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Fairstart enjoyed successfully presenting and participating for three exciting days at the International Alternative Care Conference in Geneva October 3rd to 5th, which gathered more than 400 professionals and government representatives from 76 countries.

The main theme of the conference was deinstitutionalisation and the challenge of moving children out of institutions and have them integrated into foster families, reintegrated with biological parents or adopted. The global idea that children’s homes are damaging for placed children and youth is so strong, that many organisations work intensely to place children in foster care with such haste that it sometimes is more damaging than beneficial for the children. The reason is that parents, foster parents, social workers, child psychiatrists and other professionals are not sufficiently supported and educated, creating a lack of transition monitoring systems. The unwillingness of many governments to finance training and education adds to these challenges.

As the only participant at this conference, Fairstart could present specific and concrete tools for training of caregivers, foster parents and all the social workers that operate on a daily basis with vulnerable families and children without parental care. Therefore, our poster attracted a crowd during the poster sessions. Clearly, most NGOs and governments lack practical and universal training tools and need well-tested free training programmes that are applicable in local cultures, and simultaneously are setting high standards for knowledge and practices of attachment based care principles.

The fact that SOS Children’s Villages Denmark has requested a partnership where Fairstart will produce training programmes for four African countries, in Swahili and Kinyarwanda further added to the interest. Several representatives from other countries asked for similar cooperation and the online instructor training.

Senior Adviser in UNICEF International and panel member at the conference, Jean-Claude Legrand stressed that the support and education existing for fosterparent and institution staff are by and large insufficient, and he pointed out the problem of moving children into other placement forms without ensuring that the new circumstances are significantly better and more stable than the conditions from which the children come.

Also, Niels Peter Rygaard from Fairstart stressed in the ensuing plenary debate: much research indicates that the type of placement is not as important for successful child development and educational success as the quality of care. Children who grow up in long term relations with stable and educated caregivers and are offered long term bonds with a peer group tend to become more intelligent and less vulnerable in adult life, whereas children in unsupported foster care and adoptive families have high risks in these respects.

Even though our first instructor education is about group care (there are still some eight million children and youth in institutional care), our first priority at the moment is naturally to develop an online instructor education for training foster carers. We ask interested parties to be patient – we want to make sure that instructors in foster care get the best possible instrument for creating care quality in alignment with the guidelines for alternative care. Gathering research, testing and designing the education is a complex process – we do our best to meet demands.