Mr Palm's speech during the national workshop on Social Services Reform and UN Guidelines on Alternative Care for Children on 21 June 2011
Albanian Society has many virtues or assets, many good things that Albania can be proud of. Among the strongest virtues is the respect and love for the family and within the family. The family sticks together, even if some members live abroad. And family members usually help each other – sometimes more than families do in other countries. When it comes to the protection of children, the cohesion in the family is Albania’s biggest asset.
The family is the basic group of any society. The family cares, protects and provides support for children. Parents often get help from other family members who share resources. The family is where children are at home, and they call it home. There is usually no better place for children to grow up.
In contrast, children without parental care are at risk of living without a nurturing and protective environment. Therefore, if parental care is not available or inadequate, the first policy response is to support the family, so that parents or close relatives can provide the necessary care. This might be through financial support – economic aid, but also through special services to those families and children so they can stay together. Poverty alone is usually not, and must not, be a reason for parents to relinquish their children.
Where the child’s own family is unable, even with appropriate support, to care adequately for the child, or in the rare case where a mother abandons the child, the State is responsible for protecting the child and ensuring appropriate alternative care, together with competent local authorities and authorized civil society organizations. Competent authorities must ensure the supervision of the safety, wellbeing and development of any child placed in alternative care. Authorities must regularly review the appropriateness of the care arrangements.
The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children were drafted, when it was found out that worldwide, millions of children without parental support care were given alternative care, often in institutions, that was neither needed nor appropriate.
Policy makers and practitioners always have to consider these two questions: is it really necessary to take the children away from the family; and are the alternative care arrangements appropriate.
To stay with the family would normally be in the best interest of the child. Removing a child from his/her family should be a measure of last resort. Before any such decision is taken, a rigorous participatory assessment is required.
In order to decide whether the choice of alternative care is appropriate, the Guidelines define a range of possible options. The choice has to depend on the specific situation of the child; it can be short term or long-term, with foster families or other arrangements. Whenever possible, siblings should stay together. Any arrangement for alternative care must be subject to professional review, and consider the potential reunification with the family. This also applies to kinship care, where children are left in the care of close relatives.
Even though we know that a family-like environment is best for the child, residential care is often the option automatically selected. Residential (or institutional) care has the administrative and financial systems in place. It is a well-used path, and often seems to be the "easy" solution. In contrast, the procedures for placement into a family are much less developed, and still not sufficiently used. This needs to change. Children need a stable environment, where they can attach themselves to adults, and where children can see their parents as role models. Placement in families must become the regular way of alternative care. Fostering and adoption procedures need to be more clearly defined and expedited. It is also cheaper than placing children into institutions. Placement in institutions should only be a temporary solution, and the method of last resort. And where residential institutional care is needed, it should be in the form of small group home that can provide a family-like environment.
Let me conclude. Children belong into a family. Fostering and adoption are the best solutions. Albania, as said earlier, has a very strong family tradition and cohesion. Albania can do it. The UN guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children are clear. Albania can lead the way for many other countries in the region and Eastern Europe. More importantly, Albanian citizens do show compassion for family values. I am confident, that these values are also being extended to children unfortunate enough to be in need of alternative care.