Skip main navigation

Small residential care settings

Small residential care settings article
Family standing together on doorstep
©, Shutterstock

The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children say that the use of residential care should ‘be limited to cases where such a setting is specifically appropriate, necessary and constructive for the individual child concerned and in his/her best interests.’

The Guidelines define residential care as ‘care provided in any non-family-based group setting, such as places of safety for emergency care, transit centres in emergency situations, and all other short- and long-term residential care facilities, including group homes’. They also advise that residential care facilities should ‘be small and be organized around the rights and needs of the child, in a setting as close as possible to a family or small group situation.’

Although family-based care is an important option for children, research also tells us that small residential facilities can offer an environment that is particularly appropriate for certain children and young people. For example, older children and young people who do not want to be placed in family-based care, or for children when other care settings have constantly failed them.

Children for whom placement in any residential setting should not be contemplated are young children, especially those under the age of 3 years. They should be cared for in a family-based setting. According to the Guidelines, the only exceptions to this general rule is when it is the only way to prevent the separation of siblings, or, ‘in cases where the placement is of an emergency nature or is for a predetermined and very limited duration’.

The handbook Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’ (page 33) includes small residential care in the classification ‘family-like’ care. This is because, in contrast to family-based care which is provided in a pre-existing family, family-like care is seen to include small-group settings that resemble a family environment as much as possible – usually with caregivers for whom the setting is not their own home. The handbook also highlights the importance of family-like characteristics of a residential care setting and refer to Recommendation 2005 (5) of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe which states that in order to be consistent with children’s rights, ‘a small family-style living unit should be provided.’ It is also recommended that these settings should be in a house situated within a street within the community.

In order to safeguard children in residential care, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires protection and child care services and facilities to ‘conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision’ and to develop (and enforce) laws, policies and regulations that prohibit ‘the recruitment and solicitation of children’ for placement in residential care.

The Guidelines also encourage States to develop national regulations and standards for all care providers, including those with responsibility for residential care. Care providers should only be able to operate if they have received accreditation from a ‘competent authority’. Authorities are required therefore, to ‘develop appropriate criteria for assessing the professional and ethical fitness of care providers and for their accreditation, monitoring and supervision’. Regular inspections should ensure residential facilities are compliant with such standards and regulations.

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

This article is from the free online

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

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now