Alternative care experts from around the world, including many young people who have lived in alternative care, met in Geneva this week to discuss the way forward.
Sixty experts from 29 national and international SOS Children’s Villages associations, including four youth experts, were among the alternative care professionals who gathered in Geneva this week to share knowledge and good practice at “Momentum”, the International Alternative Care Conference.
The conference, hosted jointly by the International Institute for the Rights of the Child and the Centre for Children’s Rights Studies of the University of Geneva, aimed to build on the momentum that has grown in improving alternative care policy and practice since the approval of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children in 2009.
Key alternative care discussions
Main discussions at the conference centred on these alternative care issues:
Development of the alternative child care workforce
Difficulties faced by young people aging out of care
Fulfilling the rights of children with disabilities
Child care system reforms (also known as de-institutionalisation) and family reintegration
Prevention, or family strengthening, to prevent the need for alternative care
Involving young people
Alternative care youth expert Fabio Caillaud spoke about workforce training. Photographer: Leonora Barclay
Youth participation was a key topic and strength of the conference, as young experts from many organisations shared insights from their experiences growing up in alternative care.
Fabio Caillaud, 21, who presented at a plenary on behalf of SOS Children’s Villages Italy, highlighted this: “I challenge anyone to say it is not a person’s right to have a say in events that will affect their lives.”
He added, “I have a dream: In a few years from now we won’t be discussing youth participation, as it will be a compulsory part of [care workforce] training.”
Akmal Akhmedov, 19, of Uzbekistan, spoke about his experience with the 'I Matter' campaign in organising with his peers to improve conditions for young people ageing out of care.
"The preparation to leave care needs to be considered from the beginning and 'entry' into care," he said.
On the topic of prevention, experts from SOS Children’s Villages India and Colombia presented examples from the organisation’s successful family strengthening programmes, numbering 542 programmes worldwide in 2015.
Preventing family separation
SOS Children's Villages' impact assessments have shown that these programmes are effective in preventing separation of children from their families, and in supporting the adequate care and social and emotional well-being of the children.
Angela Rosales, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Colombia, spoke of the integrated approach her country is taking to family strengthening and alternative care.
“There are two main achievements. One is piloting an experience of reintegration of children and prevention of their separation with 900 families. The other main achievement was that the state formally included the UN Guidelines in the state documents and guidelines for the provision of services for any child in the country,” she said.
Watch a video in which Ms Rosales explains the integrated programmes in Cartagena, Colombia:
Ending migration detention of unaccompanied children
A growing child rights issue highlighted by participants was the need to protect and fulfil the rights of child refugees and migrants, and to fight against the common practice of placing unaccompanied minors in detention.
Richard Pichler (right) spoke to key partners about the need for alternatives to 'migration detention' for unaccompanied minors. Photo: Leonora Barclay
At a side event involving key partners, Richard Pichler, Special Representative for External Affairs and Resources, SOS Children's Villages International, noted the lack of awareness in many countries of alternatives to detention of unaccompanied minors who have crossed borders as migrants or refugees.
“After the meeting, many representatives asked me about the SOS programmes in Mexico as an alternative to detention,” he explained.
“We can show in examples of our work that there are other options for children.”
Learn more about training of care workers
Learn more about care for refugee and migrant children