Family Strengthening and Alternative Care
Every child has the right to and deserves to grow up in a family environment
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Every child has the right to and deserves to grow up in a family environment. It is the best environment for children’s development, particularly during early childhood.
The most effective way of ensuring that children can grow up in a loving and caring family environment is by supporting families in dealing with the challenges they might face. This support is carried out through strengthening child and family support services, and enhancing the foster care system to offer help to those in need.
UNICEF is working to reduce the number of children living in residential care, increasing large-scale institutions, with a focus on children aged 0–3 and those with disabilities.
Some children have to be removed from their families, and UNICEF is working to strengthen prevention services to support families living with multiple deprivations whose children are at risk of being placed into care. Foster care is being strengthened for quality, family-based alternative care when in the best interest of the child.
We also provide evidence-based advice to the government of Serbia to invest in strengthening community-based services that can protect vulnerable and at-risk children.
Programme Area Goals
Another goal that we have is to ensure that girls and boys, particularly those from families facing complex and multiple problems and those in need of quality alternative care, can have equal opportunities and grow up to be independent. In order to achieve this, UNICEF works to:
- Increase access to statutory prevention and diversified, quality community-based services for children and families.
- Ensure that more children and families with multiple problems receive early identification and quality intensive support.
- Ensure that children separated from their families benefit from improved family-like alternative care options, improved quality and decreased length of stay in institutions.
- Decrease the number of children in institutions and those entering care.
Our goal is that by 2025:
- An increased percentage of foster families are being supported by Centres for Foster Care and Adoption (from 54 per cent to 75 per cent).
- At least 45 local service-providers have professionals with strengthened capacities for providing family and parenting strengthening services.
- There is an increased number of government social service workforce staff per 100,000 child population (from 164 to 181).
- Changes made to national legislation and policy, and services increasingly mainstreamed into national and subnational systems and funded through government budgets.
Thanks to significant progress in deinstitutionalization and improved alternative family-based care options, Serbia is among the European countries with the lowest rate of children in residential care. While it is encouraging that most children without parental care were placed in foster families, the total number of children in care is increasing, with more children entering than leaving care. The disproportional representation of Roma children and children with disabilities in care and the continued placement of young children in institutions are concerning.
Although there has been a shift towards family-oriented and family-like solutions, a genuine transformation of professional practices is yet to occur.
Family strengthening services are underdeveloped due to the lack of standardization and sustainable financing, thus limiting options to prevent unnecessary child and family separation or to reintegrate children with their families. Mechanisms and capacities are lacking for residential institutions to meet international standards of care. As a direct result of a freeze on employment in the public sector, there is significant social service workforce understaffing, including in foster care, with implications on the quantity and quality of services.
- Monitoring and evidence-based encouragement are needed to further the transition from institutional to family, family-like and community-based care; to ensure that efficiency gains are made from the process of transforming residential institutions; and to ensure that these gains are directed to services and cash benefits, including to staffing and increased efficacy and quality of case-management.
- Technical support must be provided to the government to expand services to prevent family separation, support reintegration, expand appropriate quality alternative care options, accelerate deinstitutionalization and transform residential institutions to Centres for Child and Family.
- Capacity building of social workers and other professionals is needed, along with knowledge-exchange on good practices in family strengthening, foster-care, and other adequate care options for children.