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Since its inception in 1924, ISS' advocacy efforts have been an ongoing integral part of daily work by promoting the rights of children and families needing protection through cross border social casework,referred to as our individual advocacy. ISS advocates for better protection of rights over 75,000 families each year. Building on this evidence based experience, ISS' systems advocacy aims to impact key stakeholders through regular interactions with governments, UN agencies, professionals and targeted projects.
|We aim to consolidate ISS' nearly 100 years of daily experience on individual cases and research, to improve the situation for groups of individuals, who share similar problems in national, regional and international arenas.|
Our advocacy work is widespread on a national level through ISS member daily case work and initiatives in over 100 countries. In addition our systems advocacy extends to the regional and international level as coordinated by the General Secretariat through research and publications, inter-agency initiatives and treaty body mainstreaming efforts. We use the benchmark of international standards to implement all our activities and influence decision makers.
ISS members are currently working on advocacy position statements on the following themes as key issues handled by the network:
Examples of current advocacy initiatives coordinated by the General Secretariat are illustrated below:
2) A selection of recent research and advocacy publications
• "Responding to Illegal Adoptions – A Professional Handbook" (2016)
• "Qualitative research into the root causes of child abandonment and child relinquishment in Viet Nam" (2015)
Austria: Emergency support provided to children on the move
ISS Austria's staff has acquired experience in caring for traumatised unaccompanied and separated children aged between 13 and 18 (sole specialised care facility in Austria) and is currently developing compulsory trainings and preparation courses for prospective foster carers.
Hong Kong: tracing services for Chinese children
ISS Hong Kong, as part of their international child protection programme in Mainland China, regularly undertakes tracing and locating efforts of Chinese children, whose parents are living and working overseas (so-called international family investigation reports). This works helps to facilitate the child's welfare report for decisions made in the best interests of the concerned child, including considering the placement of the child with his kin abroad.
South Africa: development of tools for migrant children
South Africa's Department of Social Development (ISS South Africa) has developed guidelines as well as procedural standards for social workers in order to respond to the particular situation of migrant children. ISS South Africa also participates in the monthly meetings of the national steering committee and has contributed to the setting up of local steering committees, aimed at ensuring the rights of these children, who come, in particular, from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It has also undertaken a research study on the situation of unaccompanied migrant children in South Africa, which includes an analysis of the legal framework and its implementation in practice, and interviews of professionals in this field and of some children, who have been directly affected by migration.
West African Network (WAN) , has established, since 2005, a well-functioning intersectional cooperation in 15 ECOWAS countries and Mauritania. The main activity of the network is the identification, protection and reintegration of vulnerable children and young migrants in the host country, the country of origin or a third country following a common procedure based on harmonised standards. Since its inception, this initiative has supported and integrated over 5'000 children, essentially thanks to the involvement of different child protection stakeholders. In each country, a NGO partner is responsible for developing the cooperation with the authorities, civil society and international partners. In addition, each year the 15 Ministries in charge of child protection meet in a steering committee to discuss the results, challenges and provide direction to the Network.
UK: promoting international family kinship care as an option to be considered for children on the move
Children and Families Across Borders (ISS Branch in the UK), has assisted around 100 cases working closely with local professionals from the ISS network in order to determine the suitability of the concerned family to care for the child. Therefore, CFAB has focused its efforts on raising awareness among local British authorities, consular services and the Judiciary about working in collaboration with overseas authorities, in compliance with international standards such as the Alternative Care Guidelines and 1996 Hague Convention.
USA: Kids in Between programme
ISS USA is working to ensure the safe return and reintegration of children being repatriated to their country of origin. Therefore, ISS USA is trying to change attitudes and raise the awareness of US authorities to consider placing a child with his community or family in the Northern Triangle region if such placement has been considered in the child's best interests after an extensive assessment with local partners gathering valuable information in the country of origin. It is also working with other organizations to develop a unified strategy for the safe return/reintegration of children being repatriated to their country of origin, and advocating for the use of information from home country to be used in all decision-making about the children's status, when returning children, or in any decisions that could affect the well-being of a child, who is not in the care of his family.
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:
ISS commitment to the Guidelines from the 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 its advocacy role now and into the future
ISS is now actively promoting the dissemination and implementation of the Guidelines through various channels. ISS and SOS Children's Villages International (SOS) 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 (BCN), RELAF, SOS and UNICEF.
