Home Truths: Children's Rights in Institutional Care in Sri Lanka

International Save the Children Alliance

Children’s institutions have been in existence in Sri Lanka since 1900. Although the Sri Lankan government recognizes the dangers of institutional care and the need for alternatives, little has been done to address these issues. This presentation presents research on the policy environment, the quality of institutional care, and the alternative care options available to children in Sri Lanka. The research aimed to map children’s institutions in four Sri Lankan provinces; determine the current quality of services and identify good practice; assess and identify gaps in existing policies, procedures, and regulations; identify factors for institutionalization of children and track preventative practices and alternatives; and identify policy and programming recommendations to ensure the protection of child rights. The research included 329 institutions, 86 of which were surveyed in-depth. 2500 children participated, some as a research advisory group, most as respondents.

The study identified significant gaps in the policy and regulatory environments concerning children in institutions. Government records for the number of institutions and the number of children living in institutions fell drastically short of the number actually observed. Approximately one-half of the children were institutionalized because their families were poor. Only 8% of children were double orphans; the separation of living parents was a critical factor for many institutionalized children. 40% of children had been living in homes for more than 3 years (the maximum allowable stay). 33% of children were placed outside their home province, intentionally disrupting links with their families. Moreover, the living conditions in state homes were very poor and staff were unqualified to care for children, particularly those with disabilities. Children’s own responses indicated that they felt living in homes undermined their sense of privacy, individuality, and dignity.

The recommendations from this report seek to limit institutionalization and promote a range of services that prevent entry into care, provide alternative care options, and utilize institutions only for temporary placements. The recommendations also advocate for standards development, including provisions for individualized care plans, contact with the community (and existing family), acceptable living and educational conditions, and staff training.

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