The 5th Biennial International Conference on Alternative Care for Children in Asia (BICON) will take place over two days, on 6-7th September 2023, in Kathmandu, Nepal.
This event will be hosted both in person and online, with practitioners, government representatives, academicians, and young people with lived experience of care coming together to discuss regional and national challenges, best practices and explore emerging trends related to alternative care reform and children’s rights in Asia.
More than 300 delegates from across the globe will participate in a series of plenaries and panel discussions, with opportunities for informal networking. A final report will feature recommendations for action that reflect the conference discussions.
Previously hosted by Udayan Care and now delivered by, most importantly, young people as experts with lived experience as well as a coalition of organisations consisting of Better Care Network; Family for Every Child; Forget Me Not, Hope and Homes for Children; Lumos; Save the Children; SOS Children’s Villages; Udayan Care. BICON has SAIEVAC as technical partners.
BICONs are conceived as a regional advocacy platform to bring stakeholders working on child and youth care together for sharing, learning and connecting. The BICON 2023 is an essential event for stakeholders to collaborate to drive regional care reform and encourage governments to prioritise this topic. The conference will directly cement Asia’s place in the global debates around the rights of the child, children in alternative care, care reform and related topics with the lived experiences of those who have experienced care at its heart.
The 5th BICON is a free event. Registration is essential.
In Chitwan last month, care-experienced children and young people and more than forty participants from a number of organisations came together to share their collective wisdom at a group workshop, supported by the Martin James Foundation.
The organisations were:
Ichchhakamana Rural Municipality
National Child Rights Council
The Himalayan Innovative Society
Forget Me Not
Hope and Homes for Children
Alternative Care Working Group
The workshop focused on building a common understanding of child protection in Nepal, and creating a values-aligned action plan for care reform.
We also covered an overview of family and community-based alternative care for children and the current foster care provisions in Nepal, and discussed resource allocation for alternative care services.
What was discussed?
At the workshop, the National Child Rights Council explained their current process for and future plans to develop and invest in family and community-based alternative care services rather than using institutions like orphanages.
“When a child is safe in family, when their academic performance improves, when the environment inside their home is thriving, that is the true sign of development.” Ms. Namuna Bhusal, Child Protection Manager, National Child Right Council
Participants also discussed Nepal’s national and international child rights commitments (UNCRC, Children’s Act 2018 & Implementation Guidelines) and the National Child Rights Council plan to appoint Child Welfare Officers in all 753 municipalties by the end of the current Nepali fiscal year.
“When municipalities merge, then a Province is born. Therefore, municipality is supreme in the decision making in all aspects of safeguarding and child protection.” Mr. Gopal Prasad Kandel, Head of Social Department, Bagmati Province
Together, we considered the root causes of family separation, why children may be in need of special protection, and alternative care options for children, including kinship care, foster care, supervised individual living and residential care.
“When a child is safe in family, when their academic performance improves, when the environment inside their home is thriving, that is the true sign of development.” Ms. Namuna Bhusal, Child Protection Manager, National Child Right Council
After the workshop, we all had a deeper understanding of the Principles of Necessity and Suitability (the fundamental principles of alternative care), the concept of foster care,the roles of stakeholders and the responsibilities of local governments and national and provincial child rights committees councils to drive for reform.
“Family is the base for the holistic development of children. The concept of Foster Care is to provide a family to a guardian-less child.” Mr. Kapil Aryal, Legal expert
Social security schemes were discussed as one strategy to strengthen families, prevent the institutionalisation of children, and cultivate child friendly municipalities.
Our joint 10 Point Participant Pledge
We made a 10 Point Participant Pledge following the workshop, to ensure we had a clear plan of action to move forward with in the future. This was:
Pilot and promote family and community based alternative care in the two municipalities.
Understand and implement existing laws and policies of Nepal – Children’s Act 2018 and implementation guidelines – to protect and safeguard children’s rights.
Listen to care experiences from children and young people in order to make better decisions for the most vulnerable children in our communities.
Prioritise the transition of two municipality-led institutions and focus on the reintegration of remaining children into families and alternative care where possible.
Establish Foster Care Advisory Committee.
Update National Child Rights Council website to include detailed information about children’s homes in Nepal to inform local level planning, decision-making and resource allocations by municipalities.
