Informal care arrangements often build on traditional, cultural practices or religious practices and can provide a safe and caring environment for children close to their families and communities. Some arrangements however, may put children at risk of inadequate care, abuse or exploitation – particularly when caregivers are unrelated (or only distantly related), children are moved far away from their communities, or when a child heads the household. In kinship or informal foster care arrangements children may be treated differently than their caretakers’ own children, denied access to education and health and unfairly burdened with household labour.
Moves to formalize traditional alternative care arrangements have met with debate. While there is a need to monitor children’s care situations to prevent their discrimination and mistreatment - as well as to help caregivers to access support services - there are concerns that placing formal requirements on traditional caretaking practices (such as registration with the authorities) might disrupt or even curtail them.
In many countries efforts are underway to strengthen community-based and traditional practices for protecting vulnerable children. This includes supporting child protection committees and community based structures such as faith based groups, volunteer associations, traditional and religious leaders, and neighbourhood committees, to play an increased role in monitoring and supporting informal care arrangements. This can range from conducting home visits, counselling caregivers or children, encouraging children to attend school, providing life skills instruction and linking children to social assistance (cash transfers, feeding schemes, legal services). Awareness raising efforts can also help to educate communities about children’s rights and reduce discrimination against children in alternative care.
The resources in this section outline non-formal and traditional practices for caring and protecting children without adequate family care, which typically operate outside of the formal care and protection systems at the community level.