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Speech on foster care for orphans and vulnerable children by the UNICEF Representative

In Email

Date: Friday 21 August 2009
National Symposium on Foster Care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children
Speaker: UNICEF Country Representative, Mr. Jesper Mørch

Vice-Minister Phung Ngoc Hung of MOLISA
Distinguished representatives of ministries, organizations, and provinces,
Colleagues from UN agencies, the donor community and NGOs,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start today by asking you to picture the life of a child anywhere in Viet Nam that might have been deprived of parental care due to death of her or his parents, poverty, the impact of HIV and AIDS, disability, or any other cause.

For this child I cherish the hope that our shared ambition today will in the future ensure that she will grow up in the environment most positive and natural for her growth, well-being and protection. Over the next two days that should be at the heart of our discussions: the need to provide the best protection and care to those children most in need.

In Viet Nam, the number of children in need of special protection has been on the increase. Recent data from MOLISA indicate that the total number of orphans, abandoned children without families is around 168,000, of which about 15,000 are children living in institutions.  

Children placed in formal residential care systems for longer periods than needed are at a greater risk of being exposed to abuse and neglect and will face greater problems after leaving the institution including stigma, isolation, lower education achievement, delinquency and homelessness.

It is universally recognized that keeping vulnerable children in supportive and well regulated family and community-based settings is the most conducive for holistic child development. It is with consideration for the best interest and rights of the child that the international community has called for a swift move away from institutionalization towards prioritizing the development of alternative family and community-based care options.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes both the child's right to be cared for by his or her parents, while also setting out States Parties' obligations to provide suitable alternative care where this is not possible, or not in the best interest of the child, including foster placement. 

Against this background the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children has been prepared and submitted to the General Assembly for adoption by the end of 2009. The guidelines set out desirable orientations for policy and practice with the intention of enhancing the protection and well-being of children deprived of parental care or who are at risk of being so. A copy of the guidelines is being distributed to all participants at this symposium and I would like to take this opportunity to strongly advocate for the endorsement and application of these guidelines in Viet Nam.

Ladies and gentlemen,

With the Government's Decision #65 on Community-based Care for Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances, we have already witnessed an important shift in Viet Nam from institutional care to alternative solutions. This commitment to promote the development of family and community-based alternatives and protective strategies is a key step forward in building a more conducive system in the best interest of the child.

We also acknowledge Viet Nam’s proud history of strong and cohesive communities, as evidenced by the widespread practice of kinship and informal foster care, whereby a child is cared for by either extended family or unrelated community members.

However, formal foster care as recognized internationally does not exist yet in Viet Nam.

There is a strong need for the Government to formalize and regulate these types of alternative care arrangements in order for the Government to provide adequate support and monitoring of existing arrangements, increase access of vulnerable children to these arrangements, and ensure the well-being the child.

UNICEF is committed to work in partnership with the Government of Viet Nam, as well as national and international organizations to support the development and formalization of a foster care system in Viet Nam to better meet the holistic development needs of vulnerable children, and in doing so provide them with a better opportunity to reach their full potential and a successful transition into adulthood.

I would therefore like to emphasize the importance of this two-day symposium in generating greater awareness, a common understanding and a shared vision on the potential role and benefits of promoting foster care as one of the family-based alternative care option for orphans and other vulnerable children in Viet Nam. I do hope that through this symposium successful foster care and best practices from other countries will be reviewed, as well as relevant policy and regulatory frameworks to support the introduction of foster care in Viet Nam.

Before closing I would like to reiterate what I believe is at the center of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children:

“The family is the natural environment for the growth, well-being and protection of children.  Efforts should primarily be directed to enabling the child to remain in or return to the care of his/her parents, or when appropriate, other close family members. Removal of a child from the care of the family should be seen as a measure of last resort and should be, whenever possible, temporary and for the shortest possible duration.”

I wish you all a productive and fruitful symposium and thank you for your attention.