The Working Group’s (WG) main and founding aim to develop international standards was achieved in 2009. Its new mission is to promote and contribute to the dissemination and implementation of Guidelines on Alternative Care of Children on a global, regional and local level.

UN Guidelines on the Alternative Care of Children-formally welcomed by the UN General Assembly in 2009 (A/RES/64/142)

The Guidelines seek to ensure that, firstly, children do not find themselves in out-of-home care unnecessarily and, secondly, that the type and quality of out-of-home care provided is appropriate to the rights and specific needs of the child concerned.
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The first  call for international standards for children in need of alternative care originated from International Social Service and UNICEF in 2004. In September 2005, the Committee on the Rights of the Child dedicated its Day of General Discussion to children without parental care based on their observation of a significant gap between State responsibilities under the CRC and implementation in practice.  The Working Group submitted an annotated outline for the proposed guidelines to the discussion day and encouraged the Committee to support this initiative.

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With the lead of Brazil in 2006, over three years there were concerted efforts by governments, UN Agencies and NGOs to promote awareness and consensus on the final text.

A resolution ‘welcoming’ the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children was adopted by UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 20 November 2009. Whilst the resolution does not adopt the text, it is important to note that the UNGA also welcomed the Paris Principles (at OP 11). In keeping with the customary references made to the Paris Principles, a main aim now is to promote similar legal use of the Guidelines. The resolution also requests that the OHCHR ensure the wide dissemination of the text and mention that is important that the text now be implemented as part of national policy.

The strategic plan of the WG now focuses on promoting and contributing to the dissemination and implementation of Guidelines at all levels and we note that the Guidelines have recently been heavily relied upon in direct policy making for child protection after the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. In 2010, the UN Committee examined at least 24 countries with regards to their child rights obligations according to international standards. As part of their concluding observations and recommendations, the UN Committee systematically requested that each country ensure that it implements all aspects of the Guidelines, to be an invaluable lobbying tool for grass root actors (the concluding observations and recommendations can be found on OHCHR page looking at the countries listed).

Parallel, the Human Rights Council in Geneva has started referencing the Guidelines as part of the Universal Periodic Review process for some countries including, Albania and Bulgaria. For example, Bulgaria was challenged to ensure that all children under the age of three years are cared for in family-based settings.

The Latin American region has been quite active in developing implementation tools for the Guidelines. As one of the lead actors in the region, RELAF in collaboration with UNICEF has been co-ordinating the development of child friendly and adult friendly versions of the Guidelines.

In 2012, the Working Group has been involved in the finalisation of the first draft of the Implementation and Monitoring Handbook for the Guidelines on the Alternative Care of Children which includes identification of good practices as well as supporting revisions. The latter has involved working with international experts as well as supporting two field tests in Argentina and Malawi. The final version should be ready by the end of the year.

The WG is also undertaking treaty body mainstreaming efforts to ensure that all the treaties (in addition to the CRC Committee) are aware of the Guidelines and if relevant, refer to them in their discussion with State members as well as include them in their concluding observations. An early fruit from these efforts is that for the first time the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) have given visibility to the issue of children with disabilities in alternative care by taking on board the issues highlighted in our briefing note in their concluding observations.

Whilst individual countries such as Namibia, Liberia, Germany, Moldova and Chile have started implementing the Guidelines or aspects of it, much work is left for the Working Group and wider international community.

Historical background

In its recommendations, the UN Committee proposed an expert meeting to prepare international standards for the protection of children without parental care to be approved by the General Assembly in 2006.

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In August 2006, the government of Brazil hosted an inter-governmental meeting of technical experts to further review a first draft.  Some 40 governments participated, from all continents, as well as three Committee members.  As a result of this meeting, the government of Brazil took the lead responsibility for follow-up and set up a 15-country “Group of Friends” to further review the document.  The Committee committed to continuing to “accompany” the process.  During 2007 and 2008 multiple references to the guidelines were included in various resolutions from the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the General Assembly. At the HRC’s 7th session, the Working Group participated in the drafting of a paragraph in the Child Rights Omnibus resolution which committed the HRC to advance the draft during the 8th session.  This commitment resulted in a Special Event, in June 2008, which included an expert panel, an interactive dialogue with States, and oral statements by the Working Group’s co-convenors, the International Social Service and SOS-Kinderdorf International (see CRIN-News and the OHCHR webcast below).

The efforts of the international community culminated in the first half of 2009, with Brazil and the Group of Friends holding 9 consultations with the Missions based in Geneva to fine tune the text. The Working Group with Nigel Cantwell (international consultant) provided expert advice on the principles behind the text during this period. As a result of these consultations the Human Rights Council on 17 June 2009 adopted by consensus resolution A/HRC/11/L.13 submitting the “Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children” to UNGA in New York for consideration with a view to their adoption.

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Papers and Presentations

JUNE 2008 – Expert panellists and NGO participants to the Special Event at the 8th session of the Human Rights Council (OHCHR Webcast)

  • Patricia Lamego, Project Manager, Cabinet of the Special Secretariat for Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil, as Coordinator of the Group of Friends.
  • Moushira Khattab, Member Committee on the Rights of the Child.
  • Alexandra Yuster, Senior Adviser – Social Welfare and Justice Systems Child Protection Section, Programme Division – UNICEF.
  • Nigel Cantwell, Expert in the Rights of the Child, representative of civil society.
  • Christina Baglietto, Child Rights Specialist, International Social Service.
  • Kersti Kukk, youth representative, SOS-Kinderdorf International.

2005-2006 – The Working Group presented a paper on the Development of International Standards for the Protection of Children deprived of Parental Care at an international conference on Child Rights, Role of Families and Alternative Care Policies.  The Working Group also organized a side event on the “Need for International Guidelines for the Protection of Children without Parental Care” on 15 September 2005.

  • Launch of the first paper of the ‘First Resort’ series by David Tolfree, Save the Children UK
  • Child participation in setting standards for out-of-home care by Monika Niederle, FICE on behalf of the Quality4Children project
  • Preventing separation by Zeina Allouche, SOS Children’s Villages Lebanon

Contact Details of the Working Group

The Working Group is undertaking a number of other initiatives and for more information, please contact:

Becky Smith, Save the Children

Delia Pop, Hope and Homes for Children

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