Tracking Progress Initiative

Terms and Definitions




The act of deserting a child in conditions where there are no guarantees for his/her health, safety or welfare (see also ‘Relinquishment’). Abandonment can be voluntary or forced. Families of origin generally remain unknown.


The legal and definitive transfer of parental responsibility to persons other than the child’s biological parents, thus creating a new parent-child relationship. Consequently, adoption itself is not a form of alternative care (for children without parental care), and the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children no longer apply once the child is effectively placed in the custody of adoptive parents pursuant to a final adoption order. The Guidelines are applicable, however, to pre-adoption or probationary placement of a child with the prospective adoptive parents.

Alternative care

A formal or informal arrangement whereby a child is looked after at least overnight outside the parental home, either by decision of a judicial or administrative authority or duly accredited body, or at the initiative of the child, his/her parent(s) or primary caregivers, or spontaneously by a care provider in the absence of parents (Better Care Network Toolkit).

Authorised and non-authorised providers

All care providers ought to undergo or have undergone an assessment by a government agency or government authorised body to determine whether the quality of care is at least adequate. Providers that satisfy requirements will become authorised. Those that do not apply or do not satisfy requirements are non-authorised.

Best interests of the child

The child has the right to have his/her ‘best interests’ taken into account as a ‘primary consideration’ when decisions affecting the child are made by ‘public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies’ (MF, 24 and CRC Article 3.1).

Boarding Schools

A school providing residential accommodation for some or all of its pupils on a full or part-time basis during term time. In some contexts, boarding schools may be considered as institutions if children are placed there primarily for care purposes, as an alternative to an orphanage or children's home, and who do not have alternative accommodation out-with term time. (Better Care Network Toolkit).


A person with whom the child lives who provides daily care to the child, and who acts as the child’s ‘parent’ whether they are biological parents or not. A caregiver can be the mother or father, or another family member such as a grandparent or older sibling. It includes informal arrangements in which the caregiver does not have legal responsibility (Better Care Network Toolkit).

Care plan

A written document that identifies the aims for the child’s period of alternative care, the goals for the particular placement, actions required to achieve the stated aims and a timetable for actions and reviews of care.

Care provider

An organisation or individual who owns and/or operates one or more care facilities.

Case management

The process of providing assistance to a child and their family through support and referral to other services by professionals such as social workers or others.

Child care/day care

Where a child is cared for on a daily or less frequent basis in a service provided by a state or non-state agency or a professional carer.

Child protection

Preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children

Child protection system

The combination of laws, policies, structures, mechanisms and services required to prevent and respond to child maltreatment, exploitation and other violations of the child’s fundamental rights.

Children without parental care

‘All children not in the overnight care’ (Guidelines, para 29.a) of both or one of their parents as a result of ‘the parents general inability or unwillingness to provide adequate care’ (Guidelines, para 30.c).

Complaints processes

Mechanisms for formal complaints so that children in alternative care can report infringements of their rights including abuse and exploitation.

Corporal punishment

Corporal punishment (and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment). The Committee on the rights of the Child has defined ‘corporal’ or ‘physical’ punishment as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting but it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion. In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading. In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment which are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child.

Shortened version of the definition provided by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006) GENERAL COMMENT No.8 (2006) CRC/C/GC/- The right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment (articles 19, 28(2) etc).

Guidelines para 96 also reaffirms that closed or solitary confinement constitutes torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and must be strictly prohibited in line with international human rights law.


‘Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’ Article 1, Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Emergency placement

The necessary placement of a child in alternative care at very short notice, with little or no time to prepare the child or to consider immediately other options that might correspond more closely to the child’s best interests.

Emergency situations

Conditions arising ‘from natural and man-made disasters, including international and non-international armed conflicts, as well as foreign occupation.’ (Guidelines, para 153).

Faith based organisations

Non-governmental organisations that explicitly derive their aims and ethos from a religious faith.

Family support

A descriptor of policies, services and programmes designed to help children to remain in, or return to, their families of origin by giving practical, social and/or emotional support to parents, the family as a whole or child-headed households.

For Profit Organisation

An organisation that seeks to make a financial surplus that is retained by its owner(s) or shareholders.

Formal alternative care

‘All care provided in a family environment which has been ordered by a competent administrative body or judicial authority, and all care provided in a residential environment, including in private facilities, whether or not as a result of administrative or judicial measures.’ Guidelines, para 29. b.ii).

Formal carers

Residential care staff (excluding auxiliary staff) and approved foster carers, including relatives acting as formal kinship carers who are recognised by the alternative care system.

Formal family-based care

All care provided in the domestic environment of a family which has been ordered by a competent administrative body or judicial authority (derived from Guidelines, paras 29.b.ii and 29.c.ii). Foster care and formal kinship care are two types of formal family-based care.

Foster care

‘Situations where children are placed by a competent authority for the purpose of alternative care in the domestic environment of a family other than the children’s own family that has been selected, qualified, approved and supervised for providing such care’ (Guidelines, para 29.c.ii).


The systematic assessment, rigorous screening and shared decision-making by authorised bodies to ensure that a child is admitted to alternative care only when necessary (Moving Forward, p68).


An arrangement whereby a court or other legal body transfers many parental rights and responsibilities from the original parents of a child to another individual or body, temporarily or throughout childhood. It may or may not involve the child being in the day-to-day care of the guardian.

Health conditions

Physical or mental health conditions which affect the child.

