Caring for Orphaned Children in their Own Communities a Must, Charities Say

27/1/2011 - Child charities in the UK have warned that transporting children with no parental care to foster care far from their homes can be traumatizing.

Charities in England have voiced their concern about children living in care. Of the 64,000 children residing in state care in England and Wales, roughly a third are living outside their local areas.

Children located far from their original homes are vulnerable to criminality, drug abuse and sexual exploitation, they warn. Worries that long-distance placements lead to traumatic experiences for children persist, according to Barnardo’s and other children’s charities.

High-level British authorities have said that they support keeping children within their communities and have urged their local counterparts to make sure that as many children as possible remain in their original localities. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, given the shortage of children’s homes in the immediate vicinity. Often, foster care in faraway regions is the only other viable alternative.

Come April, it is expected that there will be increased pressure on local councils to find accommodation for children without parental care in their areas of jurisdiction.

But, what about the rest of the world’s 143 million orphaned children? These children are often crammed into overcrowded orphanages, living with their elderly grandmothers or other relatives – often without the emotional support that they need.

In Europe alone, there are 1.5 million children living in public care facilities. And in Russia, says the United Nations Children’s Fund, the number of children without parental care has doubled over the past 10 years, despite the fact that fewer babies are being born.

Too many of these children live in countries that have neither the financial resources nor facilities to care for them adequately and compassionately. Large institution-based systems (orphanages) prevail in many countries where children are not always able to live in a loving environment that meets their basic needs and afford them the ability to experience a vibrant and joyful childhood. This includes access to key social services such as health and education.

International children’s charities, in a framework entitled Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, urged countries to eliminate institutionalized care and have a “proactive agenda to develop, encourage and support the increased availability and use of foster care and other forms of family-based care.”

As enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the family remains the fundamental group unit of society, and a child’s natural right.

Keeping children in their communities is known to be important to the maintenance of their ties with extended family, culture and beliefs. It is one of the main arguments used in the debate between family-based care in the community and inter-country adoption as alternative for the care of orphaned and abandoned children.

With the number of children losing one or both parents to HIV/AIDS expected to rocket to 25 million in the coming years (affecting mostly African countries), these questions concerning the responsibilities of the international community and the state to help children exercise their right to family remain impossible to ignore.