Residential care can be a positive alternative for some girls and boys when it is used appropriately and meets certain standards. For example, small group home living arrangements or supported independent living can work well in cases where children (often older teenagers) don’t feel comfortable in a family setting, or where large groups of siblings want to stay together. Similarly in cases where children have suffered trauma, severe abuse or neglect, have a severe disability or require specialised support, small group settings where trained staff can provide therapeutic care may be an appropriate care option. As much as possible, residential facilities should be small, community-based, organised to resemble a family-type or small-group situation and allow for sufficient staff to provide individualised attention to children.
It is important to distinguish between residential care and institutional care, which should only be used as a last and temporary resort for children. Institutional care refers to large-scale group care within big institutional facilities and has been associated with a wide range of problems for children including physical, social and emotional under-development - with babies and infants under the age of three especially vulnerable to lasting harm. Long periods in an institution can deprive children of positive individual attention from consistent caregivers, make it difficult for them to assimilate back into a family and community, and are often linked to increased risk of sexual and physical abuse, a lack of stimulation, and harsh discipline.
In recent years, deinstitutionalisation has been at the heart of national care reform efforts, which seek to reduce reliance on institutional care and to promote family and community based care options for children instead. This includes efforts to promote ethical volunteerism within residential care centres, educate donors and to avoid proliferation of orphanages and children’s homes after humanitarian emergencies.
The documents in this section outline residential care options for children, examine the damaging impact of institutions, explore family and community-based care alternatives and describe care reform efforts including initiatives around ethical volunteerism.