Deinstitutionalisation and prevention of the separation. Building subsystems for the protection of children without parental care.
April 2016

On October 12, 13 and 14, the international seminar "Deinstitutionalisation and prevention of the separation. Creating subsystems for the protection of children without parental care" will be held in Panama. The event is arousing great interest from the region and from our global counterparts.

The main topics to be discussed at the Seminar are:

  1. The regional situation of children and adolescents in alternative care
  2. The Regional Initiative to Eradicate the Institutionalisation of children under three years of age
  3. The implementation of the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children
  4. Multi-national experiences on the reform of the subsystems: progress in countries of the region, pilot deinstitutionalisation experiences of institutional restructuring
  5. Prevention of unnecessary separations and early abandonment
  6. Foster Care: practice standards

This will be the fifth international seminar conducted by RELAF, and as always, it’ll be attended by government representatives and decision-makers from different levels but closely related with the implementation of public policies for the protection of the rights of children and adolescents; national, regional and global NGOs; researchers; academics; international organisations; and families, children and adolescents.

We invite everyone to read the full programme of the Seminar here.

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Baseline and monitoring
September 2015

Under the project "Development of a baseline and monitoring for deinstitutionalization (DI) in Latin America and the Caribbean", which is one of the key components of the technical cooperation agreement between RELAF and UNICEF Lacro, a working meeting was held in Paraguay on September 30 with Directors of the National Ministry of Children and Adolescents (SNNA), key figures from the civil society (Corazones por la Infancia, Enfoque Niñez, SOS Children's Villages), independent experts, and UNICEF Paraguay. It was coordinated by Alejandro Retamoso and Ignacio Martínez (RELAF).

The meeting allowed a rich exchange of opinions and information, where the tools for the project were validated while the information available on the situation of children and adolescents deprived of parental care was gathered and shared.

The results were very positive, especially with regard to the capacity for dialogue between the parties and the attention put into the activity. The meeting provided further room to improve the tools being used, and to deepen the discussion on the information available on the subject.

To end the visit to Paraguay, the RELAF consulting team had the opportunity to meet with the Minister of SNNA, Carlos Zárate, General Director Ricardo González, and the General Director of Special Protection, Fátima Cabrera. This provided a space to present the topics discussed at the meeting and an opportunity to align efforts to continue working for the improvement of the situation of children and adolescents living in institutions.

Paraguay, along with Uruguay, will be the test countries in the region to implement this tool and to establish a baseline, which will be presented during the meeting of Monday, November 23, under the RAADH - NIÑ@SUR.

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The right to family and community life, its practices and challenges in the adaptation of the Child Protection Systems in LAC
April 2014

In April, María and Matilde (RELAF’s working team) travelled to San José to hold a Workshop Seminar aimed at the representatives of several Save the Children national offices, their national partners, and the regional office. The Seminar, called “The right to family and community life, its practices and challenges in the adaptation of the Child Protection Systems in LAC to guarantee it”, had the participation of STC Bolivia, Abrinqu Foundation from Brazil, Paniamor Foundation from Costa Rica, STC El Salvador, STC Haiti, STC Nicaragua and the Human Rights Ombudsman from said country, STC Mexico,  Global Infancia Paraguay, STC Peru, STC Sweden, STC USA, STC Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office, REDLAMYC, and STC’s Global Child Protection Initiative.

During the Seminar, the participants proved to be very receptive to the pieces of research and knowledge produced by RELAF, the approach based on the right to family life and the regional strategy to achieve the fulfilment of said right. In this way, it was possible to work on concrete development proposals for each of the countries in which STC has a strong presence. We value STC Sweden’s support, which provided the necessary funds to organise the Seminar. This agency also had an active participation during the Seminar, together with STC USA representative. It is worthwhile to highlight the importance of STC’s commitment to work to solve the issue of children without appropriate parental care in our region together with the technical assistance provided by RELAF.

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RELAF in the Sub-regional Consultation Meeting for the Study on the situation of institutionalised children in Latin America, in Lima, Peru.
June 2011

RELAF participated in the Sub-regional consultation meeting for the Study on the situation of institutionalised children in Latin America. The meeting had the participation of experts, governmental authorities, and referents of the civil society and representatives of the national UNICEF offices, among other key actors from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. The Office of UNICEF Peru was in charge of the local organisation.

