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The Power of IFCO in a World of Child Welfare Innovation

The Power of IFCO in a World of Child Welfare Innovation

The International Foster Care Organization’s (IFCO) European Conference was held this past week in Waterford, Ireland.

Each year IFCO brings it’s partners, members, experts and delegates together for an annual conference that creates the space for learning, collaboration and innovation in a world of foster care.

The 2014 conference was nearly canceled but moved to the Waterford, Ireland location after a developing political crisis in the Ukraine made the original host country unsuitable to host the global delegation.

Representatives from 35 countries across 5 continents were represented in attendance at IFCO 2014 making the opportunity for the study and consideration of a world of innovative child welfare practice possible centering on the theme Ensuring the Rights Family-Centered Service.

The Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) was the host venue for the 2014 Conference which incorporated cultural activities, social time as well as both a youth and adult track. Delegates had the opportunity to explore child welfare innovation within the context of a world of foster care and alternative care practice that is influenced and defined by culture, policy, politics, and human rights.

One topic highlighted by the plenary and workshop sessions offered at IFCO 2014 was the current movement away now and in recent years from institutional care to foster care in countries across Eastern Europe and in former Soviet States.

A number of Eastern European countries, their jurisdictions and governing bodies are now working to deinstitutionalize child welfare systems and bring children into family care or find suitable arrangements for them with relatives. The vision of many of these efforts has been two-fold, to both stop the referral of new children to these institutional settings while at the same time review the cases of all current child residents in these settings to see what other appropriate family care arrangements can be made for them.

Why is institutional care still a primary form of care in some countries when research and study in many countries has identified it as less than ideal for most children?

Institutionally focused approaches have remained in some nations throughout the better part of recent decades due to dynamic reasons that range from cultural and political will and/or political unrest to having the lack of resources necessary to establish the complex infrastructures essential to developing and maintaining a broad system of care in family based and more typical childhood environments.

Actually, every country has some form of institutional care though in many it’s a small percentage of youth in alternative care who end up placed in these institutional settings. The vast majority of nations with well developed foster care systems use foster care as their primary alternative care placement setting. In most countries a continuum of alternative care has been developed across the decades to ensure that as many children in need of state support have the most ‘normal’ upbringing possible. ‘Normal’ meaning like the one they would otherwise experience in their family of origin. These family settings are defined in many ways but across the world you’ll find many types of care considered to be ‘foster care.’ From country to country many forms of foster care will make up a continuum of care depending on the country. These care settings may include but not be limited to and range from substitute, long-term, short-term, permanent family care or kinship care, informal family arrangements, and guardianship care.

With organizations like IFCO advocating and working collaboratively for humane care and ‘normalcy’ for children now and in the years to come it’s a likely possibility that some countries with new and emerging foster care programs may develop ‘premier’ innovative foster care systems that ‘leap frog’ the technology of the family foster care that has developed elsewhere over decades.

IFCO Delegates from nations with emerging family care systems as well as delegates from any nation attending IFCO have the opportunity to learn from other approaches and establish new, better, more well informed and innovative care systems with aims of meeting the needs of abused, neglected and traumatized children in their countries.

Another banner taken up by IFCO and active at the 2014 conference was the concern for the prospects of ‘care leavers’ across the globe. During the youth track at the 2014 conference the IFCO youth committee including care leavers (those who are close to or have left alternative care or aged out) collaborated on the beginnings of what will become a Global Position Paper on Life ‘After Care.’ Learn more about care leaver work at www.careleaver.com

Since 1981, IFCO, it’s members and leadership have been and continue to be driven to supporting the sharing of alternative care and family foster care practices in Europe and across the globe.

The IFCO conference in 2015 will be a global conference hosted in Australia.

You can follow this year’s European conference retrospective via hashtag #IFCO2014 or on the twitter handle of child welfare innovation blogger Robert Edwards at www.twitter.com/robertjedward

Source: Child Welfare Innovation (a blog where innovative alternatives for the next generation of child welfare practice are shared and presented)