Informal alternative care

‘Any private care arrangement provided in a family environment, whereby the child is looked after on an ongoing or indefinite basis by relatives or friends (informal kinship care) or by others in their individual capacity, at the initiative of the child, his/her parents or other person without this arrangement having been ordered by an administrative or judicial authority or a duly accredited body’ (Guidelines, para 29.b.i).


Scheduled or unannounced visits by authorised and qualified personnel to assess the compliance of care providers with relevant standards and that should include ‘discussion with and observation of the staff and the children’ (Guidelines, para 128 and 129).


The Guidelines do not define ‘institutions’ but a mention under para. 23 equates them with ‘large residential care facilities.’ The NGO Working Group on Children without Parental Care has proposed the following basic characteristics to distinguish institutional care from other forms of residential care: ‘Residential care settings where children are looked after in any public or private facility, staffed by salaried carers or volunteers working pre-determined hours/shifts, and based on collective living arrangements, with a large capacity.’ The Working Group also underlined ‘that it is primarily the “nature of the care regime” such as whether it is family like, whether caregivers are in a family environment or staff working in shifts, or whether there is a low caregiver to child ratio, that distinguishes institutional care from other forms of residential care, as opposed to solely relying on size. While size is commonly an indicator of an institutional environment, small care setting can still be institutional in nature.’ (Identifying Basic Characteristics of Formal Alternative Care Settings for Children: Discussion Paper of the NGO Working Group on Children without Parental Care, Geneva, 2012, pp.14-15).

International NGO

A non-governmental not-for-profit agency that operates in more than one country.


Different types of institutions providing education and care, such as educational facilities for children with special needs or auxiliary schools for children with disabilities (see 'Boarding Schools' above). In the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Region, and in many parts of the world, facilities described as ‘boarding schools’, ‘internats’, or ‘hostels’ share many of the characteristics of residential care, and children in such facilities share similar experiences to other children in residential/institutional care. Some children in such facilities may return to communities and families regularly but others may not.


A form of family based care used in Islamic societies that does not involve a change in kinship status, but does allow an unrelated child, or a child of unknown parentage, to receive care, legal protection and inheritance (Better Care Network Toolkit).

Leaving care

The fact of a child being discharged from the formal alternative care system in order to re-join his/her family, be placed in kinship care or with an adoptive family, or because he/she has reached the official upper age limit for being in such care.

Local government

Public bodies responsible for providing children’s services at sub-national level, e.g. municipalities, communes, counties, and local authorities, but according to requirements set by a higher authority (see also provincial government).

National government

denotes the primary body responsible for law making, finance and services applicable to the whole of a country (nation state).

National NGO

A non-governmental and not-for- profit agency, which operates only within all or part of a single country. NGOs may also be referred to as voluntary or charitable organisations.

National standards

Approved minimum standards for care provision which are to be adhered to by all care providers and their employees and which are used to monitor care provision through inspection and other means

Para social workers

Staff who are supervised by professionals, particularly in situations where systems and services do not have sufficient professional staff.


Planning for ‘permanence’ is applied to the child’s eventual reintegration in his/her family or to formal family-based placements or adoption that are deemed to provide on-going stability for a child in a family setting.

Permanent placements

Permanent placements are those intended to last for the remainder of a child’s childhood and perhaps into early adulthood.


The process of arranging for a child to enter informal or formal alternative care and/or the setting in which such care is provided. Admission to alternative care happens when a decision is made by a court or legally valid equivalent (e.g. children’s hearing or panel) that the admission must happen. Parents or the child cannot stop the admission without penalty, though may have a right of appeal.


Sources of evidence based on surveys of the opinions, approaches and experiences of those concerned


Sources of evidence are those that are in numerical form (statistics)


A formal process whereby every actual or prospective care provider is required to notify a specified government agency or government authorised body of its activity and to provide evidence of compliance to agreed standards of care.


The processes entailed for a child or young person to be able to readjust to living with their family and in their home community after a period in alternative care.


An act whereby children are purposely surrendered by their families into the care of a third party, whether that care is foreseen on a temporary or permanent basis (see also ‘Abandonment’).


A general term indicating payment of money to carers. In relation to residential care it refers to the earnings of staff. With respect to foster care, remuneration has often been confined to compensation for expenditure on the child’s food, clothing, education, health care and recreation. In some instances, it also encompasses a salary, wage or fee for the carers.

Residential care

Care provided in any non-family-based group setting, such as places of safety for emergency care, transit centres in emergency situations, and all other short- and long-term residential care facilities, including group homes;(Guidelines, para 29.c.iv)

Separated children

Children who ‘are separated from both parents or from their previous legal or customary primary caregiver, but not necessarily from other relatives’ (UNHCR Guidelines on Determining the Best Interests of the Child, p. 8)

Short-, medium- and long-term placements

It has been common practice to distinguish the planned or actual length of a child’s placement using these three broad categories, though they have been defined variously. Usually, short term means up to a few months, long term a matter of years and medium term in between.

Social workers

Professionals who are suitably qualified according to professional standards and who provide, among other things, family support, advice on the initial and continuing placement of children in alternative care, and ensure assistance to children leaving an alternative care placement.


The stages and processes that occur as a child changes placement and/or a child leaves formal alternative care, e.g. preparation of the child and relevant family members and significant others, assistance with reintegration or moving on, and continued availability of support after the child has left care

Unaccompanied children

Children ‘who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so’ (UNHCR Guidelines on Determining the Best Interests of the Child, p. 8)

Vetting of staff and carers

Assessing the suitability of applicants to work in a formal alternative care setting, such as by obtaining medical certificates, character references and checks on criminal records.

Voluntary admission

Entry into a formal alternative care setting with the consent of the parents, legal guardians and/or the child concerned.