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Guidance on the provision of suitable alternative care: The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

The UN Guidelines

In this video you will hear Chrissie interviewing Murilo Vieira Komniski. He explains how in 2005, when working for the Government of Brazil, he became involved in a process led by Brazil to champion the development of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Brazil became a convenor of a multi-stakeholder process bringing governments of other countries, UN bodies and international and national NGOs together. In the video we hear Murilo explain why the UN Guidelines were developed and their significance for unaccompanied and separated children. You will also see unaccompanied children in care settings in different parts of the world.

Many governments have developed standards for alternative care and written them into law, policies, and strategic plans for national child protection and care systems. You can find some examples of national policies and plans in the resource section of the Better Care Network website. We have already noted in Week 3 of the course how important it is to understand, respect, and work within the laws and policies of a national child protection and care system.

In addition, governments and national and international non-governmental organisations and bodies have produced guidance, handbooks, toolkits, and other documents setting out standards to guide the improvement of alternative care in emergency and non-emergency settings. Some of these documents have been provided as examples at the bottom of different course pages.

Most specifically, as we noted earlier, the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children provide us with important information about standards of care that are applicable to all children including those who are unaccompanied and separated.

While family separation should always be prevented whenever possible, the UN Guidelines set out the kinds of alternative care that should be made available for children when such efforts fail. These include:

  • Family-based care – this is when a child is placed in an existing family setting as for example in their own extended family or with a foster family
  • Family-like care – this is when children are not looked after in the carers’ own family home but in a specially designated small residential setting with live-in carers who organise the home in a way that resembles family life as closely as possible
  • Residential settings – such as group homes set in the community for a small number of children with a good ratio of full-time professional carers

In contrast, the UN Guidelines call for the ‘progressive elimination’ of large residential facilities (often known as “institutions”) and the development of more suitable alternatives. We will discuss this issue in more detail later this week.

All the recommendations in the UN Guidelines apply to unaccompanied and separated children. However, in addition, there are some specific recommendations especially for unaccompanied and separated children, as well as for other children in emergencies. These include the following:

  • Unaccompanied or separated children should be provided the same level of protection and care as national children in the country they have arrived in
  • Unaccompanied or separated children, including those who arrive irregularly in a country, should not be deprived of their liberty – for example, placed in detention centres or closed residential care settings – because of their migration status
  • Prohibit the establishment of new residential facilities structured to provide care to large groups of children on a permanent or long-term basis
  • Should family reunification prove impossible within an appropriate period, or be deemed contrary to the best interests of the child, stable and definitive solutions, such as adoption or kafala of Islamic law, should be envisaged; failing this, other long-term options should be considered, such as foster care or appropriate residential care, including group homes and other supervised living arrangements.

In the following course steps we will consider what this guidance means in practice.

Please take a careful look at the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and especially sections VIII and IX.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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