FICE International statement on Group Care for Children and Adolescents
Since its creation in 1948 under the auspices of UNESCO, FICE International (currently comprised of representatives from over 30 nations) has been working on developing and improving group care services for children and adolescents in need of out-of-home care. For almost 70 years, FICE has worked towards better fulfillment of the rights of childrenwherever in the world they may be. In order to fulfill this aim, FICE created initiatives forimproving the professionalism of care workers (Grupper,1993; Van den Bergh, Knorth,Verheij & Lane, 2002), set up a Code of Ethics for residential care workers (Lane, 1998), andcollaborated with ECOSOC and SOS International to create the Quality for ChildrenStandards (2002). These quality standards are designed to support the fulfillment of the 1989United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), especially while childrenand adolescents are living in out-of-home care facilities. Currently, FICE-International isworking with the European initiative ‘Moving Forward’ geared to implementing the UNGuidelines for Alternative Care published in 2009.
FICE members share a commitment to the basic principle that every child has a basic rightand need to grow up in a safe home with a stable continuous relationship with at least oneadult who is a trusted, caring and committed parent figure. However, we know thatunfortunately many children do not have this opportunity and therefore are in need ofalternative care. Therefore, we cannot accept the American Orthopsychiatric Association(AOA) consensus statement that: “In principle, group care should never be favored overfamily care. Group care should be used only when it is the least detrimental alternative, whennecessary therapeutic mental health services cannot be delivered in a less restrictive setting”.
FICE members believe that such a generalized and unqualified statement does not take intoaccount the cultural dimensions and the complexities of difficult life-situations of individualchildren and their families that are at the origin of the need for high quality out-of-home careprograms. Looking at the large numbers of “children on the move,” minors and adolescentsrunning away from wars, poverty, exploitation and abuse, refugees and unaccompaniedminors deprived of any kind of security and care, residential care programs and foster caremodels are their only havens, and should have to be invented if they did not already exist.FICE-International is supportive of the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care (2009) and thejoint European initiative “Moving Forward” (towards the implementation of the UNGuidelines).The “Moving Forward” handbook (Cantwell, Davidson, Elsley, Milligan and Quinn, 2012) states as one of its objectives: “seeking to assist all concerned to advance along the road to implementation and describing ‘promising’ examples of efforts already made toapply them in diverse communities, countries, regions and cultures…”. FICE is very active inenhancing innovative changes in out-of-home care programs, especially in relation to twomajor issues. First, changing the attitude of educators toward parents; collaboration betweenprogram staff and the family is now considered essential whenever it is possible. Second,since 2008 FICE has actively promoted the concept of ‘after-care’ and preparing the youngpeople in care for the transition to independent life (see for example Stein, Ward andCourtney, 2011). These two concepts appear in both the UN Guidelines and in the ‘MovingForward’ handbook, and FICE-International is working to close the gap between intentionsand reality for both issues.
Recent reports of Eurochild (2010) and researchers such as Del Valle and Bravo (2013) show that the number of children in out-of-home care, which was decreasing after the publication of the UNCRC (1989), is once again increasing. Societies around the world have to recognize and accept that the complexity of children’s situations precludes keeping all of them in supported family life or even foster care families. Therefore, FICE-International’s on-going policy is to deploy efforts in order to assure the quality of education and care given to children in out-of-home care worldwide. It has to be emphasized that FICE does not see residential care and foster care as two opposite models, but rather as complementary responses to the need for out-of-home care.
We do not intend to debate all ten points mentioned in the AOA Consensus Paper. We choose three main points in order to demonstrate FICE’s different point of view on what is in the best interests of children and the ongoing need for quality out-of-home care. The first point in the AOA consensus statement says that “healthy attachments with a parent figure are necessary for children of all ages.” FICE members would certainly agree with this statement. However, we reject the implication by AOA that “shift care, whether the shifts last hours or days, interferes with accessibility to a parent…”. In a book published by FICE International (1986) titled: The social pedagogue in Europe – Living with others as a profession , we articulated, based upon extensive professional experience, how well-prepared and devoted care givers who live together with the children and adolescents under their care, with proper professional knowledge, commitment to a suitable Ethical Code and a set of quality care standards can create effective attachments processes.
A second point in the AOA statement says: “Especially during adolescence, it is critical tobalance children’s need for parental control and regulation with their developing needs forautonomy.” This is also a principle with which we agree, as it reinforces the UNCRC basicprinciple of participation. However, we must challenge the implications related to out-ofhome care in the concluding sentence of the following AOA statement: “…this interactiondepends on the parent’s knowing the child and having the corresponding flexibility to adjustrules to meet the child’s unique needs. In this way, the child experiences the naturalconsequences of good and bad decisions. In addition, this system allows the child togradually assume ever more control of his or her life with a safety net for errors in decisionmaking. An institutional setting with fixed rules and procedures that are not adapted to theindividual is not conductive to the healthy development of autonomy.” Quality residentialprograms are adept at flexibly and creatively adapting to the needs of each and everyindividual young person in accordance with their developing capacities and needs.Professional out-of-home care programs working in accordance with FICE policies are farfrom the ‘Goffman type’ asylums (Goffman, 1961). Well-functioning out-of-home careprograms, implement youth self-governance, participation and empowerment processes. The development of youth autonomy is a key program objective.
The AOA consensus statement also states: Group care should never be used for youngchildren. Later in this paragraph, it is stated: Placement in families is the most urgentintervention for these children and has demonstrated substantial gains in their developmentincluding formation of secure attachments. This is also the policy of UNICEF which urgescountries to give high priority for placing young children (under three years of age) in need ofalternative care in foster families and not in residential care programs. FICE-Internationalagrees with this objective which is in line with the principle of ‘the best interests of the child'(as defined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). However, while foster familyor kinship care is preferable for very young children, this does not mean that group care couldnot be a very appropriate and important setting for working with older children and adolescents.
To conclude, the deinstitutionalization movement that started in the 1960s and which gainedmomentum in the 1980s has succeeded in creating many important changes and innovationsin services for children and adolescents at risk. FICE-International has been a partner in manyof these developments and applauds continued efforts in this direction. However, it isimportant to note that this does not entail abolishing and closing down all forms of out-ofhome or group care. Many young people will still need and benefit from these forms of carewhen implemented with skill and according to quality and ethical standards. We do notbelieve the research or practice evidence supports the AOA consensus statement’s positionthat these kinds of services for vulnerable children and adolescents should be eliminated.
The FICE-International position acknowledges the need to support young people to remain infamilies whenever possible while also ensuring the provision of high quality residentialprograms when these are in the best interests of young people. We believe children have aright to such alternative care when they are born into or experience dysfunctional familysituations. Our mission is to ensure that, young people who are in need of alternative serviceswill receive quality care wherever they live. This was the founding purpose of FICEInternational, and it continues to be a cornerstone of our work.
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