The introductory panel on the study had the participation of Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (IACHR) and Nadine Perrault (UNICEF Regional Office). A message by Marta Santos Pais was shared and Javier Palummo presented the methodology used for the study.

Matilde Luna and Claudia Cabral made their presentations during the first panel of experts. The RELAF Project Leader made an introduction by presenting information on the contexts and causes of the institutionalisation of children and the violation of rights that they suffer in the countries of the region. The Brazilian professional presented an outline of the rights protection system and provided information on institutionalisation in her country.

The second panel included the participation of Mayda Ramos (Ombudsman’s Office, Peru), who presented the 150th Report of the Ombudsman’s Office on the situation of children that live in public residential assistance centers, where serious violations of their rights have been proved (available at RELAF's website); María Noel Miguez (UDELAR, Uruguay), who presented a piece of work on the “psychiatrisation” of institutionalised children; and Marisa Graham (SENNAF, Argentina), who, as an authority of the government, presented the advance of a national survey on children and adolescents in alternative care in Argentina, which is currently being carried out by the national government with the cooperation of UNICEF. According to the data showed by the authority, there are more than 13,000 children of all ages living in private and public institutions in this country.

After the plenary session, group discussions were carried out. Three discussion tables were formed: one of them was made up of representatives from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay; the second one, of diverse Peruvian actors; and the third one was formed by representatives from Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela, and was coordinated by RELAF.

Three conceptual axes were tackled: the protection and care institutions, the situation of the children that live in them and the existing policies to support families. The experts of each country provided all the information in relation to the axes and each group made recommendations that emerged from the preliminary analysis that came up from the group survey.

The existence of institutions that care for a large number of children and adolescents during long periods of time and the "naturalisation" of this situation by Latin American societies were of great worry during the consultation. This is also the case in relation with the poverty situation of the families of institutionalised children (poverty continues to be a cause of separation) and the lack of support policies for families to help them properly care for their children.

The consultancy meeting in Guatemala, in which the countries of Central America, Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic will take part, will be held on July 25 and 26. UNICEF Guatemala is in charge of the local organisation, in coordination with UNICEF's Regional Office.

Relaf continues working actively in order to accompany the study. We encourage the members of our network to get involved and contribute to the enrichment of the study, since this is undoubtedly an opportunity to improve the knowledge and to spread the worrying situation of children in residential care in our region. The questionnaires for the governments and the civil society are available at

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Training activity: “UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Strategies for their application.” in Lima, Peru.
June 2011

In the framework of the Sub-regional consultation meeting of the Study on the situation of institutionalised children in Latin America held in Lima, RELAF and UNICEF carried out a training activity on the Guidelines, in which the friendly version for adults and the child-friendly version that were produced by RELAF as part of a cooperation agreement with UNICEF-TACRO were presented. The activity included the participation of key actors of the rights protection system of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The workshop, which lasted four hours, was opened by Nadine Perrault (UNICEF) and Matilde Luna, who presented the document of the Guidelines, its principles and directions in relation with policy and practice.

María Sánchez Brizuela, who is RELAF's Management Benchmark, presented the friendly version for the personnel of public and private institutions, a guide of standards that provides orientation to their work with children and their families in the different moments and situations in which they have to intervene. She explained the process of production, validation and the contents of the guide, and also presented two first training experiences that were carried out with personnel of children’s institutions for the application of the material.

Likewise, Federico Kapustianky, who is RELAF's Cooperation Benchmark, presented the process of production, validation and the contents of the child-friendly version and an experience of its application with a group of adolescents.

After the presentation, the participants carried out discussion activities in groups, using working guidelines that allowed for the identification of the obstacles and facilitators for the application of the Guidelines in their countries. In this framework, the friendly versions were valued by the participants as important tools for the implementation of the UN document at national and local level.

A similar activity will be carried out by the RELAF team and UNICEF in the framework of the Consultation meeting for Central America.

  • Workshops with children and with the personnel of public and private entities.

The RELAF working team has previously carried out experiences of application of the friendly versions with the YMCA, the Ieladeinu Programme, Familias de la esperanza NGO, Soles en el camino NGO and La Casona de los Barriletes.

We would like to thank Nora Schulman, Executive Director of the Argentine Committee for the Monitoring of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, who facilitated the contact with some organisations, and Henry Chiroque, Coordinator for Save the Children Argentina, with whom we are planning the conduction of similar workshops.

