Children in alternative care
Growing up in an institution puts children at risk of physical, emotional and social harm.
Every child has the right to grow up in a supportive family environment. But worldwide, an estimated 2.7 million children live in residential care – and the actual figure is likely much higher.
Children may be separated from their parents and placed in alternative care for various reasons.
Armed conflict, natural disaster and migration tear many families apart. Other children end up in residential care because of discrimination: Disability (or the disability of a parent), ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation force countless girls and boys into institutions.
Still others may be separated as a result of government policies that fail to prioritize families or account for a child’s most basic need for nurturing care – a critical element of healthy growth and development.
The vast majority of children without parental care have living family members, including at least one parent or other relative.
Many children in orphanages are not orphans and have at least one parent or other relative. In fact, the majority of children without parental care are placed in kinship care or family-based alternative care.
The immediate and long-term damage caused by family separation and unsuitable alternative care, particularly in institutions, is well documented. Institutions are often characterized by inherently harmful living arrangements. Children may experience forced cohabitation and fixed routines not tailored to their individual needs. They are frequently deprived of the ability to make choices that suit their best interests.
What’s more, children in alternative care are regularly isolated from their families and local communities. Deprived of parental care, they can endure physical, psychological, emotional and social harm – with consequences that last a lifetime. These children are also more likely to experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
All children have the right to grow up in an environment that supports their physical, psychological, social and emotional development. UNICEF works with governments and partners to develop policies and programmes aimed at preventing unnecessary family-child separation and protecting children deprived of parental care.
We focus on the root causes of family-child separation, while strengthening child protection systems and supporting children’s transition from institutional care to community- and family-based alternative care.
In particular, UNICEF works to:
- Accelerate efforts to end the institutionalization of children, through targeted programming and advocacy.
- Strengthen families to prevent family-child separation, and improve child protection and welfare.
- Redirect resources and prioritize family-based alternative care within communities.
- Improve data collection and reporting systems for children without parental care.
More from UNICEF
It’s Time for Care: Prioritizing Quality Care for Children - Challenges, Opportunities and an Agenda for Action
PROTECTION OF CHILDREN DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: Children and Alternative Care - Immediate Response Measures
Last updated 14 June 2021