Children in alternative care

Data to Strengthen Child Protection Systems and Outcomes for Children in Europe

child behind a window
Grigoryan / UNICEF


Across the European Union (EU), hundreds of thousands of children live in residential institutions. Children with disabilities are among the groups of children over-represented in the still existing large institutions in Europe. The impact of institutionalisation is severe and can last a lifetime. The EU and its Member States are commited to supporting the transition from institutional to care that is family and community-based, also known as deinstitutionalisation (DI). Supporting this transition requires evidence-based and informed DI policies and enhanced child protection monitoring and evaluation frameworks and data systems.

UNICEF’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (ECARO) has identified the transition from institutional care to family and community-based care (deinstitutionalisation) as a regional flagship area of intervention. Part of this work focuses on strengthening the measurement of progress towards deinstitutionalisation and of outcomes for children in care and careleavers across Europe. This requires strengthening the evidence on these groups of children to support the EU and Member States in making informed decisions around key policy priorities such as the European Child Guarantee, focused on breaking the cycle of poverty and social exclusion.

In an effort to further understand alternative care data systems in Europe and the statistics that these systems produce, and help governments and the EU make informed decisions, UNICEF and Eurochild jointly carried out the DataCare project to map alternative care data and data systems across the 27 Member States of the European Union (EU-27) and the United Kingdom (UK). Over 50 experts across Europe collected data and information which was analysed by the research team comprised of UNICEF, Eurochild members and the Eurochild Secretariat.

This was informed by learnings and the ongoing work with Transformative Monitoring for Enhanced Equity (TransMonEE); a research programme initiated and managed by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre and transferred to UNICEF ECARO in 2007, with the aim of strengthening research-policy work linkages. The database contains over 500 social and economic indicators including indicators on child protection. Data covers the period from 1989 to the present day, with disaggregated data for many indicators available since 2005. The database is updated yearly due to collaboration with national statistical offices in 29 countries (including 11 EU Member States) and other international databases. In recent years, child protection indicators have been reviewed and refined in consultation with TransMonEE members and regional experts.

Learnings from TransMonEE and the DataCare project have informed UNICEF’s work with the Task Force on Statistics on Children, Adolescents, and Youth established by the Bureau of the Conference of European Statisticians (CES) in February 2020. The objectives of the Task Force are to improve the availability, quality, and comparability of statistics on children, including children in alternative care.

What research reveals about data for alternative care across European countries

Analysis shows that the countries surveyed collect data that can be used to calculate a set of basic but fundamentally critical indicators to start measuring progress made in deinstitutionalisation and the transition from institutional to family and community-based care across countries in Europe. However, the research team found that there were differing national definitions and categorisations of alternative care across the region. These different interpretations of alternative care present some challenges for comparability. The research also revealed large variations in the data collected, indicators reported, and maturity of administrative data systems, which are the main data source for national statistics on children in alternative care in Europe.

How UNICEF and Eurochild’s indicators can support filling gaps in data systems and strengthen data collection on children in alternative care among Member States

The EU does not currently gather comparable data from Member States to monitor progress in care reforms. The existing European monitoring frameworks do not include indicators on children in alternative care. UNICEF and Eurochild’s proposed indicators can therefore support the region in filling this gap and encourage Member States to systematically collect and report data on children in alternative care.

The National Action Plans and monitoring frameworks under development for the European Child Guarantee, until 2030, are an important opportunity to reflect and strengthen data collection and reporting on this group of children.

Overview of resources on the findings of the DataCare project

Policy Brief: Children in alternative care: Comparable statistics to monitor progress on deinstitutionalisation across the European Unionpresents the key findings and recommendations, providing a roadmap for EU and national policymakers to improve data collection systems for one of Europe’s most socially excluded groups of children.

Full Technical Report: Better data for better child protection systems in Europe: Mapping how data on children in alternative care are collected, analysed and published across 28 European countries, is the detailed technical report which provides insight into how countries in Europe are collecting and using data for children in alternative care. It also identifies specific gaps and where reform is needed.

Country Overviews summarise the data and key findings of the mapping for each country in the EU and the UK.

A video presentation of the findings from the DataCare project presented by Eurochild member and Technical Advisor and Editor to the DataCare project Florence Koenderink is available here.




























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