  • The friendly versions and the guides for their application are available at

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Training activity in Guatemala: "Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Strategies for their application”
October - November 2010

In the framework of the Second Sub-Regional Consultation of the Study on the Situation of Institutionalised Childhood carried out in Guatemala, RELAF and UNICEF-TACRO were in charge of a day of trainings about the Guidelines, in which the friendly versions for operators, children and adolescents prepared by RELAF and UNICEF were presented.

40 key actors of the child protection systems of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Cuba and Costa Rica participated.

The workshop was opened by Nadine Perrault (UNICEF) and Matilde Luna who presented the document of the Guidelines and its practice and policy principles.

Sara González, Communications Director of the RELAF Project, presented the friendly version for operators, a guide of standards to help them orient their practices with children and their families in the different moments and situations in which they should intervene. She explained the process of preparation, validation and the contents of the guide of standards and also presented three experiences of the training of operators carried out until that moment (two in Argentina and one in Brazil).

Similarly, Mara Tissera Luna, Assistant of the RELAF Project, presented the process of preparation, validation and contents of the friendly version for children and the two experiences of application.

The two presentations were complemented with debates and group activities, in which decision-makers, experts and authorities of the civil society and the government analysed the material.

In their conclusions regarding the presentation of the friendly versions by the RELAF team, the participants evaluated the standards and the versions, as they considered these tools as an advance to be applied in all countries. Some of the comments included: “This tool saves us time and effort...”; “This has made us change the agenda...” (Dr. Lolis María Salas Montes, authority of the Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights of Honduras).

In regard to the presentation of the friendly versions for children, it was of great impact to hear the voices of the children who participated in the validation of the friendly version and in the workshop of application through the audiovisual testimonies. Extremely positive comments were received about the activities with children, among them “it is clear to the children what they need”; “we would save them a lot of pain if we just listened more closely” (Wilmer Vásquez from COIPRODEN, Network of Childhood Human Rights of Honduras).

Both the friendly versions and the guides of standards for their application are available at

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Event in Guatemala. Trans-border care for children: the right of children to family-based care through family preservation, national and international adoption.
September 2009

The Meeting took place in the city Antigua, Guatemala on September 7 and 8. It was an initiative by UNICEF (UNICEF Regional/ UNICEF Guatemala and UNICEF Nicaragua) and the Hague Conference on Private International Law, which jointly organised the event with the support of Guatemala’s Adoption Council and the cooperation of the Swedish International Development Agency.

Activities in Roatan, Honduras.

Representatives of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panamá, Dominican Republic and Cuba and international experts gathered at the event.

There were panels and workshops that tacked the following topics: preservation of the family of origin in the framework of the comprehensive protection system, protection alternatives (mainly foster care), and national and international adoptions.

Matilde Luna was invited as an expert to coordinate the workshop entitled “Protection Alternatives: Foster Care (Substitute Families)”. She made an initial exposition in order to provide a context for the issue and, thanks to, Laura Martínez Mora (HCCH) and Estuardo Sánchez’s (AECI) notes, important conclusions on this subject and its development in the region were obtained, since the different representatives explained their local realities. These conclusions also gather the challenges that the States face, which were registered in the Final Document of the event and represent a commitment to be followed up.

Although the principal axis of the Seminar was the improvement of national and internation adoption systems, the approach of the subsidiarity of the practices and, in particular, the subsidiarity of adoption were considered to be relevant: the stress on subsidiarity is fundamental to support the approach provided by the international instruments.

The need to have good programmes to strengthen the family of origin and foster care programmes that prevent the risk of institutionalisation is being incorporated in the legal frameworks and in the concrete experiences in all the countries of the region. The need to have national responses at all levels of execution of public policies for the protection of rights was highlighted; at this level, foster care becomes relevant since its practice is the result of the local placement of children under the care of families when there is no other option while a definitive solution is being decided.

It becomes evident from the presentations that the development of foster care programmes is uneven. The common challenges for the region are: to strengthen the temporary nature of the foster care measure so as to avoid “not very transparent” practices that lead to adoption; to call and recruit a bigger number of families; to have institutions prepared to take decisions in time, avoiding unnecessary delays. Costa Rica stands out in the organisation of programmes. Cuba states its discord, since its development of community- and family-based care is part of the socialist policy.

