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The lack of ‘care’ in Care

© UNICEF Indonesia

Jakarta, 4th June 2008 - A joint report released by DEPSOS, Save the Children and UNICEF is the first ever comprehensive research into the quality of care in childcare institutions in Indonesia. The report, “Someone that matters: The Quality of Care in Childcare Institutions in Indonesia” provides a detailed assessment of 37 childcare institutions across 6 provinces of Indonesia together with an analysis of the legal and policy context within which these institutions operate.

There are an estimated 5000 to 8000 childcare institutions in Indonesia caring for up to half a million children, one of the highest numbers of children in residential care in the world. The government only runs a handful of institutions with over 99% of institutions in the country being run by private, mostly faith based organisations. The research provides an in-depth picture of the situation of these children and the care they receive in the institutions.

Makmur Sunusi, Phd. Director General for Social Services and Rehabilitation in the Ministry of Social Affairs said “the Indonesian Government has recognised that families are the best environment for children to grow up in and this research is an important first step towards ensuring that children who are in need of alternative care are provided with professional and quality care and only institutionalised as a last resort.”

The research found that, contrary to widely held assumptions, only a small percentage of the children in institutional care were real orphans (6%) with  more than 90% having either one or both parents.  Most of the children had been placed in these institutions by families who were struggling economically as well as socially in some cases, with the aim of ensuring their children’s access to education. In fact most of the childcare institutions were found to be not about ‘care’ at all but about providing access to education. This was reflected in their explicitly stated approach to care, the services they provide and the resources allocated by them.

In almost all cases, proper placement procedures were not followed. Virtually no assessments of the children’s need for care were carried out either before, during or when ending a placement in an institution. Criteria for the selection of children and the recruitment practices focused on children who were of school age, were from poor, and were old enough to ‘take care of themselves instead of children in need of protection.

© UNICEF Indonesia

‘Care’ in fact was found to be generally lacking in childcare institutions. The focus was almost entirely on fulfilling collective needs, in particular daily material needs while children’s emotional and developmental needs were rarely considered. Most children stay in institution far too long until they graduate from high school with very limited contact with families. 

 “Children have the right to know and grow up within their families and they also have the right to education. They and their families should not be asked to choose between these two fundamental rights”, said Save the Children’s Country Director Stephen Morrow.

While the government has provided substantial funding to all of the institutions assessed, the lack of minimum standards of care as well as a licensing system for childcare institutions meant that this support did not generally result in the institutions delivering professional and quality care.

A general lack of staff, including staff with professional training, meant that the children tended to do most of the caring for themselves and other children while adults generally cared for the institutions. In fact the research found that many of the institutions would not be able to function without children’s work.

In a number of institutions surveyed, children’s work went beyond their own care and contributed to the economy of the institution. This raises serious questions about the extent to which these institutions are being run for children or by children, as well as questions about ethical and professional practice, and respect for children’s rights.

The research found that ‘care’ in the institutions was invariably understood in terms of responding to problems and tended to relate mainly to disciplinary issues, therefore most of the institutions had quite strict rules and regulations in place and physical and humiliating punishment was found to be widespread. Only one of the childcare institutions was found to have a child protection policy or any type of mechanism to identify, prevent, and respond to violence against children.

The research included a number of recommendations addressing both the need to prevent unnecessary institutionalisation, and to improve the quality of services and care provided by these children’s institutions.

In particular it calls for,

• A clear government policy that strengthens family based care for vulnerable children.  For children in need of care and protection, the priority should be alternative care in the extended family, or in an alternative family.

• The Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and other key agencies need to work together to ensure that poor and vulnerable families can access direct financial and other forms of support to guarantee their children’s education.

• A clear regulatory system for childcare institutions must be established.  It must provide standards in relation to the establishment of childcare institutions, the quality of services that must be provided and operational requirements including their licensing.

• An effective system of data collection on children in alternative care should be established providing accurate and updated information about the situation of children in alternative care including children in institutional care

• Reviewing assistance schemes to the childcare institutions including the government BBM subsidy system, to ensure these are provided together with the technical support needed to enable the institutions  to abide by standards of care for children.

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