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Care in a small residential setting

A description of family-like care and what the UN Guidelines advises.
In this photo an older man with grey hair and a blue tshirt is smiling as he receives a gift from a teenage boy in a denim shirt and jeans. A woman with a black sweatshirt is looking on and smiling. They are standing outside a home.

Family-like care, as described in the handbook Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’, is care in a residential setting that should ‘resemble a family-like environment as much as possible.’ The UN Guidelines advise us that these 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.’

A small residential care setting is one in which care is provided in a non-family-based setting. It is a form of residential care that means a small number of children are not actually cared for in someone’s own family home, but live together in another setting specifically used for the purpose of group residential care. The people responsible for caring for them are unrelated and may either live with the children full-time, or work in shifts.

We should be very clear that these small group forms of residential care do not include care in large institutions. The care in small residential settings must always conform to the criteria of suitable care we discussed earlier this week.

The UN Guidelines tell us that even small residential care settings should only be used when ‘such a setting is specifically appropriate, necessary, and constructive for the individual child concerned’. In other words, small residential settings have a valid place in the range of alternative care options to be made available, but there must be positive and justified reasons for placing a child in such a facility instead of a family-based setting.

These reasons might include a small residential setting being the preferable option for an older child who does not want to be placed with a family. It might be that the child has already tried foster care and felt it was not suitable for them. There are also situations in various countries, particularly places where large numbers of refugees or unaccompanied children are arriving, where unfortunately not enough people are willing, or able, to be foster carers.

Although the UN Guidelines urge us to consider family-based care as a preference for children, small residential care may also be appropriate for some unaccompanied children arriving in your country who do not want to stay for long. For example, if a child is continuing to travel, they may not wish to invest time and emotion moving into a family-based care setting such as foster care if they are unlikely to remain there for more than a few days or weeks.

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