Someone that Matters: The Quality of Care in Childcare Institutions in Indonesia

Florence Martin and Tata Sudrajat, Save the Children, Indonesia Ministry of Social Affairs, UNICEF

There are an estimated 7000 childcare institutions across Indonesia caring for up to half a million children. The Indonesian government itself owns and runs only a handful of those institutions, less than 40. The vast majority of these institutions were set up privately, particularly by faith based organisations. While many receive some financial support from the government, most do not come under any type of supervision or monitoring. In fact, the government does not have any data about institutions that do not receive its financial subsidy and it only has very limited data on those that do.

Very little research or data is available about residential care in Indonesia. The lack of a proper registration and accreditation system means that the Ministry of Social Affairs (DEPSOS) and agencies working on child protection do not even know exactly how many institutions there are, or how many children are in those institutions, let alone which children are being cared for in them. It also means that these agencies do not know to what extent existing guidelines are being applied or are relevant to the situation in those institutions. Despite having adopted in 2004 guidelines for the accreditation of social care institutions including childcare institutions, which is due to be administered by a Survey Team, no system has yet come into force and no process of accreditation or effective monitoring has been established. 

While no accurate data is available about the situation of children in care, there are firm indications that the number of children who are placed in residential care and the number of such institutions are growing. The lack of practical knowledge about the situation of these children however is hampering the ability of the government to develop policies that are based on a proper understanding of the situation of those children and the way the institutions are or are not responding to their rights and needs.

Save the Children has been working closely with the Ministry of Social Affairs to establish an accurate picture of the situation of children without parental care across Indonesia. The aim is not only to understand better the situation of these children but also to ensure that fundamental standards in relation to their care and protection, including their right to grow and develop in a family environment, are fully protected. In the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquakes that devastated much of Aceh province, Save the Children carried out with DEPSOS a survey of child care institutions looking in particular at the situation of child victims of the disaster who had been placed in institutional care.  The survey pointed to a high dependence on institutional care by families and communities that felt unable to care for their children as a result of the impact of that disaster on their lives. But the research also pointed out that few of the children entering residential care were orphans and that over 85% of the child victims of the tsunami had at least one parent alive. In addition, the high level of aid directed towards childcare institutions rather than targeted directly to support families facing difficulties, together with an established pattern of reliance on institutional care, had combined to create a situation where a very high number of new institutions were being built drawing in turn increasing number of families to place their children in institutions so they could secure basic necessities for them including food, shelter and education.

Following the findings of this research, DEPSOS, Save the Children and UNICEF recognised the need to work urgently towards a better understanding of the situation of children in residential care not only in Aceh and in a post emergency context but nationwide including in the diverse contexts to be found across the archipelago. As recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, research was needed to look at the actual situation of these children and to assess the care and services they were actually getting in those institutions. As a result these agencies decided to undertake a major piece of qualitative research into childcare institutions across 6 provinces of Indonesia.

Throughout this research the lack of even basic existing data on the situation of the institutions and children within those institutions nationwide was recognised as a major challenge. At the same time it was imperative to go beyond the numbers to look at what actually happens within those institutions and how children are being cared for and by whom. The research is therefore part of broader efforts by DEPSOS and its collaborating agencies to develop a much more accurate picture of the situation of institutions caring for children including through the development of a data collection system at both national and local levels. Save the Children in that regard is helping DEPSOS to develop such a system including a database and network at national, provincial and district levels to ensure that regular data is collected from the care institutions and that an overall picture can finally be built. It was also crucial to involve key stakeholders from the very start in the research development, throughout the assessment itself and finally in the analysis of the findings. 

As can be seen from the very high estimated number of children in institutions across Indonesia and as was confirmed by this research, the use of residential care as the primary form of intervention in cases of personal, social or economic crisis is very entrenched in Indonesia. This is the case not only in terms of the government’s own responses to child protection concerns but also in terms of the considerable work and philanthropy being done by community organisations, in particular faith based groups, to support children and families who are deemed vulnerable across the country.

While Indonesia is certainly not unique in having to critically review a system where the institutionalisation of children is a very entrenched practice, it also needs to consider the enormous contribution and involvement of community and religious groups in the actual delivery of social services to children and their families at the local level. As such, it is crucial that the knowledge, the understanding and expertise of Indonesians who work and care about child protection is made a key part of this important process of review. It will not only ensure that better understanding of the context and the issues faced by children and families in their daily lives is provided but that the solutions and identification of better alternatives are rooted firmly with those that have the long term responsibility for the protection of Indonesian children.

As researchers and team leaders, those individuals were able to develop crucial understanding of the situation of children in institutions and the situation of the institutions themselves. Their knowledge and their efforts not only resulted in the findings of this research but also provide a strong basis for future efforts to reform and establish an alternative care system that is more appropriate to the needs and rights of children in Indonesia

©Ministry of Social Affairs, Save the Children UK, UNICEF