RELAF stands for Latin American Foster Care Network, a network that gathers nongovernmental organisations and governmental bodies from all over Latin America who are involved and engaged in the fulfilment of the right of children to family and community life. RELAF works to guarantee that all children of Latin America and the Caribbean exposed to the violation of their right to family life can grow in a loving family and in violence-free environments.
RELAF was founded in 2003. At first, it was mainly a platform for exchanging knowledge and information about alternative care through newsletters and congresses. With the opening of its office in Buenos Aires and Matilde Luna's appointment as Director in 2008, RELAF grew and became a leading nongovernmental organisation on the issue.
RELAF's mission is to strengthen the network of key actors of the child protection systems in order to:
● Contribute to the processes that intend to remove children from institutions
● Prevent family and community separations
● Promote family-based alternative care in Latin America and the Caribbean
● Make the fulfilment of the right to family and community life a reality
● Responds to requests of technical cooperation, project supervision, etc. This includes advice regarding the adaptation of alternative care through the creation and modification of laws and policies, the conduction of pilot deinstitutionalisation tests, and support for the creation and execution of foster care programmes, among other things.
● Provides specialised trainings to the actors of the comprehensive child protection systems.
● Performs advocacy actions to promote the respect and fulfilment of the right to family and community life on the level of public policy. RELAF works so that the childcare practices can be revised and so that the legal frameworks adopt approaches based on the fulfilment of the rights of the child.
● Develops pieces of research that are later used to prepare new laws or modify previously existing ones and to adapt the practices and public policies regarding childhood.
● Conducts workshops with children and adolescents.
● Bolsters its network as a regional benchmark on the subject, constantly updating its website, preparing periodical newsletters and mobilising and enabling the participation of regional actors who are committed to the creation of Latin American responses to Latin American problems.
● Along with Hope and Homes for Children, founded the Centre of Excellence for Children (CEN). The CEN provides support, strengthening and trainings to the human resources that are necessary for the implementation of deinstitutionalisation processes in LAC, always in line with the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For more information, you can visit the CEN's website here.
● Monitors and brings visibility to the chain of facts that lead to the violation of the rights of children deprived of parental care and/or who live in residential care institutions.
RELAF works directly with the key actors of the child protection system, the government, the civil society and the private initiative in order to guarantee the right to family life and prevent family separations. RELAF create three working models that comprise the organisation's methodology: the foster care model, the deinstitutionalisation model, and the model for the prevention of early abandonment.
RELAF works to generate changes in the public policies, in the programmes and in the services that aim to protect the rights of children. This bring positive, long-term effects on the children's wellbeing (as opposed to charitable organisations that seek to fulfil the immediate needs of children in the short term). It also intends to stop the suffering of children deprived of a family and of those who live in difficult environments. Changing this unfair reality must be a priority.
● We contributed to the creation of national networks for the right to family life in Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay.
● We organised several international conferences with the participation of over 2000 key actors from all the countries of the region and with the presence of specialists from other regions of the world.
● We received support from several Latin American governments to carry out our initiatives and calls to action. For instance, the presidents of Costa Rica, Honduras and Paraguay supported us in the "Call to action to eradicate the internment of children under 3 years of age".
Here's how we spent the money we received in 2013:
27% in the production of the document "The voices of children" and of the "Study on discrimination in residential care institutions".
16% in technical cooperations with governments and NGOs.
8% in administrative costs.
5% in materials used at the 2013 RELAF Seminar.
30% in the Regional Initiative to eradicate the internment of babies (production of technical and dissemination documents and participation in international meetings).
14% in the preparation of studies and other documents.
Yes, RELAF can organise visits to centres that provide services to children and families with the aim of preventing separations, to foster families and to other alternative care modalities. In collaboration with our allies (companies, their staff and social assistence centres), we carry out activities with children in order to help restore their right to a family. Children are thus strengthened and can better prepare to return to their communities.
Due to its highly professional work, RELAF need the knowledge and technical abilities of the companies' employees. To use more efficiently the help that company employees are willing to provide, we promote their collaboration in special projects in which they can put their qualifications into good use, such as languages, knowledge of digital or technological tools, etc. Also, the employees can be prepared by RELAF specialists to participate in activities with children, support their strengthening and prepare them to be reintegrated into their communities.
When a family, whatever its configuration, cannot take proper care of its own children for whatever reason, other people and/or entities can be responsible for caring for them in an informal (e.g., members of the extended family or relatives, such as grandparents or neighbours) or formal way (the State can place the child in a public or private residential care institution). These alternative care measures should ideally last until the child can go live back with their family of origin (after the problems that caused the separation are resolved), until they can be taken care of permanently by members of the extended family or relatives, until they can be adopted by another family, or until they reach the age of majority and gain legal independence (which is usually 18 years of age).
Deinstitutionalisation refers to a change in the public policies that aim to protect the rights of children, so that all children can grow up in a family (in any kind of family and not necessarily in their biological family) and within the community. Deinstitutionalisation means the shutting down of residential care institutions, which comes as a result of a transformation process of the policies, programmes and social services of two different areas of children's rights:
1) The area that supports families so that they can properly care for their children. This helps prevent separations.
