There is a difference between simply ‘closing institutions’ and ‘achieving deinstitutionalisation’: closing institutions hastily and without developing high quality alternatives can be very dangerous for children, and cause their rights to be further violated. The decision to move a child from an institution into a new placement is a delicate transition that needs careful planning and support.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to decide where the children will go. Every child has individual needs and wishes, along with a unique personal history. In-depth evaluation and consultation with all actors involved (the child, his/her parents and siblings, the enlarged family, social workers, etc.) are key to success. In some cases, children are able to move back to their biological parents (‘reintegration’), while in other cases they will live with relatives or close friends (‘kinship care’), with a foster family or in a family-like placement. Foster parents should receive training to understand the needs of the child and his/her experience living in an institution. Sometimes small group homes or supervised independent living are appropriate alternatives, always depending on the child’s need, age and circumstances1. However, we are persuaded that family-based care should be the only option at least for infants and very young children (e.g. 0-3)2. The guiding principle is always to pursue the best interest of the child.
1 See UNICEF, At Home or in a Home? Formal Care and Adoption of Children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 2010, p. 19: “there is a growing consensus among child protection experts that small-scale residential care, in the form of small group homes in family-like environments, and used as a temporary or at times last resort, may sometimes be in the best interests of the child. (…) It may also be in some adolescents’ best interest to live independently, and they should be given that option with proper support”.
2 See UNICEF, Call for Action: End placing children under three in institutions, 2011. It should be noted that, according to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the working definition of early childhood should encompass all children below the age of eight: Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 7 – Implementing child rights in early childhood, 2005, par. 4.