Report: Alternative care systems for children in developing and middle-income countries inadequate

BRUSSELS, 19 January 2017 - SOS Children’s Villages International and the European Commission released a global report today with findings and recommendations on alternative care systems. It calls for ‘systems approach’ to child protection and alternative care, with focus on accountability for provision of care and placement processes.

Towards the Right Care for Children presents survey results from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and South and Central America, and case studies from Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Nepal, Nigeria and Uganda.

Recommendations for alternative care system reforms are provided based on the findings and UN Guidelines principles of ‘necessity’ and ‘suitability’ of alternative care for children.

The European Commission Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development contracted SOS Children’s Villages International to carry out the project with much of the research by experts from CELCIS (Center for Excellence for Looked after Children in Scotland).

The authors note that many governments, particularly in developing and middle-income countries, are failing to adequately protect the rights of children without parental care.

Instead, state governments rely on local and international aid organisations, faith-based groups, and private enterprises, to provide the bulk of formal alternative care for children who need it.

Additionally, the report shows that monitoring and evaluation of formal alternative child care facilities, including orphanages, group homes, and foster care, differ from country to country, but are widely insufficient or totally absent.

Among other recommendations, the report calls for state governments to take responsibility and be accountable for alternative care for children who need it.

Countries should set up a long-term strategy for alternative care system reform, beginning with the urgent identification and elimination of the most harmful practices.

Improved data about children living outside of households is also needed to support policy and decision making to address child rights violations and ensure adequate care for all children, according to the report.

A child protection systems approach to alternative care

The alternative care system is an important part of a child protection system and fits within a broader social protection system, involving sectors from law enforcement to educators to health professionals. The research shows that in many developing and middle-income countries these sectors stand apart from alternative care.

The authors call for a systems approach to improving the child protection system as a whole, including training for professionals, such as care workers, social workers, judges, police, teachers and health workers, who come into contact with children at risk.

Support to vulnerable families and kinship carers to prevent family breakdown is indicated, as well as improved gatekeeping or decisions about a child’s being placed in alternative care or moved.  It is vital to allow children and young people to participate directly in such decisions, and decision-makers should consult children and young people in care for input on reform strategies.

Quality care provision also depends on individual development planning and support to children and young people leaving care.

Overall, the report emphasises that securing sustainable alternative care improvements in Africa, Asia and Latin America cannot be done with a quick fix or ready-made solution, but requires a complex, country-specific effort to deal with factors ranging from foreign financing to local cultural practices.

Nigel Cantwell, co-author on the report, said: “It is a common assumption that national laws, standards and policies are the main challenge in the context of alternative childcare systems. Our research shows this not to be the case. It is their implementation and enforcement that are failing. Towards a solution, there needs to be a full understanding of each country’s context before change can be implemented appropriately in a significant way.”

Read Towards the Right Care for Children 

Download national cases and research

Useful terms:

Alternative care for children: any arrangement whereby the basic overnight care of a child is taken up by someone other than (alternative to) his or her parents.

Informal alternative care: alternative care arranged without an administrative decision, usually within the extended family or community known to the child. Also known as 'kinship care'.

Formal alternative care: short- or long-term overnight care sanctioned by a decision of the relevant authorities (including formal family-based care, such as foster care) or in a residential facility (childcare institution, small-group home, orphanage, etc.).