Increase the number of child/youth members of municipality Child Rights Committees.
Fast track municipality work plan development and appoint Child Welfare Officers.
Improve case management and individual care plans (including children’s socialisation plan) of children in care.
Reflect and share foster care best practices.
“This has been an opportunity to learn and improve ourselves. There are a lot of things that has to be done legally and today you have shown us that the legal way is the right way.” Ms. Maya Silwal, Vice President, Ichchhakamana Rural Municipality
We would like to say thank you to all the participants at the workshop for their input and commitment. We look forward to working together to drive for care reform in Nepal.
In Nepal, there are 489 registered orphanages, housing 11,350 children.
How many children could be living in family-based care? How many children are living in orphanages that are not registered or flying under the radar? From over 60 years of international research, we know that children who grow up in institutions such as the orphanage modelofcare experience more physical, emotional and psychological issues throughout their lives – it’s why Forget Me Not Australia exists.
Forget Me Not Australia aims to bring about awareness of the issues of orphanages in developing countries, like Nepal.
They also provide support to reunite children with family, whether they are parents or extended family that can care for them.
Research also tells us that more than 85 per cent – potentially up to 97 per cent – of the children living in these residential institutions are not orphans and have both or one living parent.
We know that these children come from families living in poverty, who cannot access education or have disabilities due to the family’s inability to access resources.
The children are often trafficked into orphanages and used to generate funds through well-meaning donations, volunteering, mission-based work and tourist trips.
When children leave these institutions at 16, they have no ties to their original communities or connections with their families.
They are subjected to homelessness and their future opportunities are limited.
Forget Me Not works with local Nepalese governments and fosters partnerships to support children who have been trafficked to be able to return to their communities.
They also work to support children and young people to reintegrate into their families in safe and effective ways.
They provide the family with resources to engage in education and look forward to better outcomes not only for themselves but for the often remote communities they live in.
Forget Me Not conducts groundbreaking work to change how support is provided to children who have been exploited through modern-day slavery and used for orphanage tourism and for-profit organisations.
In 2009, Forget Me Not changed its model and began to deliver a three-year model of support on a child-by-child case to ensure that the child is given adequate and individualised support to return to family care.
The organisation works in partnership with the local government to identify children trafficked into these institutions and works with them to provide a service that includes housing them in a transitional home, where they can help locate family members who can care for them.
They provide education, medical care, psychosocial support, nutritious food, and attentive and dedicated caretakers.
After the child is safe, the next step is to support the child to rebuild relationships with their family, with a plan of reunification and reconnection that centres on the child’s needs and ensures their safety at each step.
CEO of Forget Me Not, Ms Andrea Nave, said: “We believe that every child has the right to be connected to family, community, and opportunities.
“We want to ensure that the support given to each child returning home reflects that child’s unique and individual needs and it’s done in the safest way possible.
“Many complex issues form how we support each child. Some children need more time to reintegrate into the family home,” Ms Nave added.
“The average age of children when they come into contact with us is between 8 – 12 years old with varying amounts of time that they have been away from their families, and we want to make sure that it’s done in the child’s timeframe and with their support needs being the top priority.” Ms Nave continued.
Ms Nave said she is very proud of the work being done on the ground and with the local employees.
“We hire only local people to support our mission on the ground, most of them being women and a high portion being people who have gone through similar experiences,” she added.
Organisations like Forget Me Not, and the diverse network they work alongside, raise awareness for children’s rights to be in family-based care to ensure they have the best opportunity to thrive by investing in innovative initiatives that keep children within their families and communities.
Ms Nave said that the cost of returning a child home safely, under their current 3-year model, is $3,000.
Over the next two years, Forget Me Not, in partnership with the Martin James Foundation, Hope and Homes for Children and The Himalayan Innovative Society will focus on developing a model of community-owned foster care in Nepal.
They aim to demonstrate that foster care can be a part of the solution to keep children in families instead of institutions and they will establish pilot foster care programs based on legal frameworks and the child protection needs of two municipalities, one being semi-urban and the other being more rural.
The models developed through this project will be documented and assessed to inform scale-up and replication in other areas of the country.
“Children’s right to alternative care is a fundamental human right,” Ms Nave added.
