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Introducing the “necessity” and “suitability” principles

Nigel Cantwell introduces the necessity and suitability principles
The guidelines, of course, are founded basically on the commission on the rights of a child and other human rights contained in various instruments. But there are two basic pillars built on those foundations, and they are the ones that are known now as the necessity principle and the suitability principle. The necessity principle comes from the fact that, in so many cases, children have been found to be placed in formal care situations without it being necessary for them to be in a formal care setting. So what we have are situations where children are being taken into formal care, particularly into residential care, but they could be cared for within their families or within their communities with better support.
So the idea is to try to ensure, through the principles in the guidelines, that children are looked after in their families or communities with the provision of this support. In other words, preventing the perceived need for children to be put into a formal care situation, and also, trying to find ways of discouraging the formal care sector from taking in children in that kind of situation. There are also two sides to the suitability principle. And what this suitability principal means is that on the one hand, the care setting into which children are placed– when it’s necessary for them to be placed there– that care setting is fit to look after children.
In too many cases, we’ve found that, in residential care and in certain other forms of care, the human rights of children, in general, in their care are not being protected and promoted. So that’s one side of the suitability that has to be ensured when a child is taken into care. The other side of the suitability principle is very much focused on the individual child. In other words, is the care setting into which that child is taken, or placed– is that care setting really appropriate for the particular child in terms of his or her characteristics, his situation circumstances, needs, and wherever possible, his or her wishes. Because that’s obviously also very important for the care process.
For it to be a positive process for the child, it should correspond to wherever possible to what that child is actually looking for in the circumstances in which he or she finds themselves. So those are the two bases on which the guidelines are grounded. They are the two pillars which hold up the principles and policy orientations that are put forward through the guidelines.

In this video, we hear again from international expert, Nigel Cantwell. Nigel explains the “necessity” and “suitability” principles.

To understand what the “necessity” and “suitability” principles are and why they are important, we first need to think about the wide variety of reasons children may not be in parental care. These include:

  • The death of one or both parents;
  • Abandonment by their 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.

“Necessity” and “Suitability”

The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children clearly state that the family is the ‘fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth, well-being and protection of children’ and that ‘efforts should primarily be directed to enabling the child to remain in or return to the care of his/her parents, or when appropriate, other close family members.’

For many children, separation from their parents might not have happened if a range of community based support services had been available.

It follows that we need to ensure that, first and foremost, there are effective mechanisms and services to prevent children being admitted to formal care settings unjustifiably. Prevention is one of the important subjects contained within the Guidelines.

This involves having in place a screening process (part of a “gatekeeping” process) which follows the “necessity” principle i.e. to assess whether there is really a need for a formal placement. It is at this stage that solutions should be sought that are in the child’s best interest and, wherever possible, to avoid unwarranted placements and keep the child with their own family.

Not all children come into formal alternative care: the great majority in virtually all countries will be cared for informally by the extended family or others known to them in the community. At the same time, a range of formal care options should be available in those cases where placement is deemed to be justified including, being in the child’s best interest. That range is required if we are to meet the “suitability” principle by responding appropriately, on a case-by-case basis, both to the specific reason for the child coming into care and to each child’s needs, circumstances and wishes. Again, the decision as to the most appropriate placement should be made as a result of the screening process.

Intrinsic to any decision-making is the participation of children and young people themselves. We shall be learning more about this later in the course.

For further information on the “necessity” and “suitability” principles and an understanding of the ‘best interest of the child’, we suggest you look at pages 22 to 25 of the handbook, Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’. There are other readings that may interest you in the ‘See Also’ section below. You also may wish to refer to the Introduction to Terminology step for further explanations of some of the concepts in this step.

In the next step, we will discuss what we have been learning about so far.

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

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