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Meeting the challenge of unsuitable care setting

Video with examples of meeting the challenge of working in the context of unsuitable care settings.
My husband Salvo and I are foster parents. We were surrounded by many other families have who had decided to do fostering. That is why we decided to create an association. The association is currently made up of 50 families. Fostering means welcoming children within your family, and to help them grow up, by meeting the needs that may emerge over time, in cooperation with local social services.
Over the years we have realised that the best way to welcome and care for unaccompanied children was to work with more specialised professionals than those who used to work for our association.
That is why, in addition to an educator, a psychologist and a social worker we added to our team a sociologist and a cultural mediator. The number of children coming to Sicily, especially to Catania, kept rising. At the same time, we were making a lot of progress in terms of education and of social integration, and the ability to ensure these children could enjoy family life. We were asked if we could open the residential care centre, because the number of children was going to become higher. We actually insisted on pursuing a family based approach.
We thought that having the children live in a residential setting, or in a reception centre, was going to limit the children’s opportunity for integration, and inclusion in European society. We knew that our association needed to expand for the sake of unaccompanied or separated children. But rather than expanding our centre, the infrastructure, we decided to increase the number of our foster families.
If the purpose is to offer the children who arrive here, like Italian children, since we welcome both foreign and Italian children, the same opportunities, we must continue to be welcoming and to offer this type of care. The risk with big numbers - of thinking we need to welcome 80, 100, 120 people - the risk is to become dehumanised; and to forget that they are not just numbers, we are not dealing with “unaccompanied migrant minors”. They are boys and girls. And we, as adults, we must never forget that. The risk of a reception centre would be to forget the meaning of what we do, and why we are doing it.
UNICEF has been developing alternative care model for migrants, separated and unaccompanied migrant children, with the perspective of having it develop into a policy. This was all in line with the guidelines, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with three really important guiding principles– first one, that there is no detention of the children, that it’s a specialised model, and that it promotes the young people’s integration into society where they are living. So that has been developed on the basis of good practises, which we have identified in the country.
And because, historically, as in many countries, residential care is still the main option for the care of migrant children, including with this need to transition towards an open-door model. We have had, for a few years now, a new law, which opened the doors to develop and to promote further family-based care as well. So all this came together to build this model. This model is divided into four stages. So the first stage is the identification of the young people. So this is undertaken by the migration authorities or by the child protection authorities. So that’s the first contact which they really have when they arrive.
Then the second stage is– it’s called first reception, initial reception, which has a length of maximum 45 days, which is usually in a centre, so a form of residential care, but specialised residential care for them. And then the third stage of the model is the care and placement in what we call secondary or second placement, which is a temporary placement still, which will really depend on the lengths of the stay of the young person in Mexico. This will really depend– and that’s the main factor of the migration process. So this third stage is really important. There we have a mix of options, a range of options. Two are family-based care. Two are more of a residential model.
So we have obviously care within the extended family, when the young person has extended family in the country. We have specialised foster care, which has been developing strongly over the last few years in Mexico and which we are promoting also for migrant children. And then in the residential options, we have group homes and flats for young people and a specialised, open-doors centre. So those have been, as I mentioned earlier, developed on the basis of good practises, which we have identified and which we are trying to promote further across the country, in particular, along the migration routes. This is all undertaken.
Also, the model includes guidelines for staff to develop the plans for the children and to have a look always towards their integration into society. So that’s really the focus of these four models for second placement. And then the last stage is, obviously, leaving care. So if all this integration has gone well along the way, then there’s this process of leaving care, which would be very positive for the young people.
I think that the first thing is, even though one is always looking towards a policy in all areas, and particularly, now, talking about alternative care and alternative care for migrant children, sometimes you can start from a good practise very locally, and then this develops into a good practise which is well known and can be integrated in the public policy. The other thing is really to have everyone on board, like staff, authorities. It’s very important that you have these technical groups where you work together to improve the system as a whole. And finally, I think should not this– where you, really, there’s always options of where you can start and move forward from what you are identifying.
And following on that, a model can be developed with a few good practises and be replicated quite quickly.

In this video we hear from Rosalinda Castaldo who is a founding member of a non-governmental organisation called MetaCometa Onlus. MetaCometa is an Association that runs a foster care programme in Sicily. You will hear how the Association challenged the request from the local authorities to change their family-based care model into a programme based in a large residential institution.

In this video we also hear from Christina Baglietto, a Child Protection Consultant for UNICEF in Mexico and Regional Adviser for Latin America for International Social Service. You will hear Christina describe the work being undertaken in Mexico to help make positive changes to adapt and create suitable alternative care. In the video you will also see some images of care settings that are providing more suitable care for unaccompanied children in Mexico. These settings are providing opportunities for children and young people to integrate into the community, including a young man you will see in the video who has just graduated from school, and who was helped to find the employment he really wanted in a local barber shop. Please note that some of the images of the children have been obscured for protection reasons.

In reality, there are significant numbers of unaccompanied and separated children that find themselves in unsuitable care settings, sometimes for a long period of time. In this situation, we should do our best to secure children’s placements in more suitable setting as quickly as possible. This can often be a significant challenge as we are not always in a position to influence and change such situations for either an individual child or groups of children – especially if more suitable care is not easily available. Here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • Make sure each child is given individual attention and staff are professionally trained to address the emotional and psychosocial needs of children
  • Allow children to come and go freely – meaning they can move around and be part of the local community and are not kept isolated
  • Develop a working environment in which children are kept safe
  • Arrange the children’s living arrangements so they have some privacy, including somewhere to keep their own possessions
  • Improve the facilities so that children have warmth, hygiene, and other comfortable living conditions
  • Make sure the daily timetable for children focus on the needs of individual children rather than those of the staff
  • Employ qualified and motivated staff
  • Improve working conditions so that carers and other staff want to remain working in the organisation, and provide caring and constructive staff supervision. This constancy will help towards children forming attachments and relationships with their carer/s
  • Network and make linkages with colleagues and services who can provide access to specialist services, especially health, psychosocial support, special education needs, legal procedures etc.

Overcoming other obstacles

You might also try to advocate and lobby for change within your own and other organisations:

  • If you think the obstacles are due to local or national government policy or practice – at local or national level – work with others to advocate and lobby for change at the appropriate level of government
  • Use examples of promising practice to share and provide evidence of what is possible
  • Use your influence to increase cooperation between state-run organisations and NGOs, and between national-level organisations and locally-based ones
  • Identify colleagues in other organisations that share your concerns and might be willing to work with you to bring about change and to provide more suitable and protective alternative care and services for unaccompanied and separated children
  • Promote investment in building the knowledge of policy makers, and skills of service providers

If you have any other ideas, or examples of how positive changes in the provision of suitable care have been made in your country, we would love for you to tell us about them in the ‘Comments’ section below.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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