ISS as the co-convener of the NGO Working Group on Children without Parental Care based in Geneva has also drafted and finalised 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 for an upcoming Day of General Discussion to focus on strengthening and supporting families and caregivers. ISS is also working closely with the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child to promote the Guideline principles including preparation of training material for members in early 2014 with other agencies, notably BCN, SOS and Save the Children. 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.
In 2015, ISS with a number of steering group members launched two new initiatives – an international conference as well as an online training tool, by way of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on the Guidelines. The international conference was held Geneva on 3 to 5 October, 2016 whereas the MOOC has been launched in May 2017.
For more information
Moving Forward: Implementing the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children
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.
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.
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.
Tracking Progress Initiative
ISS is currently working with the steering group led by Better Care Network and Save the Children to develop a monitoring tool for the implementation of the Guidelines. This tool is to be developed in 2014-2015 and field tested in three countries with the objective of facilitating better comparisons between countries, thus promoting greater effort, policies and practices for countries seeking to improve their systems. In 2017 to 2018 the Tracking Progress Initiative will be finalised and pilot tested in a number of countries.
For more information:
ISS continues to spearhead inter agency initiatives working together with organizations such as Better Care Network, CIDE, CELCIS, IDE, Hope and Homes for Children, International Federation of Social Workers, RELAF, Save the Children, SOS Children's Villages International & UNICEF to promote the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. 2016 was dedicated to two initiatives, by way of an international conference and the development of an online training tool.
International Conference on the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children
With 400 participants, over 30 leading experts in plenaries and three working languages, the «Momentum » conference in Geneva was the international event for alternative care professionals. The 42 poster presentations greatly facilitated learning from both grass root organisations and ongoing international initiatives as well as networking. Likewise a number of thematic side meetings were held, such as children on the move, children with disabilities, childonomics as well as funding streams analysis. Given the calibre of presenters, filming for the MOOC on Alternative Care also started during the conference. All presentations were motivating and stimulating, confirming practical ways to implement the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, seven years on. Realistically the conference likewise identified remaining challenges such as violence against children, limited resources, upscaling isolated initiatives to have nationwide impact and most importantly, how to include the voice of children. Lumos self-advocates were particularly inspiring, challenging the audience with the closing statement that «we can assure you, the quickest way to find the child's happiness is by including him or her in the decision making process ». A summary of the conclusions, powerpoint presentations, poster presentations briefs, photos during the event and other information can be found at www.alternativecaregeneva2016.com
Building on the Guidelines, Moving Forward and Tracking Progress Initiative, an International Training Tool is a logical follow up initiative.
ISS and SOS Children's Villages International will lead the process working with an inter-agency steering group comprised of Better Care Network; Hope and Homes for Children; International Federation of Social Workers; International Federation of Educative Communities (FICE); RELAF; Save the Children & UNICEF.
The format of the international training tool will be presented as a free to access, open online course, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to engage the widest possible number of alternative care practitioners and others with an interest or responsibility for prevention of separation and alternative care, with the secondary benefit of disseminating the Guidelines.
The MOOC has been launched on 15 May 2017 for the first time. It will restart in October 2017; noting:
For further information, see http://www.alternativecaremooc.com/index.php/en/
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 UN Guidelines as well as 1993 and 1996 Hague Conventions 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 started in ISS' 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 International have made short presentations to various treaty bodies.
ISS firmly believes that by raising the awareness of all the treaty bodies to children's rights in alternative care and adoption, this will improve the opportunities for children to fully access their rights as individual holders of rights. The information is based on desktop research undertaken by the team as well as information gathered from various missions as well as professional network. The information is ideally checked by a contact in the country when possible. The observations and recommendations by ISS are regularly taken on board by the various Committees. The concluding observations and recommendations of the various Committees can be used as powerful lobbying tools for professionals on the ground seeking to influence decision makers and other stakeholders.
In addition to these factsheets, the ISS network systematically provides submissions to the drafting of General Comments and Days of General Discussions on core themes such as most recently:
Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee)
For over a decade ISS has been submitting factsheets on alternative care and adoption in States to be examined by the CRC Committee. Multiple issues are addressed, for example, lack of support to families in care giving role, prevention measures, development of family based care, licensing and monitoring of residential care, leaving care and ethical adoptions. An example of recent factsheets that have been submitted include Ghana, Haiti and USA.
