for ensuring that the rights of children living without parental care are respected, and to improve implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on this topic.
On 16 September, around 60 people attended the NGO panel discussion on children without parental care organised by the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. David Tollfree presented Save the Children UK's "first resort series", highlighting the need for "packages" of intervention and support measures children and their families require to be adequately supported.
FICE, IFCO and SOS Children's Villages presented "Quality4Children", a joint project to develop standards in out-of-home care in Europe based on the experiences of children, parents and caregivers; highlighting in particular the aspect of child and youth participation.
Save the Children UK spoke on the development of standards in out-of-home care in East Africa. Zeina Allouche, director of SOS Children's Villages Lebanon, explored the link between the organisations' prevention work with biological families and out-of-home care in SOS Children's Villages, giving recommendations for the development of international guidelines.
International Social Services outlined requirements for re-integrating children in their families of origin. A lively discussion and a "market" in which NGOs could share their work, was an opportunity to exchange experiences and ideas.
At the Day of General Discussion itself, statements were made by members of the UN CRC Committee, NGOs, UNICEF and the Council of Europe. NGO representative Emmanuel Sherwin, Chairperson of the Youth Committee of the International Foster Care Organization and steering member of the "Quality4Children" project, illustrated the harsh situation of children in care and how society fails them.
In working groups, the more than 200 participants from governments, UN agencies and NGOs developed recommendations. They discussed the role of states in preventing and regulating separation as well as the standards required in out-of-home child care provision. There was common ground among participants that priority should be given to supporting biological families in order to prevent the separation of children from their parents. While a wide range of out-of-home care options is needed to meet individual needs of children, large institutions shall be closed down. The right of children to participate in decisions affecting them and being listened to is of utmost importance, but widely neglected in practice.
Issues addressed included measures against abuse in out-of-home care, the still widespread practice of placing babies in large institutional settings, or the situation of vulnerable children, such as those with disabilities or from a minority background. It was discussed how to empower communities, support implementation and set appropriate indicators for monitoring. Keys to raise quality in the care process were highlighted, such as careful admission criteria, regular review, quality training of caregivers and respect to cultural and social background.
The precarious situation and rise in the number of child-headed households, the risk of child abuse in informal care settings or needs of children in the justice system were issues of concern. On a policy level, support to de-institutionalisation processes, the role and accountability of governments and the provision of sufficient financial resources for prevention and care was addressed.
SOS Children's Villages contributed on issues such as the importance of early prevention and permanency planning, the importance of family-based care solutions and of keeping siblings together, the need for individual assessment, and the organisation's experience of supporting the transition of youth in its care towards independent living.
The final recommendations of the Discussion Day will be approved by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child within the coming weeks. Participants expressed their hope that the UN Commission on Human Rights will welcome the development of international guidelines.