“Foster care is one of the solutions to give a child a family, a community, and a strong sense of belonging. This partnership will create a solution for Nepal’s most vulnerable children, who need love, care, and protection.”
This two-year project will focus on developing a model of community-owned foster care in Nepal (Children’s Act 2018 Section 49 b & c) and has been made possible because of the groundwork already undertaken by HHC, THIS, FMN, and the local government in Nepal. MJF is thrilled to join this collaboration of organisations to build on the impactful work and support further progress.
In Nepal, there are currently 11,350 children growing up in residential care in 489 registered Child Care Homes (CCHs) across the country, but there is a strong momentum for care reform and deinstitutionalisation (DI) with interest and commitment from the Government.
Since 2019, HHC has been implementing a pilot project in Nepal in collaboration with local partners Forget Me Not and The Himalayan Innovative Society. During this time, they have made significant progress building political will, momentum and know-how for care reform and have facilitated the reintegration of 193 children with their families or in kinship care, supported with the closure of institutions, and made progress on the gatekeeping provision.
The project will partner with two municipalities in Chitwan District to establish pilots of foster care based on legal frameworks and the child protection needs of each area. One area (Madi Municipality) is semi-urban, and the other is more rural (Ichchhakamana Rural Municipality) so the project will be able to consider the different approaches that may be required in such contexts.
Through this project, we intend to demonstrate that foster care can be a part of the solution to keep children in families instead of institutions. The models developed through the project, and the process through which they are created, will be documented and assessed to inform scale-up and replication in other areas of the country.
“Children’s right to alternative care is a fundamental human right. Foster care is one of the solutions to give a child a family, a community, and a strong sense of belonging. This partnership will create a solution for the most vulnerable children in Nepal, in need of love, care, and protection. We are excited! Thank you Martin James Foundation and Hope and Homes for Children.”
CEO,Forget Me Not Australia
“At Hope and Homes for Children, we have been developing successful foster care projects for many years, in countries such as Romania, Rwanda, Moldova and Bosnia. We know that having well-piloted systems to care for children who have been separated from their biological parents is the key to catalysing lasting change. That’s why we’re so excited to start this pilot, our first in Asia, with FMN, THIS and MJF. We look forward to working together to build on our combined learning so that we can make meaningful progress toward eliminating orphanages across the region.”
CEO,Hope and Homes for Children
“Institutional care can result in lasting developmental challenges for children. The opportunity to grow up in a family should be available to all children and young people. We are honoured to be embarking on this project with our partners to develop a system of family-based care for children in Nepal who are unable to remain with their parents.”
Director of Global Programmes,Martin James Foundation
“In Nepal, we have ancient stories of foster care told since the times of Gods and Goddesses. Foster care is a great example of preserving the essence of family and love. Now it is time to invest our efforts for children in need of further parental care through foster care. We are excited to start this wonderful journey of beautiful opportunities for children with Martin James Foundation, Forget Me Not, and Hope and Homes for Children.”
Child Protection Coordinator,The Himalayan Innovative Society
For more information about this partnership, please contact
Better Care Network, Family for Every Child, Forget Me Not, Hope and Homes for Children, Lumos, Udayan Care, Save the Children and SOS Children’s Villages are proud to share the 2021 BICON Conference Report.
BICON 2021 was an opportunity for government and intergovernmental representatives, civil society organisations, practitioners, academics and most importantly care experienced young people to come together and discuss the most pressing issues regarding children’s care in Asia. With a focus on implementation, practitioners shared examples of innovation, highlighted promising practices, and showcased local solutions to challenges faced by countries across Asia. Key themes of the presentations and discussions included:
Tackling unnecessary separation, which included a focus on family strengthening, disability inclusion, and prevention of separation measures for children on the move and in emergency contexts.
Family-based alternative care, which included an examination of the need for and role of specialized foster care for children with disabilities and complex support needs, the central role of informal kinship care in ensuring family-based care, and the importance of developing and expanding community-based foster care services.
Quality care, which included a focus on what quality care looks like, its characteristics, and what it means and requires for governments and service providers to ensure all forms of care meet the characteristics of quality care.
