How to Evaluate an Orphanage
Posted on March 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm
In general, orphanages should be a last resort, used only if there is no other way to provide for the care of the children. If an orphanage has proven that other forms of caring for children are not possible, then it’s time to evaluate the orphanage to ensure that they are working in the best interest of the child. The following are a set of questions to help you evaluate the orphanage. Unless otherwise noted all of the quotes below come from the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children
Is the orphanage legally registered and monitored?
“…140 of the 148 orphanages around the country [Ghana] are un-licensed, said the department’s assistant director Helena Obeng Asamoah.”
The aid agency should be able to provide proof of their legal status in that country, the name of the government agency that oversees them, and the date of their last inspection. From the IRIN article West Africa: Protecting children from orphan dealers
Does the orphanage have an active family reunification program?
The orphanage should provide information on the work they do to establish and maintain family contacts so the children may eventually be reunited with their family.
“Regular and appropriate contact between the child and his/her family specifically for the purpose of reintegration should be developed, supported and monitored by the competent body.”
Does the orphanage keep siblings together in a family unit?
“Orphanages should be run in a family like or small group settings with siblings kept together and consistent long term carers with which they can bond.”
Is the orphanage set up as a family-like or small group setting?
There is a move to eliminate large orphanages in central locations and instead break them down to smaller settings so that the child has the opportunity to develop meaningful emotional bonds with other children and specific adults.
“Facilities providing residential care should be small and organized around the rights and needs of the child, in a setting as close as possible to a family or small group situation.”
“While recognizing that residential care facilities and family-based care complement each other in meeting the needs of children, where large residential care facilities (institutions) remain, alternatives should be developed in the context of an overall deinstitutionalization strategy, with precise goals and objectives, which will allow for their progressive elimination.”
Is the orphanage located in the same community as the child previously lived?
“All decisions concerning alternative care should take full account of the desirability, in principle, of maintaining the child as close as possible to his/her habitual place of residence, in order to facilitate contact and potential reintegration with his/her family and to minimize disruption of his/her educational, cultural and social life.”
Does the orphanage have long-term, trained, and well supervised staff?
“Special attention should be paid to the quality of alternative care provision, both in residential and family-based care, in particular with regard to the professional skills, selection, training and supervision of carers.”
“Decisions regarding children in alternative care, including those in informal care, should have due regard for the importance of ensuring children a stable home and of meeting their basic need for safe and continuous attachment to their caregivers, with permanency generally being a key goal.”
Some standards that I’ve read also suggest a background check of all people working with children. Thus, any orphanage that allows you to walk off the street and interact with the children should be suspect. In addition, you should be cautious of funding any orphanage that relies heavily on foreign volunteers or staff if they do not have the ability to develop long term, meaningful relationships with the children (see Hug-an-orphan vacations).
Does the orphanage respect and accommodate each child’s religious beliefs
“Children should be allowed to satisfy the needs of their religious and spiritual life, including by receiving visits from a qualified representative of their religion, and to freely decide to participate or not in religious services, religious education or counselling.”
“The child’s own religious background should be respected, and no child should be encouraged or persuaded to change his/her religion or belief during a care placement.”
Always use caution when donating to orphanages
Orphanages are one of those instances where what feels right to the donor may not be what’s best for the person they are trying to help. Due to their natural appeal, orphanages may be built because they are easy to fund, regardless of whether they are the best or cheapest way to help. Donors should always use caution before funding the construction or operation of an orphanage.
A protest against orphanage tourism – Lessons I Learned blog
Resources referenced in this post:
IRIN article West Africa: Protecting children from orphan dealers
IRIN article East Africa: Why family is best for orphans
United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children
UNICEF – Social Protection Strategy in Eastern and Southern Africa
United Nations working paper Reconstructing well-being after a disaster: Bringing public service to those who need it the most in China
United Nations report Human Rights in Liberia’s Orphanages