Guidelines on Alternative Care

A resolution "welcoming" the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 2009, in connection with the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This momentous day marked a culmination of years of discussions and negotiations led by the Government of Brazil, in partnership with Group of Friends and civil society. Better Care Network and its partners wholeheartedly supported this process. BCN is now working to disseminate and support the implementation of the Guidelines at the country, regional and international levels. (For a history of the development of the Guidelines see below).

The Guidelines provide further guidance regarding the definition of the relationship between parental care and the child’s family environment, goals for alternative care, and the criteria for decisions of alternative care placements.  The Guidelines target both policy and practice with specific regard to the protection and wellbeing of children deprived of parental care or who are at risk of being so.

The full text of the resolution and the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children is available on our website in EnglishFrenchSpanishArabicChinese, and Russian.

“Since the adoption of the Guidelines, the Committee has been making full use of the principles and objectives established in the Guidelines when examining the reports of States Parties to the Convention and in formulating its observations and recommendations to them.” 

Jean Zermatten, Chairperson UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 31 October 2012  (Introduction to Moving Forward)

Since the welcoming of the Guidelines in 2009, a few companion resources have been developed to aid in their implementation, including:


A Brief History of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

The international guidelines seek to ensure that, on the one hand, children do not find themselves in out-of-home care unnecessarily and, on the other, out-of-home care provided is of a type and quality that corresponds to the rights and specific needs of the child concerned. They are designed to promote, facilitate and guide the progressive implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in this particular area of concern. The Guidelines address not only governments but also international bodies and organisations, civil society, professionals, voluntary organisations and the private sector to the extent that they are directly or indirectly involved with organising, providing or monitoring out-of-home care for children.

The development of international standards for improving the protection of children without parental care began in 2004 with UNICEF and International Social Services research and advocacy program calling for these standards. This resulted in the Committee on the Rights of the Child 2005 Day of General Discussion recommendations calling on the UN, Governments and civil society partners to produce international standards for the protection and alternative care of children without parental care for the UN General Assembly to review and adopt.

Following these recommendations, a first draft of the guidelines was developed by an NGO Working Group on Children without Parental Care. The Better Care Network's advisory group reviewed and commented on the guidelines. In May 2006, the draft guidelines were submitted for consultation at the CRC. The Committee reviewed and strengthened the guidelines in preparation for informal technical review by UN member states.

In August 2006, in Brasilia, the Brazilian government hosted an inter-governmental meeting of over 40 technical experts to further refine and strengthen the guidelines. As a result of this meeting, a 15-country "Group of Friends" — led by the Government of Brazil — was established to host a series of intergovernmental consultations to further strengthen the guidelines. These consultations culminated in a resolution of the Human Rights Council in June 2009 to submit the "Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children" to the UNGA with a view to their adoption in November 2009.

Several useful presentations from ISS are also available on the development of the Guidelines, including "Development of International Standards for the Protection of Children Deprived of Parental Care" which explores the background, purpose, scope and main orientations and "The Draft United Nations Guidelines on the Alternative Care of Children: An Ethical Framework on the Path to Adoption as a Permanent Protection Measure" which draws particular attention to the discussion of adoption as a child protection measure.

Better Care Network's Commitment to Promoting the Use and Understanding of the Guidelines

Better Care Network and partners are committed to advocating for the use and understanding of the Guidelines on Alternative Care.

The Better Care Network Secretariat as the co-convenor of the NGO Working Group on Children without Parental Care based in New York will continue advocating for the use and recognition of the Guidelines. Working in partnership with the NGO Working Group based in Geneva, one of the major tasks of the NGO Working Group is to promote the Guidelines dissemination and implementation. In the immediate aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, the NGO Working Groups issued a joint statement calling for the humanitarian response to uphold recommendations set forth in the Guidelines for Alternative Care in regards to care for children in emergencies, preventing family separation and promoting family based care in their community of origin where possible.

BCN is also co-facilitator of the Tracking Progress Initiative. The Tracking Progress Initiative is an interagency project, co-facilitated by the Better Care Network and Save the Children, to develop a tool to monitor the implementation of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. The Tracking Progress Tool, launched in November 2017, is a free, web-based, interactive diagnostic and learning tool designed to enable national actors (governments, children’s service providers, NGOs, civil society, academics and others) to determine the extent to which their country has effectively implemented the Guidelines and to identify the priorities for change still ahead.

Better Care Network will continue to serve the function of disseminating and sharing information on the Guidelines via the BCN website and bimonthly newsletter announcements. On the BCN website we have a number of Guideline resources and tools produced by BCN partners.

If you would like to learn more about the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children or would like to share any reports, articles and examples of Guidelines implementation, please contact us. We will post new developments and updates on this page as they become available.

News Articles on the Guidelines

The Launch of the Handbook of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children at the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 7th March 2013, Press Release.

The Launch of the Handbook of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children at UNICEF House, New York, 11th April 2013, Event and Speaker Summaries.

Experts: Out of Country Adoptions are a Last Resort, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
References NGO Working Group's statement on the Guidelines.

Protecting Haiti's Children from 'Cowboy Adoptions', BBC Online
Includes comments from BCN Advisory Group member and Save UK Care Adviser, Louise Melville-Fulford and highlights the importance of the Guidelines.

Rebuilding Childhood in Haiti, UNICEF
Calls for Haiti to put the Guidelines into practice.