SOS families

Every child needs a loving family. SOS families provide stable, secure and loving care in a family setting for children who have lost their parents or cannot live with their biological family.

Photo: Conor AshleighIn the safe hands of SOS mother in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Conor Ashleigh
We believe children should grow up with their families. The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, to which SOS Children’s Villages made key contributions, also stress this.

Yet sometimes, despite every effort to care for their children, families break down and it is in the child's best interest to be placed in alternative care. At SOS Children's Villages, we believe family-based care is the best option.

With the help of sponsors, donors and community partners, SOS Children's Villages builds SOS families for children who have lost parental care. In a family home, children grow up with an SOS mother or SOS parents, and sisters and brothers. SOS aunts support SOS mothers in caring for their children. In turn, SOS families are part of supportive communities made up of several SOS families. These communities are called SOS Children's Villages.

SOS families provide individualised care and promote the development, education and health of each child. Girls and boys of different ages live together. Every effort is made to keep biological siblings together.

Usually, SOS families live close together so that they can share experiences and assist each other. This network of mutual support is important even where SOS families are dispersed within a community or city. A caring and supportive environment is created, which is especially important for children who need special support and protection.

Children grow within their SOS families until they are mature enough to lead independent lives. All the children and young people in SOS families have access to quality education from kindergarten through university or vocational training. Together with our partners, SOS Children's Villages also provide children and young people with access to non-formal education through child group activities, play, tutoring and stimulating informal education environments that support a child’s development. Quality health care is also ensured for all children in the care of SOS families.

SOS mother / parent

SOS families are headed by a professionally trained care-giver, who creates emotionally stable relationships in a nurturing and secure home. In most cases this is an SOS mother but in some countries, fathers or couples head an SOS family. The SOS mother is responsible for guiding the family according to professional childcare standards. She receives the required support from the village director and other co-workers.

Photo: Patrick WittmannDaily life for an SOS family in Manaus, Brazil. Photo: Patrick Wittmann

Why children live in an SOS family

The SOS family child care model is for children who need long-term care. With the exception of countries where the law says otherwise, only those children who require a permanent new home in a family are offered a place.

There are many reasons that lead government authorities to place children in alternative care. They differ across socioeconomic contexts and cultures. In Western countries, substance abuse problems, child neglect, domestic violence, psychological and other crisis of parents often lead to family breakdown. In many developing countries, the death of one or both parents is a main reason, followed by poverty in the family.

Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

The UN approved Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, to which SOS Children’s Villages made key contributions, are a key reference document for all SOS Children's Villages programmes.

The Guidelines aim to promote and protect the rights of all children in alternative care, of those who have lost parental care, or who are at risk of losing parental care. This tool guides those working directly or indirectly with children in alternative care, ensuring that children are not separated from their biological families unnecessarily (the principle of necessity) and that the alternative care provided upholds the child's rights and meets his or her specific needs (principle of appropriateness).

The implementation of the Guidelines by governments will ultimately lead to a significant improvement of living conditions for children without parental care around the world, an aim which SOS Children's Villages supports through advocacy work.