Children with disabilities, which included a focus on tackling social attitudes and discrimination, inclusive approaches to care reform and deinstitutionalization and ensuring children with disabilities can reclaim their right to be part of family and community.
Social service workforce development, which took stock of trends in social welfare workforces across Asia, and examined community and cultural approaches to child protection and safeguarding, the role of community leaders and local level social service personnel in supporting children, and considerations for the social services workforce in supporting aftercare.
Perspectives of care experienced young people, which unpacked the challenges faced by young people leaving care in regions across Asia, including during the pandemic, the role of Care Leaver Networks, and the critical importance of addressing mental health issues faced by care experienced young people and ensuring adequate access to mental health services.
Global dimensions, which brought together the perspectives of youth researchers involved in the 2021 Day of General Discussion and global child protection specialists, and focused on listening to the voices of children and young people and working with them to implement recommendations and progress reforms.
The final closing session was an opportunity to reflect on all the discussions that had transpired over the course of the 2021 BICON, and to turn to the future and consider the next steps and implications for country-level systems reforms, building regional momentum, and maintaining an ongoing global discussion.
The Report is filled with challenges, recommendations, session summaries, speaker bios and more! CLICK HERE to read the Report online or download your copy today.
TODAY is Care Day 2022, the world’s biggest celebration of children and young people with care experience! Our team celebrate the rights of care experienced children and young people every day and TODAY we celebrated this joint initiative between five children’s rights charities across the UK and Ireland: the 5 Nations 1 Voice alliance of Become (England), EPIC (Ireland), VOYPIC (Northern Ireland), Voices from Care (Wales) and Who Cares? Scotland.
We stand with this alliance and their vision of a world where the childhoods of children and young people in care allow them to thrive and achieve their dreams so that they go on to have fulfilling futures that they are proud of.
Our team in Nepal spent some precious time together on Valentine’s Day reflecting on some of the significant reasons they love their work, their colleagues and their workplace. You can read their feelings as hand written on their paper hearts OR scroll down for the typed words.
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“Thank you for trusting me.”
“When my Team says Dear Brave Ros well done then I feel appreciated. You Team are the Change Maker Star Children that words are motivating for me.”
“Life is too short not to be loved by your team. Love is when your colleague proposes you with problems and you respond back with solutions.”
“It feels amazing to work in such a positive environment where everyone’s opinion matters. The statement ‘we appreciate all your hard work & dedication that has made this team’ boost my energy to work harder.”
“We are like the glue that holds this team together. Without each individual I am like a gypsy. Thank you for ma and every individual special. Feels blessed.”
“I love showing up every morning because every day is so fulfilling. My opinions are counted, my work is appreciated and everything here is done with love and compassion. I am so grateful. I guess this is what ‘Dream Team’ is made up of :)”
“The secret to a happy workplace is having awesome team. Thank you. I am known to be cool and smart. I am grateful to be in THIS family. Best wishes on Valentine’s Day to the Dream Team. Wishing you good times with your loved ones.”
“I feel encouraged and motivated every time I come to office!!! Thank you!!”
“Dear Dream Team members,
It is the day I wanted to thank your all your love, kindness, respect, care and fraternity and pay back the same feeling to you all saying ‘you all deserve a huge heart of humanity!!! :)”
“Team members describe me as a decent & hardworking person. So I feel very lucky to be part of the beautiful team.”
“Motivation is the another meaningful name of life. ‘Good thing I learned from our lovely Rija Mam’. As per the quotes THIS-FMN family always motivate and inspire us in our each and every work we did that can be small or big not only in our success but also at some point when we fault do any task or we make mistakes then instead of taking it in a bad way team always inspire us to do better. Such behaviour from team always inspire me to learn more and to perform more better.”
“Don’t worry we are family and you will do it.” Which is appreciative me during hopeless.”
After a very long time of communicating with most of our children virtually, I was able to discuss with them their return to school. All schools reopened on 10 January 2022 and all students except those who had completed candidate classes started from the next class. This means that children who were in senior two (S.2) started from senior three. This is due to available classes unable to handle the number of students who had been in the same class for two years.
Unfortunately, schools opened at a time when we have the highest numbers of Covid-19 cases in the country.
