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Why children come into care

What are the reasons children come into alternative care? Although there are no accurate global data about children in alternative care, studies in a variety of countries demonstrate that such children have both or one living parent - in some countries the proportion may be as high as 95% or more.

Let us revisit the list we reviewed in Week 1 about reasons children come into care. This list is based on research information taken from different parts of the world. They included:

  • The death of one or both parents;
  • Abandonment by the parents;
  • Permanent relinquishment;
  • An administrative or court decision that removal from parental care is in the child’s best interests (because of abuse, neglect or exploitation);
  • Voluntary placement by parents on a temporary basis, as for instance, a sudden emergency, feeling unable to cope, or lack of adequate housing;
  • Temporary or permanent incapacity of the parents (through, for example, imprisonment, illness, unemployment, migration for work, disability);
  • Medical treatment and other specialised care for a child (e.g. disability);
  • Ensuring access to education and other basic services as well as food and other necessities;
  • Exploitation and other forms of abuse and, neglect.

If you ask many people why children are coming into formal care they will say poverty and issues related to social exclusion are the main reasons. We see that some children are in care because people have thought that this is a “better” place for them to be if their family is in difficulty. Some children have been abandoned for a whole range of reasons including parent’s temporary or long-term felt inability to cope, their substance addiction, migration for work, a parent’s imprisonment, and stigma and discrimination. Some children are there because they are deemed to be at risk of serious harm. Some children become separated from their families when they are fleeing conflict or as the result of a natural disaster. Some children are in residential facilities because care providers have actively recruited them.

A supportive, protective, and caring environment

The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children advise that ‘Every child and young person should live in a supportive, protective and caring environment that promotes his/her full potential. Children with inadequate or no parental care are at special risk of being denied such a nurturing environment’.

So, when we consider why children come into care, we should also think about how decisions are being made that children need alternative care. How are we determining the risks and vulnerability that might be seen to justify children and young people entering care? How do we understand if a child is being harmed or if there is risk of future harm? This can be a challenging and complex process and leads us to consider many difficult questions, including for instance:

  • When and how does the State or society decide that children and young people are being exposed to too much risk?
  • What risks are acceptable and even necessary as we help children and young people to grow and develop?
  • What role does culture and social context play in defining risk and vulnerability?
  • What are the most likely circumstances that cause the State to become involved in the lives of vulnerable children and young people?

These are issues we will continue to think about throughout the course.

Please also remember you can share your ideas in the discussion below. You can “like” comments if you agree with what’s been said or if you have found something particularly interesting, or you can “reply” to comments to initiate a conversation.

The ‘See Also’ section below has links to other reading materials that may be of interest to you.

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This article 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