It is important to bear three things in mind.
First, the Guidelines are precisely that: they create neither new rights nor binding obligations, but are intended as suggestions for policy orientation agreed on the basis of current knowledge and grounded in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They are a key document, but they are not necessarily definitive, any more than the Convention itself is the “final” document for all time.
Second, the Guidelines are by no means directed solely at governments but to all services, organisations and professionals involved with alternative care issues, including in an indirect manner such as those who deal with the broader context of social policy.
The third point is that the Guidelines seek above all to promote individualised responses tailored to the situation and needs of each child who has been, or risks being, placed in out-of-home care, and that are consonant with his/her human rights.
Respect for two fundamental principles underlies the approach:
1) the ‘necessity principle’, to ensure that placement in an alternative care setting is limited to cases where it is genuinely warranted, and
2) the ‘suitability principle’ whereby, if such alternative care is indeed deemed to be necessary, the solution is constructive and appropriate for each child concerned.
The Guidelines set out a wide range of measures - from the global to the individual - that should be brought into play when seeking to apply the ‘necessity principle’ by discouraging recourse to alternative care options, including:
‐ addressing negative societal factors (discrimination, marginalization, stigmatization of certain groups etc.);
‐ improving family support and the reintegration system in order to ensure that
families are empowered and motivated to take care of their children on their own;
‐ consultation and counselling services with the child and his/her parents and the wider family and every person that the child feels important for his/her life.
Throughout the Guidelines, the need for consultation with the child in particular, and making sure that his/her views are taken into account, is constantly highlighted, as is the active involvement of the parents and others concerned;
‐ ensuring that parents in difficulty are offered options that will preclude their felt-need to relinquish their child, so that initiatives to do so are reduced to a minimum; (erm???????)
‐ stopping unwarranted removal and arbitrary decisions that separate the child from his/her family.
The Guidelines contain a very important policy principle: if material
circumstances - poverty - are at the heart of a family’s problems, neither that situation nor its direct or indirect consequences can serve alone to justify the removal of a child from parental care. A report by ATD Quart-Monde demonstrated that children in industrialised and developing countries alike were still being removed from their families on the sole grounds of the latters’ poverty;
‐ having in place an effective gate-keeping mechanism to assess each child’s needs and situation, with an adequate range of options available to guarantee that children who could be cared for in other ways do not come into the formal care system.
‐ prohibiting the ‘recruitment’ or retention of children in residential care facilities as a means of maximising funding when the latter is based on the number of children in their care, and discarding forms of financing that encourage unnecessary placements. This still happens in some parts of Europe.
In parallel with these actions to implement the ‘necessity principle’ by preventing the unwarranted placement of children in alternative care are those to ensure adherence to the equally vital ‘suitability principle’.