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Large Institutions

Video with Nigel Cantwell explaining the features of a residential institutions

In this video we hear from Nigel Cantwell. Nigel has been working for the human rights of children for over 30 years. His experience comprises both the development of international standards and helping to devise policies for their implementation at national level. Nigel was the lead consultant for the development of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Nigel tells us about the features of a children’s residential institution.

Residential care, referred to in the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children as ‘family-like’ care, is specifically about alternative care provided in a small, non family-based setting. However, there is a concern about institutions – there are large residential settings including orphanages and large ‘children’s homes’, detention centres, emergency shelters, and other large residential facilities.

If we are considering unsuitable residential settings, we should recognise the documented, potentially damaging, long-term impact on any child placed in them – including unaccompanied and separated children. These negative outcomes are due to many of the factors we considered in the previous course steps including absence of a primary caregiver with whom to bond, poor access to basic services, abuse, and isolation from the ‘outside world’.

Because of the problems associated with institutions, some countries have already phased out this type of care for children, or are on the way to doing so. This is known as a process of deinstitutionalisation. However, there are other countries where, for various reasons, the current alternative care system for children, including those who are unaccompanied and separated, consists almost entirely of different forms of large residential settings i.e. ‘institutions’. And indeed, in some countries, in response to a large influx of refugee and migrant children, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, some States have re-opened institutions that they had previously closed.

In Nigel’s definition of an institution you will hear how he considers such issues as:

  • Size
  • The regimented daily routines for children
  • The basic physical care on offer
  • How the locations of institutions often isolate children from the community
  • Failure to address such issues as attachment and the emotional needs and well-being of children

For further reading we particularly recommend you look at page 43 of the handbook ‘Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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