Key Steps in Transitioning to Family Care

A transition to family care requires time, careful planning, effective management, and thoughtful tailoring to the needs of individual children and families. It is a transformation to a new way of conducting business and interacting with a community. Transition is a collaborative process that engages children and families, residential care staff, government officials, local service providers, community members, donors, and other stakeholders.

Multiple factors determine a transition’s time frame, including the causes of family separation, ability to trace children’s families, availability of alternative family placements and support services, appropriate staffing, and funding. The process does not end with placement in families but continues with follow-up to ensure that children are safe and well cared for and that families have access to the support services they need. Although the process can sometimes take more than several years, anything worth doing for children is worth doing well. Ensuring the long-term wellbeing of children and families is at the heart of every transition process, and an important aspect of this is assessing their strengths and needs while supporting their participation in the decisions impacting their lives.

While every situation is unique and many factors will vary according to circumstances and context, transitioning from residential to family care typically includes the following steps. These steps are interrelated and do not necessarily take place linearly:

  • Understanding the primary causes of child separation;
  • Assessing international, national, and local contexts that inform transition to family care;
  • Raising awareness about family care with key stakeholders;
  • Developing a clear vision for your model of family care;
  • Developing a new business plan to sustain the transition process;
  • Cultivating partnerships with individuals and organizations that provide child and family support services;
  • Developing an individualized care plan for each child;
  • Tracing each child’s birth family to determine if reunification is possible;
  • Recruiting and preparing families along the continuum of care (e.g., kinship care, foster care, adoption);
  • Preparing and transitioning each child into an appropriate placement option; and
  • Monitoring children and families to ensure their needs are being met.

Three core elements within any transition process are (1) gatekeeping to prevent inappropriate placement into residential care, (2) family strengthening to ensure the availability of services addressing the causes of family separation, and (3) a continuum of care that provides a range of options to meet the individual needs of children.

Transitioning to Family Care for Children: A Guidance Manual Provides practical guidance and tools for churches, faith-based organizations, donors, and others who are transitioning care for children away from residential care to care within families. Includes a section on preparing an organization for change, raising awareness to bring others along, and planning for transition. (Faith to Action Initiative)

Changing Mindsets and Practice: Engaging Christian Faith-Based Actors in Deinstitutionalisation and Child Welfare Systems Reforms Provides insight into what “deinstitutionalization” might look like and what steps and processes and people might be involved. Contains a brief overview of the technical stages, and guidance through the process of achieving buy-in. (ACCI Relief)

10 Steps Forward to Deinstitutionalization: Building Communities to Support Children’s Rights Covers an introduction to deinstitutionalization, building community awareness, understanding policy context, planning and managing goals, alternative care options, individual care of children, transitioning, building capacity, budgeting, and monitoring the process. (Terre des hommes and Hope for Himalayan Kids)

Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration Includes guidance on stages of reintegration, case management process, working with family, post-reunification support and monitoring, and reintegration within the wider continuum for child protection. (Family for Every Child)

Better Care Network Toolkit Supports practitioners/policy makers in planning for and delivering better care for children who require out of home placement. Includes practical guides and manuals on topics such as policies required to support a quality care system and practice guidance and tools for the delivery of alternative care.

Webinars & Podcasts

Strategies and Resources for Transition to Family-Based Care Presents insights from experts in advocacy, research, and hands-on experience who provide helpful information for faith-based organizations to use as they transition from residential care to care within families. (Christian Alliance for Orphans)

A Conversation with Hope and Homes for Children on Transitioning to Family Care Dr. Delia Pop with Hope and Homes for Children provides helpful information for organizations transitioning children’s care away from residential care to care within families. She provides an overview of the key concepts and steps that are important to a successful transition process. (Faith to Action Initiative)

A Conversation with Buckner International on Transitioning to Family Care Randy Daniels with Buckner International reflects on Buckner’s experience with transition to family care and lessons learned on an organizational and community-based level. (Faith to Action Initiative)

A Conversation with Family for Every Child on Reintegration: Part 1  & Part 2 Emily DeLap with Family for Every Child provides a substantial overview of the cross-cutting principles for successful reintegration and what needs to be in place for healthy reunification of children with their families.

More Resources

Guidance for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Programming Seeks to aid teams in identifying and implementing appropriate, evidence-based, and cost-effective activities that will maximize improvement in the wellbeing of vulnerable children in the HIV and AIDS epidemic and close gaps in past programming efforts. (U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief)

Kinnected FAQs Provides background to help faith-based organizations engage in deinstitutionalization and provide noninstitution services for children, outlines the process and stages of the process for organizational change, and features lessons learned. (ACCI Relief)

Planning the Deinstitutionalization of Children under 3: Guide of Contributions and Examples from Residential Care Institutions Experiences Includes a useful chronological look at the RELAF deinstitutionalization project in Chile, including assessment, human resources and restructuring spaces, case-by-case work and development of alternative care, and evaluation. Examples from other countries in Latin America are also included. (RELAF)

Deinstitutionalizing and Transforming Children’s Services: A Guide to Good Practice Includes sections on countering resistance to deinstitutionalization, strategic planning for transformation, the process of analysis and assessment of need, planning resources, transferring children and staff, timescales, and monitoring. (European Commission Daphne Program)

Guidelines and Programming Options for Protecting Vulnerable Children in Community-based Care and Support Programs: Child Protection Toolkit Manual 3 Includes a section on planning and developing child protection strategies and intervention from responsive to remedial to preventative and including child participation, life skills programming, increasing family capacity, strengthening livelihoods, and supporting alternative care. (FHI 360)

Deinstitutionalization and Quality Alternative Care for Children in Europe: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward Aims to raise awareness of the negative effects of institutionalization on children and calls for comprehensive system reforms, starting with a transition toward family- and community-based care. (Eurochild and Hope and Homes for Children)

Becoming a Safe Organization for Children Contains a set of guidelines and tools to develop and put into practice policies and procedures to protect the children served from harm. It is intended for staff responsible for developing and implementing child protection policy and procedures. (FHI 360)