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Latin American Commemoration Meeting: “20 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Commitment of the States to the Construction of an Adolescent Citizenry". Buenos Aires, Argentina.
August 2009

During August, two Latin American events to commemorate the 20 years of the Approval of the CRC were carried out in Buenos Aires: the "Latin American Commemoration Meeting: 20 years of the Approval of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child", an initiative by DNI (Defense of Children International) in the framework of the Latin American Project of Juvenil Justice; and the Forum with Civil Society in anticipation of the 20th Pan-American Congress on Childhood and Adolescence organised by the OAS Department of International Affairs and the Inter-American Children's Institute, in which the CRC was one of the working axes.

The RELAF Project participated in both events. In the Meeting, as part of the Organising Committee and as coordinator of the Workshop for Youngsters. In the Forum, along with other 36 Latin American organisations, preparing a document with recommendations that will be distributed by the Department of International Affairs and the Inter-American Children's Institute to the Member States in the 20th Pan-American Congress.

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Caribbean Foster Care Network
April 2009

The Foundation Judiciary Institutes Windward Islands – FJIWI -, which is responsible for the protection of children and promotion of foster care in the Windward Islands (Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius), has undertaken the challenge of developing a Regional Foster Care Network.

During the Foster Care Regional Conference organised by FJIWI in Sint Maarten last April, in which RELAF Project Leader Matilde Luna participated as an outstanding speaker, the Foundation requested the support and collaboration of three organisations with the purpose of receiving guidance to start and develop its own project: RELAF (through Lic. Matilde Luna), Better Care Network (through Bep van Sloten) and IFCO (through Myrna McNitt). Having been selected for their distinguished track record and experience, they committed themselves to the development of this important project and will be the new network’s advisers.

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Trrainings in Roatán, Honuras

Buckner International held a training on foster care in Roatán Island, Honduras. This three-day activity was aimed at the directors and teams that lead and execute projects in Guatemala and Honduras. The Vice President, Randy Daniels, and the Director of Buckner, Leslie Chace, as well as the Director for Peru, Claudia León, and for Honduras, Sergio Ramos (who is also working in the Dominican Republic and Haiti) and Joe King, the President of Kids Matter International (an organisation linked to Buckner in Roatán), also participated. Besides, Matilde Luna was invited as key speaker.

The activity was started with the presentation of the projects that the organisation carries out in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the US in order to fulfil its mission. Afterwards, there were presentations and debates on foster care in Latin America and the right to community- and family-based care in the framework of the changes in public policies aimed at the protection of children's rights. The situation of children without parental care in Guatemala and Honduras was analysed, and the foster care project developed by Buckner in Peru was analysed and debated as well. All this knowledge and debates were contemplated to improve the strategy of the programmes of the organisation in order to improve them, remove obstacles and take on the challenges to increase the benefits for children for whom Buckner works.

Although foster care is its initial and central focal point of development, in addition to carrying out foster care programmes, Buckner has developed community centers in those countries that provide assistance for families and work with teens in the promotion of their autonomy. The organisation also condcuts missions with American people that carry out social tasks in Latin American countries.

We transcribe a summary of the evaluation of the activities made by the participants Frances Azzad, Director of Programmes in San Pedro Sula and Roatán, Amed Bendfeldt, Director of Missions and Humanitarian Aid for Buckner Guatemala, and Claudia León, Director of Buckner Peru:

"Besides the training we had, I consider the quality of the presentations as well as the value of the information we shared as excellent. The whole experience was very stimulating, and now I know that the technical team of Roatán is very motivated. I think that in the future (in Honduras), we will be able to take better advantage of these trainings, not only for professionals like psychologists and social workers, but also for key people such as members of the childhood courts, members of the Honduran Institute of Child Well-being…"

"It was very important to get to know everything the Peru team has made for foster care…Now, we have started the search for families for our children (in Guatemala)…so that will be very useful to us" … "These days in Roatán were very special…this meeting let us see once more that the love we feel for children is what leads us to join our forces and leads us at Buckner to make our programmes grow".

Besides the improvement of their visions, knowledge and abilities, during this event a fundamental objective was fulfilled: to strengthen those who undertake this difficult task with children and families every day by sharing their experiences in this beautiful exchange sphere.

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