International guidance (Part 2)

The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

A principal focus of this course is how we can offer suitable alternative care to unaccompanied and separated children on the move. It is important that children have safe and appropriate places to stay and be looked after. Furthermore, alternative care can be somewhere children find protection and access to other services they need.

We do urge you to read the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and the accompanying handbook ‘Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’.

The UN Guidelines are non-binding international guidance that was developed through contributions from governments, professionals and children from across the world, and welcomed by the UN General Assembly in 2009. They offer guidance on how we should provide alternative care for children when needed. All the recommendations in the UN Guidelines apply to children still living in their own country as well as those in a country that is different to their normal country of residence - including unaccompanied and separated children.

The UN Guidelines commence by outlining the overall purpose which is to ‘enhance the implementation’ of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and ‘relevant provisions of other international instruments’ regarding the protection and well-being of children who are deprived of parental care or who are at risk of being so’.

The UN Guidelines go on to note that if children are not being cared for by their own parents, ‘the State is responsible for protecting their rights and ensuring they are provided with ‘appropriate alternative care’. Again, this includes unaccompanied and separated children on the move.

The ‘necessity‘ and ‘suitability’ principles

Central to the UN Guidelines are two principles. The first is the necessity principle. This means, if there is a concern for a child still with their parents, or legal/customary or other caregiver, we must carefully assess whether or not it is genuinely necessary, and in a child’s best interests, to separate them and place the child in alternative care. For example, this might be due to serious risk of harm by a family member, or the inability of the family to protect the child from external threats.

The second principle is the suitability principle. This principle means that the most appropriate form of quality alternative care should be made available to meet each child’s individual needs, circumstances and wishes. This also means that a range of different forms of good quality, family-based and family-like alternative care should be made available. It also requires ending the use of unsuitable placements such as the use of detention centres. While efforts are made to return unaccompanied children to the care of their family or to find other suitable long-term solutions for them, the UN Guidelines say that the most suitable forms of alternative care must be provided under conditions that ‘promote the child’s full and harmonious development’.

Different forms of alternative care

The UN Guidelines provide us with definitions of formal and informal care depending on whether the care arrangement has been organised privately by a family itself (informal care), or whether an official administrative or judicial body has been involved (formal care).

The UN Guidelines also describe different forms of care considered to be suitable for children, including unaccompanied and separated children. These include alternative care in a family-based or a family-like setting. We will explore these different forms of care later in the course, as well as standards for ‘suitable’ alternative care that also apply to unaccompanied and separated children. For example, it is important to note how the UN Guidelines call for the development of ‘alternatives’ to the use of large residential institutions and what that might mean for those currently working in such facilities.

The UN Guidelines also have specific provisions for care in emergency situations and for children ‘while in a country other than his/her country of habitual residence for whatever reason’. This includes making sure the same level of protection and care is offered to unaccompanied and separated children as national children in a country. It means States should make sure there is a range of quality alternative care options available for ‘emergency, short-term and long-term care’. The UN Guidelines are also applicable to ‘all public and private entities and everyone involved in arrangements for a child needing care’.

Please do read the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children carefully as we will be referring to them as we work through the course.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

University of Strathclyde