In 2009 the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care of Children, became the starting point of a paradigm shift in the protection of children deprived of parental care. The resolution reaffirms the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Until 2009 it had been acknowledged practice to provide long-term solutions of children deprived of parental care through placement in institutions. The Alternative Care paradigm however emphasizes the family as a fundamental group of the society and the preferable environment for the growth, well-being and protection of children. Institutions cannot replace a family and give a child the same love and care therefore living in institutions often has a negative impact on children’s health, development and life chances.
The Guidelines therefore promote three approaches: 1) preventing vulnerable families from dissolving, 2) reuniting children with their families 3) Alternative family- and community-based care through mainly kinship care in the extended family or foster care. The rationale is that 80 % of children placed in institutions have a living parent either a mother or father. The most typical reason for children to be placed in institutions is therefore not that they are orphan, but that they have been separated from their parents due to poverty, domestic violence, lack of parental care, neglect or abuse.
Ten years later the recommendations from the Guidelines are given stronger weight through a UN Resolution on the Rights of the Child (2019), that specifically focus on children without parental care. The resolution reaffirms and emphasizes (among other things) that:
- … a child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality and potential, should grow up in a family environment.
- … recognizing that every effort should be directed to enabling children to remain in or swiftly return to the care of their parents or, when appropriate, other close family members and that, where alternative care is necessary family and community-based care should be promoted over placement in institutions.
- … many children living without parental care have families, including at least one parent alive and/or relatives, and in this regard encourages actions to achieve family reunification unless it is not in the best interest of the child.
- … children shall not be separated from their parents against their will except when competent authorities, subject to judicial review, determine in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interest of the child.
- Adopting and enforcing laws and improving the implementation of policies and programmes, budget allocation and human resources to support children, particularly children with disabilities, to address the root causes of unnecessary family separation and ensure that they are cared for effectively by their own families and communities.
The Resolution promotes family-based care but as one might imagine, the agenda does not come along without multiple challenges and dilemmas. Lack of registration of institutionalized children as well as children in informal kinship care makes it difficult to keep track of the children, monitor their situation and secure their rights. Poverty and lack of parental care as well as abuse in biological families may make it difficult to reunite children with biological families. Insufficient data on the number of children in different forms of alternative care, insufficient allocation of budget and resources to the implementation of the Guidelines and the Resolution complicates the enforcement of the approach. Therefore, a learning network on Alternative Care has been initiated with the purpose of supporting practice oriented Danish NGOs working in the global south in their work to support knowledge sharing and the development of promising practices of quality alternative care as part of the implementation of the recommendations from the Guidelines and the Resolution.