Alternative Care and Foster Care

In India, and throughout the world, children are separated from their parents for many reasons including: natural disasters, diseases, abuse or neglect, social exclusion, death of one or more parent, and even a lack of household resources. When a child is living outside of the care and protection of parents, or is at risk of being so, he/she is vulnerable to exploitation and a loss of developmentally necessary love and support. These children are in need of alternative care services.

Alternative Care then can be understood as, “regarding the protection and well-being of children who are deprived of parental care or who are at risk of being so.”

The number of children living separate from their parents or who are at the risk of separation is rapidly increasing in India.

India is a country of 1.21 + billion people and is the second most populous country in the world. Children (age 0-18) represent 39% of total population of the country. With the shift from a joint family to a nuclear family and a growing population, the need for alternative care provisions grows daily.

In recent years, the Indian Government have put focus on alternative care of children in legislation and implementation evidenced by the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015, Centralized Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) Guidelines 2015, Model Guidelines for Foster Care 2015. However due to limited awareness, resources and capacity, the alternative care policies are not reaching the people. The Centre addresses these gaps.

Understanding alternative care

Alternative care thinking falls under basic child protection. Child protection became a global focus in 1989 when the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was published. This document affirmed specific rights owed to every child across the globe and the role of governments as defenders of these child-specific rights. The child-specific rights are: survival rights, developmental rights, protection rights, and participation rights. A section of the preamble states, “Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” (UNCRC 1989). The UNCRC was ratified by India in 1992.

Alternative care can be formal or informal.

  • Directed by competent governmental bodies, such as Child Welfare Committees
  • Governed by processes outlined by law
  • Characterized by standardization
  • Paired with monitoring and evaluation processes
  • Provides more data on the situation of children in alternative care arrangements
  • May be in a family-based setting or a residential setting
  • Not ordered by any competent authority
  • Unregulated
  • Unsupported financially
  • No monitoring by authorities
  • Difficult to obtain data on number and situation of children in these arrangements
  • Typically these arrangements are with exteneded family, friends, or close community members

Alternative Care Services include:

family preservation | sponsorship | kinship care | foster care | adoption | institutions |

Current child protection structures mainly support and recognize institutional care and adoption for the children in need of care and protection. Non-institutional care services are new to the country and many tasked with implementation do not have the tools to do so. The detrimental effects of institutional care on child development have been documented since the early 20th century. The children of institutional care suffer psychological and behavior problems and gain fewer educational qualifications. The institution deprives children of the right to grow within a family environment. The high risk of violence and abuse coupled with low standards of safety, hygiene, nutrition, and health care can be life threatening for children in institutions.

Kinship care is not new to Indian culture but, family and community based forms of care, which are always better alternatives for children than institutional care, are little explored and promoted in India.

“Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community,..."

United Nations Convention on The Rights of The Child, Preamble