The deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is in less than 470 days. Will all eight goals be achieved by then? The quick answer is no. Yet this doesn’t reveal the enormous effort and progress that has been made in countries across the world.
Goal 1 is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. One of its targets was achieved five years ahead of schedule: to halve the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day. Goal 4, to reduce child mortality, has driven a 47% drop in the under-five mortality rate. Goal 5 is to improve maternal health, and over the past two decades maternal mortality has declined by about two-thirds in Eastern Asia, Northern Africa and Southern Asia.
Learning lessons from the MDGs failures
These are just a few successes of the ambitious and diverse MDGs - successes which are impressive and laudable. However, progress has been patchy and uneven across the world. While some countries have raced ahead, others have stalled or even regressed. Further, populations within countries have often not equally benefitted from MDG-related initiatives, with certain groups neglected and left behind.
In 2015, the MDGs' achievements and failures will reflected on. A new set of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are currently being drafted, to be met by 2030. What can be learned from the challenges encountered by MDG efforts, to support the total success of the SDGs? How can the world ensure that progress made in the next 15 years truly leaves no one behind?
Who did the MDGs leave behind?
“Children without parental care or at risk of being separated from their parents are among the most vulnerable and ‘left-behind’ members of society” - SOS Children, in a 2014 report presented to the UN General Assembly.
Some of the failures of the MDGs can be attributed to children without parental care, or at risk of losing it, being neglected in the targets set in 2000. We understand the enormous challenges and risks that these young people face, due to over 60 years of experience working with them.
- In the least-developed countries, orphans are 12% less likely to attend school than their non-orphan peers
- Children without one or both parents are more likely to die young. Causes of death varying between low- and high- income countries.
- Malnutrition is a greater risk for those who lack parents. For example, we found that children in Sierra Leone who have lost both parents are 32% less likely to eat three meals a day, compare to their peers with parents.
To make sure that these children and young people are included in new development goals, SOS Children presented recommendations to the UN General Assembly in September 2014 (Click here to read the full report, pdf). We aim to amplify young voices, so that this vulnerable group is no longer neglected in international goal-setting.
1. We advocate for quality alternative care
When a child is orphaned or abandoned, many will enter into alternative care. The nature of alternative care varies between countries and is usually arranged via local social services. Options include institutional care, foster families, adoption and family-based care (as found in SOS Children’s Villages). However, these options are not equal, with varying levels of care that have drastically different outcomes on a child’s future.
At the most dire end of the spectrum are children placed in overcrowded institutional care facilities with insufficiently trained staff. The emotional, psychological and physical development of these children is often severely stunted. Further, institutional care facilities are rife with abuse, neglect and violence against children.
Despite the dangers to their welfare, many countries still place children in institutions. For example, in Kenya over 600 residential care facilities care for more than 40,000 children. In Malawi, 71% of care providers lack training in childcare. Growing up in these harsh environments has a long-term effect on young people, and can lead to aggressive behaviour and involvement in crime later in life.
Effective way to break the poverty cycle
Institutional care is unacceptable. In the short-term it damages a child’s well-being and sense of security. In the long-term it affects their ability to develop emotional attachments to others and increases the likelihood of a future of poverty.
One of the loudest messages we wish to contribute to the post-2015 agenda is to ensure quality alternative care. This is one of the most efficient and effective ways to break the cycles of poverty, inequality and violence, protect children’s rights. Quality alternative care means that children grow up to be resilient and positive contributors to their society. In order to achieve other development goals related to education, health and employment, it is essential that children who have lost parental care can grow up in an enabling and nourishing environment.Their future depends upon it.
2. We advocate for adequate support for fragile families
Did you know, that 88% of children in alternative care have at least one living parent? 70% of these children could be reintegrated with their biological family if adequate support services were available. Sadly, these services are lacking in many countries.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that states must provide children with special assistance when family protection breaks down. However, these services are severely undersupplied. Currently more than 90% of family support services are delivered by NGOs, which are restricted by unstable funding.
Growing up with one’s own family is always the best option. This is why our second key message for the SDGs is to work toward more effective support for families in fragile circumstances. This includes better social protection and care systems, equal access to social services such as family-strengthening services. Better support services will help prevent children from losing parental care, as well as reintegrate children in alternative care with living relatives.
Investments in family support services will pay off in the long-term, as goals related to education, health and employment are more likely to be achieved. Children's futures will be brighter and their successes richer if their families are given adequate support to stay together.
How can these goals be achieved?
SOS Children advocates for the SDGs to include targets about quality alternative care and social protection for fragile families. Only global goals will ensure these aspirations are universally realised. To help these targets be met by 2030, we have four recommendations:
1. Recognise children who lack or are at risk of losing parental care as among the most vulnerable
First, this group needs to be internationally recognised as among the most vulnerable. This will lead to them to be included in policy interventions that aim to reduce global poverty and inequality.
2. Develop indicators and track progress
To identify existing gaps in services for vulnerable children and families, appropriate indicators must be developed. These indicators should measure the access to and quality of alternative care and family-strengthening programmes.
Examples include measuring how many children are placed in family-based care versus institutional care. Universal birth registration is another indicator we are keen to track, as it allows authorities to closely monitor child populations and needs. Universal registration of care facilities is also essential because it empowers local authorities to govern and monitor care providers. This reduces the risk of children being harmed while in alternative care.
3. Collect data based upon care status
There is currently a data gap: what kind of care environment are children growing up in? Despite being a key marker for vulnerability and disadvantage, the care a child receives is not consistently measured; nor is care status incorporated into existing development goals.
We would like to see national and international bodies cooperating to provide this data. In doing so, progress on development targets can be tracked by care status. This in turn would help the design of effective policies and their implementation. Moreover, collecting data based upon children's care status would promote inclusive development - so that no child without parental care is left behind.
4. Children and young people must be heard
Youth who lack parental care are rarely consulted or listened to. One reason is due to the nature of the policy-making process, which usually fails to gather input from the people they are targeting. Secondly, this group of young people, due to their tough starts in life, often have low self-esteem and don't speak up about issues that affect them.
We think this needs to change, and that their voices must be listened to when policies are drawn up. The participation of children and young people without parental care will lead to a deeper understanding of the challenges they face. In turn, their participation will help create more supportive and sustainable policies that are tailored to their needs.
"Everybody has a different view, but we all need to talk", said Nadine (20 years old), who lived in an SOS youth community in Austria. Along with other young people with an SOS upbringing, she participated in the UN Youth Forum in June 2014. The forum focused on #Youth2015: Realising the Future They Want.
Nadine highlighted the marginalisation and exclusion that children without parental care face, and that they need to be supported beyond the age of 18:
“Most students rely on parental support from age 18 to 24. We need to expand youth support for children without parental care beyond age 18!” At 18, you are officially an adult, but that does not mean that you can cope alone already and are fully ready for life.”
As the voices of children and young people in alternative care are amplified, we hope that the international community will listen to them. What next after the the MDGs? New development goals mustn't leave behind any child or young person who has lost parental care, or is at risk of doing so. Every child matters, and every child deserves a loving home. We advocate that the SDGs work to make this a universal reality.
Read more about our proposals in full and explore beyond-2015: voices for children.