Research: A Call to End Violence against Children in Alternative Care

From a Whisper to a Shout: A Call to End Violence against Children in Alternative Care
SOS Children’s Villages International, University of Bedfordshire
2014 :: 72 pages
[From Executive Summary]
…This report draws on evidence from an extensive global literature review, and assessments of the implementation of the Guidelines (UN-endorsed Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children) in 21 countries around the world. It makes bold claims about high levels of vulnerability and risk of violence facing children in alternative care, but concludes that violence is not inevitable, and with an emphasis on providing quality care it is possible to mitigate the risks of harm for all children.

KEY FINDINGS
:: Effective implementation of the Guidelines and quality care reduce children’s vulnerability to violence.
:: Competent oversights and independent complaints mechanisms reduce the risk of violence against children.
:: Systematic collection and analysis of data is critical to designing and implementing effective systems to protect children.

RECOMMENDATIONS
Preventing and responding to violence against children in alternative care is a shared responsibility. While states bear the primary responsibility to implement protective measures to prevent violence, all stakeholders – international and regional organisations, donors, NGOs, care providers, civil society, the private sector, communities, families, and children and young people – must be empowered to work together to hold states accountable and to do everything possible to protect children.

RECOMMENDATIONS TO STATES:
1. States should strengthen national legislation and policy to ensure that there are specific provisions against violence in all forms of alternative care.
Legislation should address all forms of abuse and neglect; harmful institutional practice that
could include abusive forms of discipline or control; and peer violence.
2. States should ensure that removal of a child from the care of the family is viewed “as a measure of last resort … and for the shortest possible duration” (§14).
States should invest in preventive services, including family strengthening and capacity building to assist parents to care for and protect their children. In situations of violence and abuse, sanctions should be directed at the perpetrators rather than automatically removing children for protective purposes.
3. States should improve their ability and the capacity of their competent authorities to monitor the quality of alternative care provision.
This includes providing sufficient standards and guidelines to ensure that any monitoring is based on valid criteria; adequate resources to ensure authorities have the practical tools to fulfil
their responsibilities, including the capacity to elicit the views of children; and the necessary
follow-up mechanisms with the power to impose sanctions on alternative care provision that fails to meet standards.
4. States should assume their primary role as the coordinator of alternative care provision with all other stakeholders.
States have a primary role as coordinators or alternative care provision to ensure that alternative care providers within the care system provide a range of suitable alternative care options, fulfil their obligations to provide independent reporting mechanisms, and ensure
meaningful child participation (see below).

RECOMMENDATIONS TO ALTERNATIVE CARE PROVIDERS/ CARE SYSTEM (STATE AND NON-STATE):
1. Alternative care providers should ensure that specialist services are available for families and
children that experience violence, and that their services constitute quality care.
These services should be both preventive – to avoid removing the child from the family environment – and rehabilitative – to ensure that children and their families that have experienced violence are provided with the support to heal.
2. Alternative care providers should ensure that they develop adequate, independent and confidential mechanisms for children and others to report violence in alternative care.
Reporting mechanisms are essential to ensure that children do not suffer in silence and that
violence is not perpetrated with impunity. Children should be provided with confidential support in order to report violence (or any other complaints) and adequate mechanisms to follow up on reports and protect children should be in place.
3. Alternative care providers should take measures to ensure that all children and where appropriate their families are able to meaningfully participate in any decisions relating to alternative care placements.
Children should be empowered to participate according to their capacity in all decisions
affecting their alternative care provision. Parents and other family members should be kept
informed of decisions and where appropriate provided with the opportunity to participate in
decision-making processes.

RECOMMENDATIONS TO ALL STAKEHOLDERS:
1. All stakeholders should collaborate in collecting comprehensive data and expanding contributions to research on violence against children.
In particular, it is important to have information on the child population in alternative care, to ensure appropriate policies are in place and adequate resources are provided for their quality care. This also involves ensuring that children’s voices are heard in research into their
experiences of violence, and are provided with opportunities to offer their own understandings
and solutions.
2. All stakeholders should contribute towards coordinated efforts to raise awareness and educate society on violence against children in alternative care.
This includes ensuring that children are informed that violence is not a necessary or legitimate element of alternative care: either as a form of discipline or control. It also means challenging levels of tolerance in society that allow violence against children to continue with impunity.

CONCLUSION
This report stands as a testament to the violence suffered by children in alternative care. It finds that to the best of our knowledge, children in alternative care are vulnerable to violence, and that the systems in place to care for them put them at further risk of harm.
This report also stands witness to the great resilience of children; who with strength and dignity prevail in the most difficult circumstances, even without the necessary care and protection.
But it is also a call for change. With knowledge, political will and resources it is possible to change the experiences of children in alternative care, so that they receive the quality care they deserve. In doing so we meet our obligations to respect and protect their rights, but we also demonstrate our true measure, as societies that care for our most vulnerable.