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

The UN Guidelines
So I believe you played a role in the development of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. So maybe you could tell me why they were developed. For sure. Well, I just wanted to highlight that I’m, of course, here, speaking, in my personal capacity. It’s true I had the great privilege and opportunity of directly working on the guidelines; on the construction of the guidelines from the very beginning, especially during the consultations that we started in Brazil, the regional consultations and then informal consultations, gathering all relevant stakeholders, the civil society representatives, government representatives, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF. We took over as Brazil– we took the process.
We took the leading of the so-called, the friends– the group of friends of the guidelines. And we started a strategy from the very beginning up to aiming at the approval of the guidelines at the General Assembly– so it was actually a four-year negotiation starting from 2005 to 2009 when it was finally adopted. And it was quite interesting experience, also, because it was, I would say, the very first time that Brazil officially worked hand-in-hand with civil society representatives not only as advocates, but also as consultants through UNICEF. So we had Nigel Cantwell, for instance, who was the major consultant hired by UNICEF to work side by side with me.
And it was very symbolic to put this through the Human Rights Council not going directly to New York, also to reinforce the role of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. And therefore, there was also a strong message. And it was a developing country and emerging country that was leading this process in a cross-regional basis, because a group of friends– we had Egypt. We had Morocco. We had Austria. We had countries from Asia. We had countries from all the regions– Western Europe, as well. Also, because my initial background was specifically working with children in what we call children in situation of living on the streets.
So it was personally for me something very interesting to connect my experience at the diplomatic level. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to see connection, the real connection between what we negotiate either in Geneva or in Paris or in New York or in major international conferences, and the very impact on the ground. So it was quite a good feeling. What was the main aim for developing the guidelines? Well, the main aim was very much to tackle a gap that was identified in the convention on the rights of the child.
There was very much the lack of international normative related to children without parental care, being it children on the streets, being it children as migrants, being the children who are protected by a foster care system, by schools, by shelters. So it was the identification of a gap on the need of the protection of children without parental care. That was the main aspect, which was, of course, identified by experts at the CRC level, by the UNICEF. And therefore, there was this long process of negotiations up to the very approval of the guidelines. Why are the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children also significant for unaccompanied and separated children on the move?
If we talk about children, who are on the move, who are travelling alone, or who are very much migrants, or who are separated from their parents during the process of migration, they are very much exposed to an extremely high level of vulnerability. So the Guidelines is an instrument that could provide this, at least, guidelines for states at the national level for international organisations to take proper care of this, children and adolescents, as well. Thank you very much, indeed.

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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