Introduction — children in care

What to expect from our field guide

Apolitical’s field guides are designed to help public servants understand an important policymaking issue, approach, skill or trend. They cover a range of topics — from citizen engagement, the gender pay gap and government innovation to the one you’re reading now: children in care.

Each field guide has between 10-15 learning materials: a mix of in-depth reporting, expert editorials, resources and regular assessments — so keep an eye out for key details!


The field guide should take approximately two to three hours to complete, and covers the following three learning objectives:

Understand why experts say institutional care is harmful to children

Learn about deinstitutionalisation and new approaches to replace institutions and prevent family separation

Learn about interventions that have improved outcomes for kids who do experience care

Key themes

Apolitical’s field guides are designed to be varied — in terms of geography, subject matter, authorship and more. But this field guide does contain some key themes to watch out for:

Family first. Many experts and leading policymakers believe that building societies in which children do not have to live in institutions should be a key aim for governments — many of the articles in the field guide focus on this. But in order to achieve this, policymakers need to strengthen and support families. Approaches discussed in this field guide range from community mediations aimed at keeping nuclear families together, to “kinship care”, which takes a broader definition of family, finding kids who may not have parental support as an option carers from their wider network of relatives.

Don’t forget the workforce. Ambitious programs of reform are all very well, but if the people, resources, and training aren’t in place to deliver them, they’re just that — ambitions. The example of Romania, featured in the guide, is instructive here. As one expert told us: “Romania didn’t have social workers. Romania had a regime in which social problems couldn’t have existed. It’s nonsense, but that was the party line.” Now, as a core part of its deinstitutionalisation strategy, the government is investing heavily in its social workers — both dramatically increasing their number and providing new training to recognise warning signs for children at risk of being institutionalised, and how to prevent it.

Take an end to end approach. Keeping kids out of care and helping those who have experienced it is about far more than the specifics of closing down homes. As we explain in our prevention pathfinder resource, other policy areas have a big role to play in creating conditions where children don’t enter the care system in the first place. Meanwhile a set of useful principles has been developed by a broad coalition of actors working on children’s care reform globally. The eight themes demonstrate the broad sweep of considerations involved in improving the lives of vulnerable children:

1. Recognise and prioritise the role of families

2. Support families and prevent unnecessary family-child separation

3. Protect children without parental care and ensure high-quality, appropriate alternative care

4. Recognise the harm of institutional care for children and prevent institutionalisation

5. Strengthen child welfare and protection systems and services

6. Ensure adequate financial and human resources

7. Improve data collection and regular reporting

8. Ensure full participation of children without parental or family care

We hope you find this field guide useful. Please do leave feedback when prompted to do so, and if you have any questions or more detailed comments, feel free to get in touch via email.

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