|© UNICEF/HQ05-0027/ HOLMES|
|A man checks an outdoor information board containing lists of people who have been missing since the Tsunami disaster in South Asia.|
Families are children’s first line of protection. Yet every day, children are separated from from their families either due to the belief that this is the best or only option given the family’s poverty, a child’s disability, a parent’s educational status or the lack of educational opportunities, or due to an emergency, such as the Tsunami crisis recently experienced in South Asia. Armed conflict and domestic violence also contribute to the separation of children from their families.
Both children who are indeed in need of alternative care, as well as those who could be cared for by their families frequently end up in residential care which rarely provides the environment children need for healthy development. Others may be cared for in foster families, arrangements which work best when properly supported. Children in poorly monitored foster care as well as institutional care may be particularly at risk of physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Returning children to their families or finding other permanent, family based options should be the highest priority for children in public care, but unfortunately these goals are often not pursued.
Every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents, whenever possible. UNICEF believes that families needing support to care for their children should receive it. For children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate alternative family environment should be sought in preference to institutional care which should be used only as a last resort and as a temporary measure, until the child can return to the family environment.
UNICEF is working with partners to build a protective environment for children that helps keep their families intact and fortifies them against abuse and exploitation, in the way that good nutrition and good health care fortifies them against diseases, and focuses on family reunification whenver families are separated. Efforts are made to:
- Encourage the development of poverty reduction and social welfare policies which support struggling families;
- Make child care and psycho-social support services available at community level;
- Help develop clear, child welfare regulations that can be enacted and monitored to ensure that only children who truly need alternative care enter the system, and that quality family based care is available for all children who need it;
- Fight stigma and discrimination based on disability, HIV status, gender and other factors;
- Support family tracing, reunification and reintegration during emergencies, and promote family based alternative care during the interim.