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This content is taken from the University of Strathclyde & CELCIS's online course, Getting Care Right for All Children: Implementing the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second How is the informal care defined under the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children? So I am going to read from the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Informal care is defined as any private arrangement provided in a family environment, whereby, the child is looked after on an ongoing or indefinite basis by relatives or friends, that is informal kinship care. Or by others in their individual capacity at the initiative of the child, his or her parents, or other person without this arrangement having been ordered by an administrative or judicial authority or by a duly accredited body. That’s a long definition. What are the rights of children in informal care?

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds Well, children in informal care really have all those same rights as other children. Foremost, the right to be raised in a family environment and, presumably, they are in a family environment. However, sometimes we find through research that they don’t fully enjoy the same rights as children in parental care. In fact, there is very little research that tells us the whole story, but here are some bits and pieces that I can tell you, based on the evidence. Children in informal care are less likely to be registered for birth, which as we all know is the gateway towards many other rights. They’re less likely to be enrolled for school or attending school. This is well borne out by research.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds We also know that their inheritance rights are compromised, in most cases, because they don’t have legal standing with their guardians with whom they live. They may also experience increased abuse, neglect, or even exploitation because they also don’t have the full family status. And they may have less access to nutrition, health care, and other needed services. And some research even shows that they may be required to work more in the households in which they’re growing up. In fact, there is emerging evidence that shows that many of the children in these families are, in fact, being treated not as one of the children, but as a domestic servant. So this is very troubling evidence that is emerging.

Skip to 3 minutes and 3 seconds What are some suggestions for improving the well-being of children in informal care? First of all, we probably need to address prevention. We need to strengthen families so that we can prevent children from being separated from their families. In the case of children who have lost their parents, we need to really focus on them and make sure that there is a proper gatekeeping to place them with caring families, whether they’re kin or other families. I think intervention at that level is very important.

Skip to 3 minutes and 47 seconds So having said that, I think at the policy level, governments really need to address these informally placed children in the policies so that they are less invisible, so that they come to the forefront, so that their needs can be assessed and addressed, and families and communities can take responsibility for these children. So I think at that policy level, it’s very important. I think also, there should be special outreach to these children, individually, for birth registration, ensuring that they’re attending school, ensuring that their needs are met, that their immunizations are done, they are getting health services, and all of that.

Skip to 4 minutes and 40 seconds And whether that’s done through community mechanisms or government mechanisms, I think there needs to be leadership to organise that kind of an effort. I think also, because we realise that these children have been separated from their families, there needs to be psychosocial support because they are suffering from loss and grief, in many cases. We need to acknowledge that, and we need to address those needs as well. And, furthermore, we need to learn more about them. We desperately need research to find out more about their circumstances, their needs, how to approach helping them. Is there a need for a specific package of intervention for children in informal care or would a well-functioning child protection system for all children be more beneficial?

Skip to 5 minutes and 43 seconds I am not a fan of dividing vulnerable children into silos. I think we have criteria by which we define vulnerability. And I think that children in informal care could be under very good circumstances and they’re not really at risk, while others are even under parental care. So I think a very good comprehensive child protection system is probably the way to go.

Informal care

In this video Chrissie Gale talks to, Jini Roby. Jini is an expert in topics related to global and national child welfare and child protection policy. Currently she is a Professor in the School of Social Work at Brigham Young University in the USA as well as undertaking international consultancy work. Amongst Jini’s areas of expertise are the topics of assessment and construction of national child protection systems, the continuum of care and gatekeeping and, social welfare workforce strengthening. Jini is the author of Children in Informal Alternative Care - a discussion paper disseminated globally by UNICEF.

Jini tells us more about informal care and how it is the most prevalent form of care across the world. She speaks about the advantages, and possible concerns, that may sometimes arise from informal care. Jini also tells us about some ways we might think about supporting the well-being of children in informal care.

We are reminded that informal care is described in the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children as:

‘Any private arrangement provided in a family environment, whereby the child is looked after on an ongoing or indefinite basis by relatives or friends (informal kinship care) or by others in their individual capacity, at the initiative of the child, his/her parents or other person without this arrangement having been ordered by an administrative or judicial authority or a duly accredited body’.

The Guidelines also advise:

‘Recognizing that, in most countries, the majority of children without parental care are looked after informally by relatives or others, States should seek to devise appropriate means, consistent with the present Guidelines, to ensure their welfare and protection while in such informal care arrangements, with due respect for cultural, economic, gender and religious differences and practices that do not conflict with the rights and best interests of the child.’

Furthermore, we should note:

‘With regard to informal care arrangements for the child, whether within the extended family, with friends or with other parties, States should, where appropriate, encourage such carers to notify the competent authorities accordingly so that they and the child may receive any necessary financial and other support that would promote the child’s welfare and protection. Where possible and appropriate, States should encourage and enable informal caregivers, with the consent of the child and parents concerned, to formalize the care arrangement after a suitable lapse of time, to the extent that the arrangement has proved to be in the best interests of the child to date and is expected to continue in the foreseeable future.’

For additional information about guidance on informal care contained within the Guidelines, also look at paragraphs 76 to 79.

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This video is from the free online course:

Getting Care Right for All Children: Implementing the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

University of Strathclyde