Providing alternative care for Children on the Move
Hannah Newth, Child Protection Adviser - Children on the Move, Save the Children;
Daniela Reale – Co-chair of Initiative for child Rights in the Global Compacts. Save the Children
Introduction to the project
When children are displaced and particularly when unaccompanied, one of the biggest risks to their physical and psychosocial well-being, as well as their safety, is the lack of appropriate care. Children who lack adult care and supervision are at heightened risk of exploitation, violence and abuse. Often the response to large numbers of unaccompanied children is to accommodate them in institutions, shelters or, at worst, detention centres, where they do not receive the care, attention and services they require. Children who are inappropriately cared for in such situations not only fail to develop and thrive, but may also run away, making themselves more vulnerable to criminal activities in order to survive.
Save the Children has been working for many years on the question of alternative and appropriate care, supporting governments with the process of developing foster care systems and other appropriate care options. In recent years, SC has adapted its extensive experience in this field to the development of appropriate care for children on the move. Working with governments and civil society, SC has developed a number of context-specific options including specialized foster care for UASC in Serbia and in West Africa (Mali, CIV and Burkina Faso), transit centres in Bangladesh and Greece, and semi-independent living options in Greece.
Main activities of the Good Practice
SC will present a range of alternative care options for unaccompanied and separated children on the move that have been developed in different refugee contexts.
In Serbia and West Africa where foster care systems have been adapted to refugee and migrant children, SC has worked with governments to:
- Advocate for the need for alternatives to institutional care and detention
- Adapt existing practices to meet the needs of refugee children
- Develop appropriate training courses for potential foster carers
- Support foster carers to understand the cultural, psychosocial and legal support needs of refugee children
In Greece and Bangladesh, SC has worked with partners to develop a standard, high quality approach to the provision of alternative care in transit centres which includes Standard Operating Procedures, mandatory risk assessments, minimum standards of care and child safe programming guidelines.
In Greece, SC also worked with the Child Protection Sub Working Group to lead the development of Minimum Standards for Supported Independent Living (SIL) which was adopted as a more appropriate model of alternative care for older unaccompanied children (16-17 year olds).
- Governments of Serbia and Mali.
- IRC in Serbia
- Members of the Child Protection Sub Working Group in Greece
Challenges and how they were overcome
Challenges in developing foster care systems for children on the move have included:
- A lack of formal, legal framework for the approach in some contexts
- The mental health needs of unaccompanied refugee children which are sometimes more challenging than foster parents are accustomed to handling.
- In African contexts, the large number of private institutions and the lack of political will to find alternatives to institutional care can prove challenging to turn around
- Identifying durable solutions for children if family tracing efforts prove unsuccessful
- Refugee and migrant children who often do not wish to stay in one place for a long period of time
Ensuring government ownership and buy in from key stakeholders has been essential in developing foster care systems and other alternative care options. Developing a strong partnership with relevant government departments to examine existing provision, policy and legal frameworks is an essential step; as is generating understanding of the need to provide appropriate, non-institutional care for this group of children.
A range of tools have then been developed that have helped address some of the challenges: training packages especially tailored to foster carers who are new to supporting refugee and migrant children, Standard Operating Procedures, Minimum Standards and other guidance materials for stakeholders. Recognizing the importance of explaining what foster care is to refugee children and what their rights, responsibilities and expectations should be is a crucial step in ensuring the stability of the placement.
Results of the Good Practice
As a result of these various models of alternative care, Save the Children and partners have been able to ensure that children are cared for in settings that are better adapted to meet the protection, care and psychosocial needs of children on the move. Children have received more individualised care through models that ensure closer compliance with the UN Guidelines on Alternative Care. These models of good and promising practice also provide examples that can support advocacy efforts with governments as we look to develop alternatives to detention and institutional care elsewhere.
Specifically in Serbia, Save the Children, IRC and the Serbian government have developed a specialised foster care training package for social welfare professionals and families interested in caring for UASC.
In Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, foster families have been identified and supported to care for unaccompanied migrant and refugee children, influencing the overall approach to appropriate care in the region.