African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC)
Based on ISS' joint launch of the Moving Forward Handbook at the ACERWC in 2013, the chairperson requested ISS to apply for observer status (equivalent to ECOSOC status at the UN). This privilege has been bestowed upon ISS due to its work in the region and treaty body mainstreaming activities with systematic submissions on alternative care/adoption. Since 2014, ISS has jointly submitted with BCN, Family for Every Child, Hope and Homes for Children, Save the Children, SOS Children's Villages International country briefs for example include Algeria, Ghana, Madagascar, Namibia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.
UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee)
All children without or at risk of losing parental care are particularly vulnerable. However within this group, children with disabilities are clearly among those most at risk. The disability of a child can therefore be a factor leading to their abandonment or relinquishment. This was confirmed in a regional analysis in 2011 of causes of separation in Latin America. International Disability Alliance has also noted that "the widespread stigma attached to persons with disabilities, combined with the strict family planning policy in China renders children with disabilities at a high risk of being abandoned by parents and placed into institutions". When children with disabilities are abandoned and/or separation from their families becomes necessary, there is an unequal provision of family and community based options for them resulting in a significant over-representation in institutions. UNICEF noted in a 2012 report "that in CEE/CIS states ... more than one third of children in residential care have disabilities, with most of these children placed in large-scale institutions ..."
UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR Committee)
As part of its treaty body mainstreaming efforts, ISS with SOS Children's Villages International (SOS-CVI) presented the Guidelines to members of the CESCR Committee. 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: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cescr/docs/E.C.12.BGR.CO.4-5.pdf
ISS has submitted briefing papers for example on Bulgaria and Kenya
UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee)
Lamentably, mothers and girls in the family and in alternative care settings remain especially vulnerable. Enhanced recourse to alternative care for children stems from parents' felt-inability to cope – and lack of available support of all kinds to do so – and, in many societies, the prevailing stigma associated with having a child as a single mother or out of wedlock. The situation can be exacerbated for teenage mothers who - have limited access to services for their own development such as education, housing and health - are at high risk of being separated from their child. In some countries the mere status of being a girl can be a factor leading to their abandonment or relinquishment due to public policies and societal views. In informal settings such as extended family, it is not uncommon for girls to be employed as household aids to the detriment of their full development.
To this end, ISS with SOS Children's Villages International met with the CEDAW Committee and provided a presentation on the above issues, so that the issue of discrimination against women in alternative care and adoption matters is addressed whenever relevant.
UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee)
Regrettably, children in some family and alternative care settings face race discrimination leading to fundamental breaches of human rights, particularly true of some ethnic groups as evidenced by their unequal access to services. For example, there may be widely shared discriminatory practices in administrative bodies against children of migrants and other origins. As a consequence of these hurdles, children from ethnic minorities are usually over-represented in alternative care and problematically in institutional settings such for example, as indigenous groups, those from minority groups such as Roma. Harmful traditional practices can also lead to the child's abandonment or relinquishment due to public policies and societal views. Early marriage of girls and polygamy has also been identified as a problem many countries.
To this end, ISS with SOS Children's Villages International met with the CERD Committee and provided a presentation on the above issues, so that the issue of race discrimination in alternative care and adoption matters is kept on the radar.
UN Committee against Torture (CAT Committee)
ISS with SOS Children's Villages International presented the Guidelines during a lunch time presentation supported by NGO Group for the CRC (now referred to as Child Rights Connect). 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
Involved in the drafting of the 1993 Hague Convention, ISS remains committed to ensuring that adoptions and in particular intercountry adoptions are truly a child protection measure as set out in art 21, CRC. For over two decades ISS has been actively advocating for wider accession and ratification, as well as better implementation on 1993 Hague Convention through various evaluation missions, its Monthly Review, country situations as well as various publications, the latest of which are showcased below.
Manifesto for Ethical Intercountry Adoption
During the fourth Special Commission, ISS/IRC launched its Manifesto for Ethical Intercountry Adoption which, based on the guiding principles of the 1993 Hague Convention, intends to promote ethical practices in order to protect the children better as well as anyone involved, and to ensure that intercountry adoption is a protection measure that is used only in the child's best interests. The Manifesto invites intercountry adoption stakeholders to reflect on the fundamental issues involved in adoption ethics. The considerations proposed are based on both applicable international standards as well as on multiple missions completed by members of the ISS/IRC team in countries of origin. ISS encourages professionals to consider the Manifesto in their work as well as disseminate it among their networks, to ensure that intercountry adoption is truly a child protection measure used only in the best interests of each child. The Manifesto is available in English, French and Spanish, downloadable in Flip book versions.
