Children can be separated from their families during a crisis. Children may also be inappropriately separated and placed in foster care or an institution, due to a perception of family need or sometimes for more illicit reasons. In an institution, the wellbeing of most children is most at risk with institutional care lacking the necessary stimulus for a child to thrive and if separated for more illicit reasons can be the subject of exploitation and abuse.
Every emergency, whether a natural disaster or armed conflict, may lead to separation of children from their families and caregivers. In major humanitarian crises, the numbers can be high such as the refugee influx from Myanmar to Bangladesh in August 2017 where more than 1,000 children were identified as missing their families.
Children may also be separated from their families for their own protection, such as in cases of domestic violence. However, many times children are inappropriately separated and placed in foster care or an institution due to a perception of family need or sometimes for more illicit reasons. Globally, many children placed in child care institutions have families. For example, it is estimated that at least 60 percent of children in institutions and homes in Nepal have at least one biological parent. Globally, there is also a higher likelihood that a child with a disability is in institutional care when they could participate in a fulfilling family environment.
Alternative care is a temporary service until a stable solution can be found for the child such as foster care or residential setting. Any placement must be based on the principles of necessity – finding a solution so that the child remains with family; and, appropriateness – finding the best place to ensure the wellbeing of the concerned child. These principles are detailed in the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, welcomed by the UN General Assembly in 2009, along with additional guidance on standards for the care of children outside of their families.
One form of care that should never be an option is institutional care. In an institution, the wellbeing of children is often at risk with the care lacking the necessary stimulus for a child to thrive. Regulation and oversight of children’s home are inadequate in most countries in South Asia. Unfortunately, volunteers are often drawn to these institutions with the good intentions to assist but the end results for the child being harmful.