At least 2.7 million children are living in residential care worldwide, UNICEF says

Stanislava is a 15-year-old girl. After her birth she was placed in several old type state institutions for children. Now she lives in a family type placement center (small group home) for children with disabilities and attends mainstream school. Stanislava is supported by teachers, caregivers, social workers, psychologists, speech therapists and rehabilitators.

© UNICEF/UN064133/Paleykov

In Kyrgyzstan, 94 per cent of children living in residential care have at least one biological parent.

GENEVA/NEW YORK/BISHKEK, 2 June 2017: At least 2.7 million children live in residential care worldwide according to official records from 140 countries, according to a new estimate by UNICEF. Yet the figures published today are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, with wide gaps in data collection and accurate records found in the majority of countries.

“In residential care, such as institutions or orphanages, children who are already vulnerable due to family separation are at increased risk of violence, abuse and long-term damage to their cognitive, social and emotional development,” said Cornelius Williams, Associate Director of Child Protection at UNICEF. “The priority is to keep children out of residential care and with their families, especially in the early years.”

UNICEF’s new estimate is based on data from 140 countries. Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia was found to have the highest rate worldwide, with 666 children per 100,000 living in residential care, over 5 times the global average of 120 children per 100,000. Industrialized countries and East Asia and the Pacific region have the second and third largest rate with 192 and 153 children per 100,000 respectively.

In Kyrgyzstan, over 8,000 children live in residential care. Over the last few years, the rate of institutionalization of children in residential care has declined by 27 per cent in Kyrgyzstan. This shift is very positive, but still 94 per cent of children living in residential care have at least one biological parent.

Research shows residential care can have a devastating impact on children’s brain development, especially during early childhood, leading to lifelong negative implications for their cognitive, social and emotional growth, health, happiness and ability to learn,” said Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Representative in Kyrgyzstan. “Early childhood, the period from 0 to 3 years, is the most crucial developmental phase in a child’s life. When a young child is placed in institutional care, they lack personal attachment, love and care which hampers normal brain development with consequences that can last a life time.”

Governments are urged to reduce the number of children living in residential care by preventing family separation where possible, and by seeking homes for children in family-based care such as foster homes. Stronger investment in community-based family support programmes is also needed, UNICEF said.

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