Gatekeeping refers to the decision-making processes and procedures that are put into place to prevent unnecessary family separation and to ensure that when separation does occur, each placement decision is based on the best interests of each child.

Gatekeeping follows two key principles:

  1. The necessity principle: Make sure that alternative placement is genuinely needed before removing a child from his or her family, and never place a child in residential care unless necessary (seek appropriate alternative family care first).
  2. The suitability principle: Always seek to match the approach to care and the placement decision to the individual circumstances and needs of the child.

Gatekeeping relies on careful assessment and individualized case management to inform decision-making processes at multiple points:

  • Before family separation: assessing the circumstances to determine what needs to happen, preventing separation through the provision of services when possible and appropriate.
  • After family separation: assessing whether supported family reunification is possible and if not, determining the best alternative care options for each child with preference given to family care.
  • After placement in residential care and during the transition process: assessing and determining the best placement options.

How gatekeeping is managed—that is, who is engaged and in what ways—will look different depending on national policies and local practice. In some countries, gatekeeping may involve a judicial process through which a legal placement decision is made. In other contexts, and especially those where a government-mandated system is not yet in place, gatekeeping may be overseen by allied professionals or trained paraprofessionals. No matter what the context, gatekeeping should always be a group process that is informed by thorough assessment and the active participation of children, families, and key stakeholders. Gatekeeping should always consider which placement option offers the greatest chance of permanency, with preference given to reunification with a child’s family of origin, and to keeping sibling groups together whenever possible.

Making Decisions for the Better Care of Children: The Role of Gatekeeping in Strengthening Family-Based Care Focuses on the role of gatekeeping in strengthening family care and reforming alternative care systems, and reviews different approaches to gatekeeping. (Better Care Network)

Webinar & Podcasts

Gatekeeping Explores effective methods for identifying families at risk of separation, and describes the Active Family Support model proven to be effective in improving the wellbeing of children by preventing their separation from parents or enabling them to return to their birth families. (Christian Alliance for Orphans)

A Conversation with the Better Care Network on Gatekeeping Florence Martin with the Better Care Network breaks down the steps needed in effective gatekeeping to ensure appropriate family placements. (Faith to Action Initiative)

A Conversation with ACCI Relief on Gatekeeping Rebecca Nhep with ACCI Relief explores important considerations for gatekeeping practices to secure appropriate family placements for children. She highlights practical examples of gatekeeping from faith-based organizations in Southeast Asia and Lesotho that promote positive family placements for children leaving residential care. (Faith to Action Initiative)