For the last two weeks or so, reports have been showing rapidly increasing cases on a daily basis even though many people are not captured by these statistics as they have not been tested. I personally know about 5 families of my friends who have all been treating Covid-19. We are still lucky though that the Omicron variant is not as deadly as the previous two, people are able to heal.
I managed to visit most of our children and spend time with them in person.
Some I was unable to meet with in person though did manage to talk with them about their education via phone calls. Meeting our children physically was quite interesting as all of them have actually grown in size! Little Carlos, Reagan, Timothy, Abu and Steven have all grown so much. All of the children were excited to be back at school and already looking forward to reporting back to me about how they are going.
From the day the President announced the reopening of schools, I received calls all day and night from a boy or girl somewhere reminding me about school requirements. They are so excited to be back at school finally.
I have been receiving many messages from guardians and schools about the new term. I am working closely with schools to reorient the children back into school life as I noticed some children had become quite comfortable with life outside of school and enjoying it a little too much! This phenomenon is not limited to only these children, the whole country is facing the same challenge.
Given the two years of school closures, our students began the year as if they were new students. All had grown out of their school uniforms. New uniforms and shoes were purchased and all bedding was replaced.
On a final note, some children are currently being assisted into vocational training and employment. Our priority is always to support them through their formal education until they have at least completed senior four (S.4) to give them their greatest chance at success. I have been working hard to find Ronald an apprenticeship.
I hope you can feel proud of the impact your support has on making the world a better, safer, kinder place of love and opportunities for these children and their families.
More children are GOING HOME because of your kindness and generosity. When we returned Alisha home, after years of ‘orphan hood’ and family separation, her grandmother said it was as if gold has been laid at their feet. We LOVE our mighty gold-giving Herd.
thank you thank you thank you
In case you missed it – here’s the rapid round up!
If you want to watch Andrea’s pitch in full, here it is!
You can read the transcript below.
Your donations really make a huge difference in people’s lives. Thank you.
Transcript – enjoy!
JP: Our third organisation tonight is Forget Me Not. It’s a Nepal-based organisation that exists to prevent children and young people around the world from being displaced by investing in programs that keep children within their families and out of institutions. We’re going to hear from Andrea Nave, CEO of Forget Me Not. She’s coming through the vortex. I can fee her ready to arrive. There she is. Hello.
AN: Hi Jacinta, how are you?
AN: Thank you very much for letting me speak tonight. It’s a real honour. I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which I stand tonight the Turrbal and Yuggera people and I’d like to acknowledge their leaders past, present and emerging. I understand that this was and always will be aboriginal land that we stand on tonight.
Hi everyone my name is Andrea Nave and I’m the CEO of Forget Me Not Australia.
I want to tell you a story tonight about a little girl called Alisha. Alisha was just four years old when she came to live with us in our orphanage in 2006. That’s Alisha there.
We had supported Alisha over the years with love, health care, nutrition, education and a whole range of things to help her thrive. We thought we were doing the absolute right thing in providing care and a home for orphans – I mean, who wouldn’t?
One rainy monsoonal August I was in Kathmandu Nepal visiting the children, checking up on their welfare and their progress and so on.
And Alisha came to me with her beautiful brown eyes welling full of tears and she said to me, “Aunty please I want to go home – I want to see my mother and my father. Please Aunty.”
Man I was completely shocked. I was rocked to the core. You know this little girl was supposed to be an orphan without a mother and father. We had documentation, death certificates and birth certificates, all the necessary paperwork to show that she was an orphan. Somehow we had to find her family.
After a lot of heartache and with Alisha’s plea fresh in my mind, now we knew it was time to do better. We had to. We decided to turn our organisation around. We quickly discovered that all twenty girls in our care, not just Alisha but all of them, had families who could care for them. It was time to do better for sure.
We thought we were making a positive difference. We really genuinely did. But sixty years of research shows us that institutions harm children and that harm lasts well into adulthood. Often with irreversible developmental delays, attachment disorders, lack of belonging, poor relationships, when compared to their peers they’re most likely to fall into substance abuse, homelessness or even suicide. Now how is that fair? Research shows that 80% of children in orphanages have parents who could care for them if they were supported themselves. It was really time to bust this orphanage myth.
