Manual for the Measurement of Indicators for Children in Formal Care

Better Care Network and UNICEF

The purpose of this manual is to introduce a set of common global indicators for children in formal care, which includes children living in institutional care or formally arranged foster family care (whether with kin or families not previously known to the child family). This manual explains why this information is valuable and offers practical guidance on data collection.

Data on the situation of children in care should be regularly collected and analysed. This manual provides both the tools and analytical framework for gathering data. This is not necessarily done as a onetime exercise, but rather aims to develop an information system that will allow childcare agencies and local and national authorities to better monitor and improve the situation of children within care systems.

Across the world, children continue to be separated – temporarily or permanently – from their families. Many factors contribute to this, such as conflict and displacement, HIV/AIDS, endemic poverty, emotional or behavioural difficulties, family conflict and breakdown, abuse and neglect, migration, and/or inappropriate child protection responses.

There is a lack of regularly collected and analysed data on the numbers or circumstances of children being cared for outside of their original families, which makes it difficult for local child welfare authorities and national governments to monitor progress in preventing separation, promoting re-unification and ensuring the provision of appropriate alternative care. The lack of such data also makes it impossible to compare the situation of children in formal care across countries and regions.

The data and information generated by these indicators can be used to:

  • Monitor policy and practice improvements at the level of individual care services and at the national level;
  • Help governments, child welfare agencies and child advocates to identify the needs of children in formal care;
  • Provide policy makers and managers with information to guide programme development and budgeting;
  • Support advocacy to improve systems and services for children at risk or in alternative care;
  • Increase the visibility and status of those engaged in the provision of formal care; and
  • Demonstrate national commitment to globally accepted measures of formal care.

These indicators should be informed by data from a national data collection system and coordinated by appropriate government agencies to ensure proper aggregation. This manual contains 15 indicators, four of which are considered core indicators; suggestions on how to map a childcare system to ensure that all childcare providers within a given country or area are included; and tools for collecting data at the level of an individual childcare provider if those data are not yet being systematically collected.

The indicators themselves can be used by an individual childcare agency to help analyse and improve their childcare practice, by a district government oversight office to monitor and improve the childcare system in a specific area or, preferably, by a national government body.  The goal is for governments to report against the indicators at a national level. Active participation and collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on child welfare, childcare agencies both private and public, and any other groups participating in the formal care system are critical to the design of an information system as well as its implementation. However, as mentioned above, the indicators and measurement approaches can be used at the subnational and municipal level even where national information systems are not yet in place.