International standards and guidelines
"I can't remember exactly when I started to feel comfortable with my foster family. Maybe when I was getting washed. You know… being put to bed at 7.30 p.m., maybe being carried all wrapped up in a towel, getting a bowl of fruit, always eating meals at the same time... everything is structured. Small things such as these are so important."
This is how a girl from Ireland describes her early days with her foster family. Her experience, along with those of 153 European children in alternative care and the experiences of biological parents, foster parents and social workers, were the basis for the Quality4Children standards for alternative care in Europe.
For the good of the child
Nearly one million children and young people in Europe are unable to live with their biological family and are in alternative care, for a variety of reasons. Although each child has a unique background, it is paramount that all decisions be made for the good of that child. The best possible solution must be found, and the children and their biological families must be involved in all steps of the process. Children should as far as possible be involved in making decisions about where they will live. It should be possible to find a home for most brothers and sisters together. However, if this is not possible, the siblings should be supported to stay in contact if it contributes towards the child's wellbeing.
Roots and new relationships
To almost all children, their biological families are and will remain the place to which they are linked and emotionally bound with. If their biological parents are criticised, blamed or negated by others, children experience a direct blow to their personality. Their origin must be respected so that the children can accept their new lives
Commitment and letting go
Everything in the third phase of alternative care revolves around the stage of gradually becoming independent, which can mean the children moving into a youth home, returning to their biological families, or starting to lead a completely independent life.
It is vital that children and young adults leaving care are supported, given strength, and encouraged to take responsibility for themselves. Valuing social skills and self-esteem are essential. Leaving care should not be seen as being a point of no return and young adults should continue receiving help and support if they need it. They can remain in contact with their former caregivers, their “brothers and sisters” and friends.
SOS Children are at the forefront of advocating for child rights at the international level. As well as the Quality4Children report, SOS were a leading organisation in supporting the development of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children which were formally adopted by the UN as a key framework for its work in 2010.