With these crucial pieces of information we set about to turn our organisation around. It took some time, some hard work but today we’ve changed our organisation from offering orphanage care to now offering support for families to care for their own children. Changing out dated and harmful systems. We’re leading the way with legal research, our best practice in our work is recognised globally. It’s evidence based and most importantly children are at the forefront. It is their rights and needs that drive our work forward.
We work with the Nepal government to assess and rescue children, to formally identify them and with careful planning and skilled case management, we bring them home. Back to family where they belong, and then with continued monitoring we make sure that they are safe and able to stay reintegrated permanently with their family. That’s where they belong.
You know our team of reintegration officers they trek across the country far and wide tracing family. These are three of our reintegration officers here.
They are armed with photographs and little snippets of information and they very, very often face very difficult terrain. Sometimes walking for days through all kinds of weather, even landslides, across mountainsides to the most remote places in Nepal.
It was in the remote Himalayan mountains of Humla, in a tiny little village called Rasuwa that we found Alisha’s family. We found them intact, mum and dad, siblings, all grieving for the loss of their child. You know they thought Alisha was dead until we came knocking.
This work is complex, it is difficult and it is very raw but it’s vitally essential.
There’s just 450 orphanages remaining in the country today with 11,350 children registered living in them. All of those children, we believe, can go home.
That figure of 80% of research shows that children have family – our work over the last eleven years working with over 717 children shows that number to be closer to 97%. That’s 97% of children in those orphanages can be at home. We also have solutions for the remaining 3% children.
Our work has impacted government, it’s changed laws and influenced laws here in Australia and overseas. Orphanage trafficking is now recognised as a form of child trafficking under international law. All of these massive changes and impacts, all because we listened to one little girl’s plea. Thanks Alisha.
You know when Alisha was returned to her home to her Grandmother she said it was as if gold had been laid at her feet. Can you imagine?
It costs just $2500 to rescue and reintegrate a child – to give them back their childhood and to rebuild a family. It’s a small price for such a massive impact!
You know $10K means profoundly changing the lives of four children, their family and their community.
$20K will deliver this chance for 8 children, and so on.
You know our team will not stop. They continue to find families under the most extreme and now unprecedented circumstances.
Tonight I’m asking you if you will help us change a child’s trajectory from unnecessarily having to live out their childhoods in an orphanage and to help us bring them home. With your help tonight we know it’s time to deliver more gold. Thanks for listening.
JP: … thousand. Are you there?
AN: Boom! Wow! That is incredible, incredible, incredible! We are mind blown. I am so very very grateful to everybody in this room tonight for bringing these funds together. It will impact children directly. I mean, I tried to get a Venn diagram together and you know our commonality is that we were all children once. We all know those childhood heartaches, and imagine if you weren’t with your family. This money is a game changer. It will accelerate our work so fast. We can now say YES to more and more children coming through our processes. It’s mind blowing, truly mind blowing. I can’t wait to get off the phone. I actually can’t wait to send a WhatsApp message to Alisha. I want to tell her that her story has moved mountains.
JP: Can you please send all of our love to her?
AN: I will. I’ll be passing that through, and I know my team have been sending messages through well-wishing for tonight, and I also want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. You guys are the heroes. Our local team on the ground have done incredible work. With all of your engine, with all of those funds pushing us forward we can see an end to orphanages in Nepal. Thank you so much. Thank you so very much.
JP: That’s a beautiful way to put it Andrea. Thank you so much for the opportunity that we’ve all had this evening and we wish you luck. We cannot wait to see some of the great stories that this funding will have and we, we give energy to your team to continue that work.
AN: Thank you, thank you so much and I will pass it all on. Our heartfelt thanks and Namaste from everyone Nepal-side. Thank you.
We love good news!! FMNs Patrick Ruhweza reports from Uganda:
“Today I and Nambi officially handed over a brand new house to Miss T and her family. It was a joyful evening as we shared their joy. We were treated to tea and buns which we took in the new house. The family is so so thankful to the donors. It is as if a dream has come true.
I am so thankful to the builder who managed to purchase all the materials and complete the house as we agreed. Including purchase and delivery of household goods. He is an honest man. Given that because of lockdowns, it has been extremely hard to supervise the build in person.
We signed an agreement with the family acknowledging Miss Ts stake in the house and the local leader wrote and witnessed the agreement.”