General Secretariat

Protecting Children and Uniting Families Across Borders for 98 years


International Reference Center for the rights of the children deprived of their family

The International Reference Centre for the rights of children deprived of their family (IRC) is a division of the General Secretariat of the International Social Service (ISS), which is based in Geneva. Since 1997, the ISS/IRC has been actively developing and implementing international standards relating to the alternative care of children deprived of their family or at risk of being so and adoption. It promotes the exchange of knowledge, experience and dialogue between professionals of governmental and non-governmental agencies throughout the world. The ISS/IRC's principle goal is to equip alternative care and adoption professionals on the ground by developing resources and highlighting promising practices. Likewise we aim to raise awareness of the need to protect children's rights within the analytical framework of international standards in an ever-changing environment. More than 5000 professionals in countries of origin and receiving countries directly benefit from our services.

Based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC) and the Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption of 1993 (THC-1993), the IRC has developed a specific competence in the area of adoption and in the broader context, the prevention of the abandonment, placement, support to families of origin (nuclear and extended) and the respect of children placed in foster care and in institutions. The IRC promotes the development of global policies for the protection of children so that each solution will be in accordance with all the relevant instruments provided by International Law (e.g. The 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children).

All the services and activities of the IRC are based on the following principles:

  • A greater protection of children deprived of their family or at risk of being so, in need of adoption or already adopted.
  • A global policy for children and the family.
  • The ratification and application of international conventions (Legal instruments).
  • The acquaintance/knowledge, exchange of experience, contact, dialogue and collaboration between professionals of governmental and non-governmental agencies throughout the world.

For more information on IRC's position, consult its Manifesto for ethical intercountry adoption.


Over the years, ISS/IRC has developed a large range of services aimed at supporting its beneficiaries:

These Reviews propose an analysis of the latest developments in matters of adoption and the protection of children deprived of their family. Each issue offers an editorial section in free access, updated information about the evolution of law and practice both at the international level and in particular countries. The publication engages itself in certain ethical debates, studies interdisciplinary resources and proposes a reading suggestion. Its last page draws attention to relevant conferences and seminars of international interest. Each month, the Review is distributed to more than 5000 professionals across the world and is only available for IRC beneficiaries.

Monthly Reviews

The ISS/IRC provides technical support based on its expertise for its professional partners, particularly Central Authorities. It answers requests for information, documentation or advice about general legislation, practices, protagonists and resources (experts, training centres, etc.) relating to children deprived of family. More than 100 requests are answered each year.

Each year between 15 and 20 files focusing on an individual country are published which examine the situation of children deprived of their family and their adoption. The files present the main legislation, principal stakeholders, the practices and risks for the rights of the child. There is also an analysis of the general situation of children deprived of their family and their adoption for each country. These files are only accessible by the Central Authorities of States who finance the ISS/IRC and also the countries of origin.

Situation analysis

IRC regularly participates to national and international conferences, forums and seminars. It promotes and defends the rights of children deprived of their family and shares good practices (see ISS advocacy activities).

IRC regularly disseminates thematic analysis through circulars to its network. These analyses are only available to IRC beneficiaries who are the Central Adoption Authorities.

Comprehensive studies are also done in collaboration with external partners and are available under: Publications.

  • Committee on the Rights of the Child: for each Committee pre-session meeting, IRC addresses (when it is relevant) fact sheets regarding the rights of children deprived of their family and adoption in the countries concerned. These documents allow Committee members to have a concise vision of these issues and discuss them with the countries concerned.
  • African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child: through its new observatory status, ISS ensures exchanges of information with the Committee concerning subjects of common interest such as adoption and alternative measures
  • Hague Conference on Private International Law: exchanges with the Permanent Bureau take place throughout the year. One collaboration example is the IRC director’s participation to the “Expert Group on the Financial Aspects of Intercountry Adoption” and to issues related to international surrogacy.

IRC has published a set of training tools such as fact sheets or guidelines. These documents are available under : Publications and Thematic Fact Sheets

For several years now, the ISS/IRC has built up a bibliographical database that collects publications and texts of both a psychosocial and legal nature and which deal with themes and countries, essentially in English, French and Spanish. The Database is available under the bibliographical database.

Strategic evaluation of the IRC (2021)

Available in English (French and Spanish versions to be followed soon).


Throughout the world IRC deals with agencies and professionals whose function is to protect children deprived of their family:

  • Authorities and professionals of industrialized country co-financing the IRC receive all IRC services.
  • The authorities and professionals in countries of origin regarding international adoption receive the IRC services free of charge. With a view to international equity, the contributions of industrialized countries cover partially these services.
  • IRC is working closely with international organizations and networks such as the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, UNICEF, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Child Rights Connect and RELAF (Latin American Foster Care Network).
  • IRC constituents receive all ISS/IRC services The members can access these services here.


Currently, more than 3500 professionals and NGOs from 160 countries are benefiting from part or all ISS/IRC services. The program receives financial support from the following countries: Andorra, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. ISS/IRC would like to express its gratitude for their support allowing it to pursue its commitment for the protection of children deprived of their family or at risk of so being.

ISS members work together

All ISS members work together for the welfare of children and their family. They share a common expertise in international social work and as such are able to provide efficient intercountry casework services in their country and across borders.

Jean Ayoub
Secretary General

Together with ISS

L’ensemble des organisations membres du SSI travaillent main dans la main pour assurer le bien être des enfants et de leur famille. Elles ont en commun une forte expérience dans le travail social aussi bien au niveau national qu’international, ce qui leur permet de pouvoir mener à bien toutes les activités de soutien social individuel.

Jean Ayoub
Secretary General

FacebookIcon Instagram icon LinkedIn ConnectAID icon

Child Friendly Games

Child Friendly Games ISS