Advocating for implementation of the guidelines for alternative care

August 11, 2014

“Our dream is that every child is in a secure and loving family. Either with their biological family or with a foster family in-country. The family is where children bond and makes them grow up into responsible and loving adults, who in turn, will care for their own children.” Elize Coetzee and Steven Wetton both work for the organisation Give a Child a Family. They promote implementation of the UN Guidelines for alternative care of children by governments, NGOs and institutions.

UN Guidelines for alternative care: family based care is key

The essence of the UN Guidelines for alternative care is promoting family based care and if necessary institutional care as a temporary measure. The guidelines also promote the need for minimal standards of institutional care and standards for in-country adoption.

We need to prevent children from entering institutions in the first place which can be achieved through:

  • an appropriate legal framework, 
  • strengthened community child protection systems, 
  • early reporting mechanisms for children, 
  • capacity building of families, 
  • a multi-sectorial approach. 

Mozambique, an encouraging example of political will

Mozambique not only ratified but embedded the UN Guidelines in a multi-sectorial approach and an appropriate legal framework. An example of challenges faced is the registration of foster children which is done in Maputo only, hindering foster care enormously. Systems are now put in place to bring those services to the people and thus making registration accessible in remote areas. Government staff members are being trained to understand the rationale of the guidelines and to be equipped for implementation.

Institutional care will be is measured against the minimum standards of care and an annual audit procedure ensures the quality care of children. Give a Child a Family provides a practical learning site for Mozambique and assist in training and building capacity of service providers.  

Implementing care reform in Eastern and Southern Africa

An international conference concerning care reform in Eastern and Southern Africa is planned for April 2015 in Johannesburg.  Governments, NGOs and donors will be present to evaluate care reform in the region, to share successes and challenges and deliberate on how to strengthen child protection systems. Furthermore the conference aims to get commitment from governments to implement the guidelines for alternative care. 

A long way to go

We have come a long way with appropriate guidelines for alternative care for children. Most countries have ratified the UN Guidelines but many challenges remain. Implementation requires political will, an appropriate legal framework for family-based care and skilled implementers. Grass roots level organisations and social workers are not always familiar with the legislative environment. 

Children are still removed from their families, just because of poverty which cannot be justified. Capacity building of families and ongoing post placement support is a vital aspect of ensuring the wellbeing of families and the safety of children. Where institutions still exists for those children that cannot be reunified or placed with alternative family, governments have the duty to ensure that standards of care are enforced. 

Initial steps when starting family-based care for children

How to implement the guidelines and to start a family-based care for children? Elize and Steven provide a shortlist for the initial phase:

  • Study the UN Guidelines as well as your country’s legal and policy framework for  alternative and family-based care 
  • Make all stakeholders aware of your intentions to reunify and reintegrate children back into family life 
  • Set up your organisation and capacitate your staff and stakeholders to fulfil their respective roles
  • Have a clear reunification and post placement policy in place 
  • Prepare families and screen and train potential foster families  to be matched with a child 
  • Assess all children in your care for family placement or reunification possibilities and let them participate in decisions 

Only after these steps, the practical work can start!


Give a Child a Family believes that every child needs at least one adult who is crazy about them. Family strengthening and foster care are at the core of the approach. Give a Child a Family lobbies and advocates for family based care for children and build the capacity of like- minded actors, both in South Africa and in other African countries, to achieve their dream of every child growing up in a secure and loving family. 

This article has been published in the STOP AIDS NOW! Children and AIDS e-news August 2014