January 24 2017

Calling for a partnership to advance the rights of children in alternative care

SOS Children’s Villages partnered with the European Commission and CELCIS to produce the first research study of its kind to compare child care systems globally. Towards the right care for children explores the situation of alternative care in six countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The study was released in Brussels on 19 January 2017 with representatives from the EU, the UN and civil society organisations. It analyses the alternative care set-up for children in Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Nepal, Nigeria and Uganda.

Necessary action to move towards right care


The study 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, sometimes called ‘deinsitutionalisation’ or ‘DI’, 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.

Including the voices of children

Ensuring quality care for children and young people also requires listening to them and including their voices and experiences in research. 170 children and young people with current or previous experience in alternative care were consulted for this study, using state of the art participative methodologies.

Further, the study recommends that child participation be established as an important input to alternative care system reform. Alternative care must include the needs, and where possible the wishes, of the children concerned. Children should be empowered to know their rights and express themselves in issues and decisions which affect them.

Partnerships essential to reforming alternative care

To ensure that the needs and rights of children in alternative care are not ignored or dismissed, child rights have to be put at the heart of both alternative care provision and child protection systems as a whole. Professionals in sectors from law enforcement to social work and health need to be engaged and trained to keep children safe in their families and out of unnecessary placement in alternative care.

Samantha Chaitkin from SOS Children's Villages International at the report release in Brussels. Photo: Leonora Barclay

Samantha Chaitkin, project coordinator of the study at SOS Children’s Villages International, emphasises the importance of a strong partnership. “With this study, we call for a joint effort with the European Commission and other stakeholders to make alternative care a child rights priority. Like within Europe, this study shows that alternative care reform and de-institutionalisation in developing and middle income countries must be part of a wider action on integrated child protection systems.”

The European Commission plays an important role in driving this reform. “Oversight for alternative care provision is needed, and states are the actors of change on this issue,” explained Maxence Daublain, Policy Officer, Child rights, Gender, Discrimination, Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development at the EU Commission, at the launch event. He added, “We need to ensure that states take control on quality alternative care.”

Sustainable future for alternative care

Towards the right care for children is a significant step towards understanding how to reform alternative care systems in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Joint efforts of national governments as well as NGOs, academics, the UN and the European Union and other donors, can help guarantee that the rights and needs of children in alternative care are respected in a sustainable way.

Jean-Louis Ville, Acting Director, Human Development and Migration, Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development at the European Commission, highlighted the message implicit in the title: “‘Towards’ - it proposes a direction, the way forward…”.

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.).

Read more about SOS Children's Villages' child rights advocacy