Quality 4 Children : Quality in the Best Interests of the Child

It was in March 2004 that my colleagues from SOS Children’s Village and I discussed two problems we were aware of:

  • Europe was going to become bigger and bigger, and the bigger Europe was, the bigger were the differences between standards for out-of-home child care in the different countries. Europe was going to include countries which partly had no standards for out-of-home child care.
  • All the standards we had ever seen in our life were standards made by adult experts. None of us knew any standards that were deeply influenced by the knowledge of those who are directly concerned: children in out-of-home care, their parents, foster parents, social pedagogues, social workers.

We decided, therefore, to start a European project: Quality4Children, Quality in the Best Interests of the Child! – Quality Standards in Out-Of-Home Child Care in Europe. IFCO, the International Foster Care Organisation, joined us, so it was three international organisations that started this project and still work together: FICE, SOS and IFCO.

The first decision of the steering group was to have young people that were or had been in some sort of out-of-home care in this steering group – and we are permanently working with those young people up to now.

The second decision was the method: we have chosen the method of storytelling to get the material for the standards directly from the field. We considered this to be the only possible method which meets with our vision, our mission and our overall value, participation.

The Vision

Children without parental care have to be given the chance to shape their future in order to become self-reliant, self-sufficient and participating members of society, through living in a supportive, protective and caring environment, which promotes their full potential.

The Mission

  • Creating a European network of stakeholders advocating children’s rights in out-of-home care
  • Developing European quality standards based on the experience and good practices of the people directly concerned
  • Promoting the adoption, implementation and monitoring of quality standards for children in out-of-home care at national and European level

The first challenge was to find in all the countries (EU countries, future EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland) people who were willing to support this big project. We were looking within our three organisations for a national coordinator to take over the process in his/her country. In summer 2004 these national coordinators met in Innsbruck/Austria to get to know first of all each other, to be trained in the method and to discuss further steps.

From autumn 2004 to spring 2005 a few hundred stories were collected in the participating countries. The material was sent to Innsbruck, to Herman Gmeiner Academy, where they were clustered, and quotations were selected out of the stories. And afterwards there began the major task of formulating standards out of this huge amount of material. We met several times to do that work, we had two feedback-circles, one to the national teams that collected the stories, and one to those persons who had told the stories to make sure that they could find the essence of their stories in those standards.

Finally we had 18 standards in three standard areas:

Standard area 1: Decision-making and admission process

Standard 1: The child and his/her family of origin receive support during the decision-making process.

Standard 2: The child is empowered to participate in the decision-making process.

Standard 3: A professional decision-making process ensures the best possible care for the child.

Standard 4: Siblings are cared for together.

Standard 5: The transition to the new home is well prepared and sensitively implemented.

Standard 6: The out-of-home care process is guided by an individual care pla

Standard area 2: Care-taking process

Standard 7: The child’s placement matches his/her needs, life situation and original social environment.

Standard 8: The child maintains contact with his/her family of origin.

Standard 9: Caregivers are qualified and have adequate working conditions.

Standard 10: The caregiver’s relationship with the child is based on understanding and respect.

Standard 11: The child is empowered to actively participate in making decisions that directly affect his/her life.

Standard 12: The child is cared for in appropriate living conditions.

Standard 13: Children with special needs receive appropriate care.

Standard 14: The child/young adult is continuously prepared for independent living.

Standard area 3: Leaving-care process

Standard 15: The leaving-care process is thoroughly planned and implemented.

Standard 16: Communication in the leaving-care process is conducted in a useful and appropriate manner.

Standard 17: The child/young adult is empowered to participate in the leaving-care process.

Standard 18: Follow-up, continuous support and contact possibilities are ensured.

Each of these standards is structured as follows. The standard title is supplemented

  • by clear statements regarding the required level of quality;
  • by selected quotes from the storyteller’s narrations. They are coded according to a Q4C database;
  • by responsibilities: that means a set of tasks, duties and defined areas of authority for all stakeholders involved in the implementation of the respective standards;
  • by guidelines showing the requirements related to the implementation of the respective standards;
  • by warning signs, which describe what must not happen if the respective standards are implemented;
  • and in an annex to the standards you can find the reference frame linking them to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For each standard you have listed the articles and paragraphs which contain provisions related to the respective standards.


On 13 June 2007 the Q4C standards were presented at the EU Parliament in Brussels. The process of developing the standards was finished. From now on we are starting the process of implementing those standards. Meanwhile the standards are known all over the world. Several states, including some outside Europe, adopted them as the basic instrument for their new legislation. In South America countries decided to carry out the same process, and organisations in big countries such as Russia show their interest. The standards were presented at a big conference attended by 1400 people in South Africa. They were taken into consideration during the process of developing the UN Guidelines for children in out-of-home care, and Q4C took part in this development process. And yet, a lot of work is still in front of us

The Future

The three organisations will continue their cooperation. Some of the former national coordinators will be the future contact persons in their countries for the coordination team, which consists of three persons from each organisation, one member of each trio being a young adult. There will be action at local level, national level and European level, including joint activities by the three organisations together as well as special activities within each organisation.

The coordination team is at present preparing an implementation toolkit which contains all the necessary tools for implementation and advocacy. The toolkit is a set of documents on a CD, consisting of two parts.

Part one contains the relevant international documents:

  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • The documents of the International Bill of Rights:
    • Universal Declaration of Human Rights
    • International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
    • International Convention on Civil and Political Rights
  • Recommendation of the Council of Europe on the rights of children living in residential institutions
  • UN Guidelines (Draft version)

Part two is a set of documents developed specially for Q4C:

  • Memorandum of Understanding
  • Key message for the communication of Q4C
  • Tasks and responsibilities of the Q4C contact persons
  • Proposal for a Child Rights Country Situation Analysis
  • A paper on the planning and development of the Q4C Standards (including statistic material)
  • Recommendations for advocacy work
  • Press clipping on the standards launch

Starting with advocacy we will at first work on the standard area which we came to realise needs change in many countries – the leaving care process. The first step will be a gap analysis on the leaving care process.

You can find full information about Q4C on the Q4C website:

www.quality4children.info . We will also keep you informed about the latest news on the FICE website.

Hopefully, by working together, we will make reality of the vision of giving children in out-of-home care a proper chance in life.

Monika Niederle is President of FICE-International, and she has played a major role in the development of Quality 4 Children. An interview with Monika was published in the Webmag in October 2006.

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