Alternatives to institutional care

Institutional care has proven to be damaging both to children and to society.

Decades of research show that institutional care simply cannot provide an appropriate protection of children’s rights and the one-to-one care, love and attention a child needs to develop. To bring end to institutional care, States must address as much as possible the root causes leading to children entering care, prevent separation of children from their parents and develop quality alternatives to institutions.

In most cases, until today, children enter public care system for the wrong reasons. Poverty, ethnic origin, nationality and disability are some of the key reasons for children’s institutionalisation. Every child, regardless of age, gender, type and level of disability, migration status or any other personal characteristic or condition for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a nurturing environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. There is no person or a group of persons who should be spending their lives in institutional care settings due to their characteristics or for whom long-term stay in an institution represent their best interests.

There are a few key elements of deinstitutionalisation strategies aimed to support the development of family and community-based services for children and parents and curb the damaging effects of institutional care.


Prevention of unnecessary placement into alternative care and institutionalisation involves the development of a range of support services in the local community that aim to prevent separation of children from their families.

Quality alternative care

This means offering a range of care options that is matching the needs of each child with a focus on ensuring a safe, loving and nurturing environment. Alternatives to institutional care are based on the provision of quality family based or family like care according to a child’s specific needs. Family based care, either formal or informal is built upon an existing family structure and can be a non-related family – (foster care) or a child’s extended family (kinship care). Family like care is provided in a residential setting that is built around the individualised needs of the child.

Leaving Care

When a child leaves the care system, the first priority should be his/hers reintegration with his/hers parents. When this is not possible or not in the child’s best interest, stable and definitive solutions, such as adoption or kafala of Islamic law, should be envisage. Also, children and young people, when they reach maturity and ability, should be well supported towards their transition to independent living. This transition should be planned with trained professionals well in advance and support and supervision should be continuously offered to young people for as much as it is needed.

Children should be always consulted, should be encouraged to share their views and wishes and they should actively participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

Find more information on deinstitutionalisation and quality alternative care for children in Europe at the Opening Doors Lessons Learned and the Way Forward Working Paper.