The need for a range of care options
The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children note that if ‘the child’s own family is unable, even with appropriate support, to provide adequate care for the child, or abandons or relinquishes the child, the State is responsible for protecting the rights of the child and ensuring appropriate alternative care’.
The Guidelines also urge States, whilst making efforts to return children to the care of their family or, if necessary, finding permanent solutions, to ensure that ‘the most suitable forms of alternative care are identified and provided’. These should be provided ‘under conditions that promote the child’s full and harmonious development’ and in a way that always ensures their safety. Furthermore, the Guidelines encourage States to ‘ensure the availability of a range of alternative care options’ including those that offer ‘emergency, short-term and long-term care’.
Selecting the most appropriate alternative care setting for a child is the second component of respecting the “suitability” principle. It comes after first determining that a formal placement is necessary, and implies that the different care providers that are being considered have been approved by an authorised body. The “suitability” principle requires a range of family-based and other suitable care settings to be effectively in place in a country, so that a real choice exists.
All care settings must meet general minimum standards in terms of, for example, conditions and staffing, the quality of individual care offered, protection, financing, and access to services (most notably education and health). To ensure this, the State should have in place a mechanism and process for regulating and authorising care providers in the light of established criteria, and for carrying out regular inspections to monitor compliance.
We will be looking at a range of different care settings in more detail later in the course.
Addressing individual circumstances
We have noted earlier in the course, the wide range of reasons why children are placed in alternative care. Every child’s situation is different and every child will have their own needs, characteristics, circumstances and wishes that need to be matched by a range of settings and arrangements from which the one that best responds to their situation can be selected.
To illustrate this, let us take just two examples:
In the first case, the child’s father is in prison and the mother falls ill, but there are no other family members able to provide the temporary care required. In those circumstances, it may be that a local family-based setting would be the most appropriate, enabling the child to maintain contact with the parents until the mother recovers sufficiently.
In the second case, an older child who has suffered serious abuse over a period of time in their own family is finally placed in alternative care on protection grounds. In this situation, it may be that the child’s experience of family life has been so negative that they do not wish to be placed in another family-based care setting. In that case, it may be more appropriate to envisage, initially at least, a placement in a small residential setting where the child can receive specialist professional support.
In both of those examples we have used the words ‘it may be’. This reflects once again the fact that there should be an individual response in terms of what form of alternative care will be most suitable for each child. This is why a number of different care options should be available so that a tailored response to each child’s situation can be envisaged.
In that regard, it is important not to over-simplify the potential options as just being between “family-based” and “residential”. Each grouping comprises very different settings that should be conceived and developed in line with national realities. So, it is important to remain open to creating new models that fit with the given contexts.
In the end, the objective is to offer each child individual attention, security, support and stability in alternative care, and there is no single way in which this can be achieved for all.
For further information on ways to apply the “suitability” principle and appropriate care you can go to page 71 of the handbook Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’. The texts in the ‘See Also’ section below were used when creating this week’s materials - you can consult them for more information on the topic.