2) The area that improves the living conditions of the children placed in any alternative care modality (institutions, extended families, foster families), whenever separation of the child from their family is absolutely necessary and in compliance with the child's best interest.
Foster care is a child protection measure that provides an adequate family setting for children who, for whatever reason, cannot live with their family or guardian. Foster care can be temporary, while work is done to achieve reintegration into the family of origin, or permanent, when the child's age or other circumstances so require it.
It differs from adoption in that there is no legal relation between the child and its foster family.
Candidate foster families participate in informative talks and are thoroughly evaluated before being selected by the foster care programme's technical teams. The families must be aware of some characteristics of the foster care measures, such as its temporality, the possibility that the child may continue to have contact with his family of origin, and the respect that the foster family must have for the child's personal history. In later stages of the process, foster families receive special trainings, since their new role requires particular abilities and knowledge.
All children and adolescents have the right to live in family and community since the moment they are born till they reach the age of majority. This right must be guaranteed without discriminating children because of their age and knowing the needs of every child according to their age.
In many cases, the children that grow in institutions do not receive the tools or education necessary to develop a successful independent life after their egress from alternative care (usually, a residential care institution). To prevent this, the governments, NGOs and other people and entities responsible for the fulfilment of the rights of children must develop services, programmes and public policies in order to help adolescents that reside in any alternative care modality prepare to face an independent life. This preparation may include scholarships (to gain access to higher education), work internships, subsidies to facilitate housing, workshops to train abilities that will later help during adulthood, guidance to get a job, among other things.
The foster care measure intends to provide the protection of a family to a child that, temporarily, cannot be cared for by his family of origin. Since each case requires a particular response, the destiny of each child after the end of the foster care measure also varies. The measure ideally lasts until the child can go live back with their family of origin (after the problems that caused the separation are solved), until they can be taken care of permanently by a member of the extended family, until they can be adopted by another family, or until they reach the age of majority and legal independence (which is usually around 18 years of age).
We must not forget that institutionalisation is the main response provided to those children that cannot be taken care of by their families of origin. In this context, foster care is a better alternative. All international legislations, scientific research and evidence provided by developed countries regarding childhood show that family-based care is always more beneficial for a child than institutional care. Family care offers individualised attention, something children need to properly develop emotionally and intelectually. In addition, there is a correlation between institutional care and the violation of children's rights. For instance, institutionalised children are six times more likely to suffer violence and abuse than children that live in a family setting, and a child that lives in an institution loses 4 months of development for every three years spent there. Therefore, although foster care is a temporary measure, when done professionally, carefully and respectfully, it is always more beneficial to children that institutional care.
RELAF’s actions intend to benefit all children without parental care (living in alternative care) or at risk of losing it (due to a lack or failure of public policies, services and programmes to prevent this from happening). Anyhow, since the main response given to children separated from their families is placing them in institutions, RELAF works primarily to solve the problems that affect those children who live in institutions, followed by those of children who live in foster care.
In Latin American countries, legal adoption is completed through government agencies, not through NGOs such as RELAF. Therefore, we cannot help you adopt. However, we can provide you with the contact information of the legal authority in charge of adoptions in your country.
Yes, we can put you in contact with the organisations of our network that are searching for foster families in their community, as long as they exist.
RELAF does not work directly in the community, but influences the way in which social workers and operators carry out their jobs in the community. It does so by conducting trainings and workshops for the professionals of government agencies and civil society organisations that work directly with children in the different alternative care modalities and within the community. Also, since 2010, RELAF has carried out workshops with over 500 children aged between 5 and 18 from different social strata and different care contexts (foster care, family of origin, residential care) in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guyana, Haiti, Panama, Mexico and Uruguay. Through playful activities, children and adolescents got to know their rights and reflect on them, making a stand in the face of the situations they and their families have to go through.
RELAF gives trainings and conducts workshops aimed at DIF workers with the objective of align their practices and their handling of the cases to the international standards that seek to protect the rights of children deprived of a family. These trainings help operators become aware about the issue and know how to ensure family reintegration for the children under their care. For instance, during the cooperation project with UNICEF Mexico (2016-2018), RELAF trained operators of the States of Campeche, Chihuahua, Morelos, Tabasco and Mexico City.
RELAF works in order to revise the practices and adapt and reform the public policies and regulations so as to establish human rights approaches. This means that the objective RELAF has when it provides technical cooperation to Latin American countries is to have them establish State policies that cannot be annulled or eliminated when the government changes. This can be accomplished, for example, through improvements in laws on childhood (laws must be respected by all governments regardless of their political affiliation) and of the institutional practices of the child protection system operators (for example, training them so they can later train other operators, so that the knowledge is not lost after the government changes).
Yes. RELAF works with all actors involved in the creation of policies, execution of programmes and provision of services related to the field of alternative childcare. To do so, it cooperates with national and international NGOs, as well as with foundations that manage private residential care institutions.