Responding to illegal adoptions: A professional handbook
Worldwide, more than half a million children have been adopted abroad and have become adults. Today, many of them are searching for their origins, history, biological parents or extended family. At times, these searches can lead to findings of illegal practices. ISS with a group of experts launches this resource for professionals working with individuals affected by an illegal adoption, offering hope from an otherwise gloomy reality. Responding to illegal adoptions: A professional handbook is structured around four main Chapters, each focusing on the potential responses available to a finding of an illegal adoption from a specific standpoint: legal, psychosocial, social and political. Personal testimonies are woven into the Chapters, highlighting the harsh reality, challenges and achievements of those most affected. Likewise, multiple promising practices illustrating initiatives to address potential difficulties successfully, creatively and sustainably, are provided.
The professional handbook does not, of course, purport to have an answer to every situation, but it does provide numerous avenues for dealing with feelings such as anger, grief, regret, disappointment and disillusionment when facing an illegal adoption – ideally providing some hope. Whilst the past cannot be changed, we live in the present with an opportunity to make the future brighter.
To access English version of the handbook.
Intercountry adoption breakdowns: from prevention to case management
In 2016, ISS/IRC launched a project to develop a manual on "intercountry adoption breakdowns" which is based, among others, on the results of a comparative study. This tool seeks to address a number of issues through different perspectives (psycho-social, legal, political, academic, medical) covering aspects such as definition, data collection, cooperation issues, as well as risk factors vs. protection factors, etc. More than 30 experts around the world have shared their work and experiences on these sensitive situations. They have identified strategies to prevent as well as address intercountry adoption breakdowns. The handbook will be published in 2017 in French and according to available resources in English and Spanish.
Through its network ISS focuses on the "need to improve the protection of children in international situations" (preamble 1996 HC). On the ground ISS ensures that families and children benefit from coordinated legal and social support in 1996 HC matters. This occurs by facilitating communication among professional stakeholders supporting individuals as they leave or enter a country, crucial for protecting and promoting the safety and well-being of vulnerable individuals and families. ISS casework approach is unique.
In addition to these casework services, ISS is actively advocating for wider accession and ratification, as well as better implementation of 1996 HC.
In 2015, over 200 legal, social and administrative experts, as well as 52 mediators, from around the world, met in Geneva in the framework of an international conference, organised by ISS and the Hague Conference on Private International Law, with the support of numerous actors, such as the University of Geneva, in order to share their views on the issue of cross-border child protection and the potential role of the 1996 Hague Convention. Animated debates and exchanges took place on a wide range of themes, such as cross-border placements (kafala, kinship placements etc.), the protection of non-accompanied and separated children, international child abduction, custody, access and visitation rights, international family mediation etc. For ISS, the conference was the occasion to showcase its unique and multidisciplinary expertise on a multitude of cross-border themes through its well-established international social work and facilitation of cooperation and communication mechanisms (see http://www.iss-ssi.org/index.php/en/what-we-do-en/conference-2015)
Parallel to advocacy efforts through ISS publications and treaty body mainstreaming, a number of initiatives are in the pipeline as demonstrated below.
Kafalah: a child protection measure?
In 2016, ISS/IRC decided to update its 2008 comparative kafalah study by identifying current legislation, policies and practices. The study aims to cover at least ten countries. Different perspectives and promising practices that encourage a child-rights based approach have been identified and will be shared in the study. This work will be continued throughout 2017. With regards to cross-border kafalah, based on international standards, such as foreseen in the CRC, the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and the 1996 Hague Convention, ISS/IRC is advocating for the continuity of care across borders. The results of the comparative study (section 4.3) will feed into this work.
Work with European Union institutions, University partners and other key stakeholders
ISS is part of the cross-border child protection – Intergroup on the promotion of the EC and Hague Conference strategies implementation. Via this group, ISS is cooperating with all actors involved in the protection of children, such as the EC, The Hague Permanent Bureau and a number of Universities such as the University of Geneva and University of Verona. This potential initiative aims to enhance a network of all principal actors involved in child protection strategies implementation, composed of different commissions as well as implementation of conclusions and recommendations adopted during the October 2015 Conference in Geneva.