General Secretariat

Protecting Children and Uniting Families Across Borders for 93 years



UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (Guidelines) were formally endorsed by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 20 November 2009. The Guidelines enhance the implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989 and focuses on two main aspects:

  1. Ensure that children do not find themselves in alternative care unnecessarily; and
  2. That where out-of-home care is provided, it is delivered under appropriate conditions responding to the child's rights and best interests.

ISS commitment to the Guidelines: from the very beginning

ISS is extremely pleased with the outcome at the UNGA given its early involvement from 2004 with UNICEF, when the call for International Standards was first made and both organisations initiated a consultation process for the Guidelines.

These joint efforts sparked further progress in 2005, when the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child held a day of general discussion on children without parental care. In its final report, the Committee recommended the establishment of an expert meeting to prepare a set of international standards for the protection of children without parental care for the UNGA. In response, ISS with other key groups prepared an initial draft of the Guidelines.

A proposal was submitted for consultation to States and Governments in Brasilia in August 2006. As a result of this intergovernmental meeting - a "Group of Friends" made up of 15 interested States led by the Government of Brazil - was established to spearhead the process.

Numerous consultations were held in Cairo, Geneva and New York etc with various Governments, UN Agencies, NGOs and of course children. In 2009, a text was agreed upon and on June 17, 2009 the Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a procedural resolution A/HRC/11/L.11 submitting the "Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children" to the UNGA for the 20th anniversary of the UNCRC.

ISS continues his advocacy role now and in the future

ISS is now actively promoting the dissemination and implementation of the Guidelines through various channels. ISS and SOS Children's Villages International have launched a small publication of introductory questions to gauge whether the national policy reflects the principles espoused in the Guidelines (see below).

ISS has undertaken a lead role in the development of the Implementation and Monitoring Handbook for the Guidelines, managing consultants as well as an international Steering Group made up of ATD 4th World, Better Care Network, RELAF, SOS-Children's Villages International and UNICEF.

ISS as the co-convener of the NGO Working Group on Children without Parental Care based in Geneva has also drafted and finalized joint strategy to promote alternative care issues at the United Nations with its parallel working group based in New York. In addition to the handbook efforts mentioned above, this work will involve building "champions" for these issues within country missions as well as lobbying the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child so that the Day of General Discussion in 2014 will focus on strengthening and supporting families and caregivers.

Furthermore, ISS is undertaking treaty body mainstreaming activities to ensure that all the treaties (in addition to the CRC Committee) are aware of the Guidelines and if relevant, refer to them in their discussion with State members as well as include them in their concluding observations.

For more information


Moving forward: implementing the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

Handbook background

Since the approval of the Guidelines, the continuing challenge has been their implementation. The, Chairperson of the CRC Committee, Jean Zermatten remarked "as with all internationally agreed standards and principles, however, the real test lies in determining how they can be made a reality throughout the world for those that they target - in this case, children who are without, or are at risk of losing, parental care". Challenges in the field include how to develop comprehensive strategies with limited resources, how to effectually engage key stakeholders and importantly, how to ensure the child and his or her family are able to truly participate in the decision making process.

Handbook development

Further direction has been an on-going request by professionals. Funded by a global consortium a handbook titled ‘Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children' was developed to provide such guidance. The core text was drafted by an international team led by CELCIS, supervised by an expert steering group led by ISS. Hundreds of professionals from Governments, NGOs, UN agencies and academia fed into the drafting process which includes promising practices from over 40 countries. The handbook was field tested in Argentina and Malawi facilitated by RELAF, Family for Every Child and the Better Care Network Malawi.

Handbook use

The handbook provides practical guidance on moving forward on the road to alternative care provision for children. It highlights implications for policy-making where national governments should provide leadership as well as provides links to what is already being effectively done on the ground. ISS with child protection agencies call upon governments and civil society to uphold the Guidelines' principles as well as use the handbook to better support families to prevent unnecessary separation and better protect children in need of alternative care. The handbook provides insight and encouragement to all professionals on what can feasibly be done in resource constrained contexts.

For more information

  • The handbook is available in English, French and Spanish
  • See also
  • Hardcopies of 'Moving Forward' are available (within a reasonable limit) by contacting Mia Dambach (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). Please note postage and handling will be charged and copies will not be sent until payment has been received. For an estimation of delivery fees, please contact Mia directly as this will depend on the number of copies you are requesting and where you are located.
  • For other information on launches and dissemination plan, see briefing note.

Treaty body mainstreaming

Protecting "all" rights of children through treaty body mainstreaming efforts

ISS is undertaking treaty body mainstreaming activities to ensure that all the treaties (in addition to the CRC Committee) are aware of the Guidelines and if relevant, refer to them in their discussion with State members as well as include them in their concluding observations.

This work is being done in its capacity as co-convenor of the NGO WG on children without parental care based in Geneva and involves close collaboration with key stakeholders. Thus far organisations such as the Better Care Network, Family for EveryChild, Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment, International Disability Alliance, RELAF, SOS Children's Villages International, UNICEF and international child protection consultant Nigel Cantwell have provided important information to be included in briefing notes prepared by ISS to be submitted to the various treaty bodies. Based on these briefing notes, ISS and SOS Children's Villages have made short presentations to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The CRPD have taken on board our recommendations as seen in their concluding observations on Argentina, Chile and Hungary. ISS firmly believes that by raising the awareness of all the treaty bodies to children's rights in alternative care outlined in the Guidelines, this will improve the opportunities for children to fully access their rights as individual holders of rights. ISS will continue this work during 2012 and 2013 with meetings lined with the Committee Against Torture (CAT) and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).

ISS continues its treaty body mainstreaming efforts with the Committee Against Torture (CAT)

ISS with SOS Children's Villages International presented the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children during a lunch time presentation supported by the NGO Group for the CRC. It was an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the CAT Committee on cross-cutting issues between CAT and the Guidelines.

One aim was to show how violence within the family can lead to the child's separation from his/her family with issues such as harmful traditional practices (e.g.: use of child brides and exchange of children for debts) and lack of preventative mechanisms. Another objective was to illustrate how children are exploited and violated in different alternative care settings such as in informal care (e.g.: use of household aids), formal care (e.g.: children living in quaranic schools being used to beg for food by marabouts) and outside of country of habitual residence (e.g.: children being trafficked).

The CAT Committee were extremely receptive of the presentation engaging in lengthy dialogue with the presenters. The CAT Committee agreed in principle to raise alternative care issues with the State Parties. The full briefing note can be accessed at: Protecting children from violence in the family and alternative care settings

ISS meets with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)

As part of its treaty body mainstreaming efforts, ISS with SOS Children's Villages International (SOS-CVI) presented the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of the Children to members of the CESCR Committee and OHCHR staff.

The lunchtime meeting highlighted issues such as how poverty is often the main cause separating the child from his or her parents, as well as how obstacles in accessing employment, adequate housing and education are risk factors for abandonment or relinquishment.

The CESCR Committee were able to see how the rights in the CESCR are closely linked to situations covered by the Guidelines.

Based on the presentation and briefing notes prepared by ISS and SOS-CVI, the CESCR Committee have included a reference to the Guidelines in their concluding observations for Bulgaria (

See briefing documents: CESCR Bulgaria and CESCR-short introduction to Guidelines