Be cautious when funding orphanages
Posted on September 18, 2009 at 11:02 am
It’s natural to want to help children, and funding orphanages seems a great way to assist those that have lost everything. But be careful, not all orphanages are needed nor are they necessarily the best way to help. In fact funding poorly run or unnecessary orphanages may actually hurt the child far more than it helps them.
How can funding an orphanage be harmful?
One effect of funding orphanages can be breaking apart the family. Children in orphanages may actually have one or both parents still living. According to the IRIN article West Africa: Protecting children from orphan dealers
“A January 2009 study by the Social Welfare Department – responsible for children’s welfare and supervising orphanages – showed that up to 90 percent of the estimated 4,500 children in orphanages in Ghana are not orphans…”
A similar situation occurred in Liberia, according to the UN report Human Rights in Liberia’s Orphanages
“In the orphanages surveyed, most children reportedly had at least one living parent, and a significant number of children had two living parents.”
When parents are unable to feed and clothe their children may feel that they have no other choice than to abandon them at an orphanage (see Does funding orphanages create orphans). This occurred after the tsunami in Indonesia. Orphanages had the money to feed, clothe and educate children because they were attractive to donors. Parents who were not receiving enough assistance to help them feed and care for their children, began leaving their children at orphanages. Similar cases have occurred in Liberia, again from the UN report Human Rights in Liberia’s Orphanages
“The lack of alternative assistance, such as day-care institutions to take care of and feed children, and the lack of a free education system, means that some parents may feel that there are few alternatives to placing children in orphanages.”
Children with parents are even adopted away from their family as is portrayed in this video from EthioTube.
Consider funding other ways of supporting children and their families
Rather than building orphanages, it would be far better to provide services that support the family and help them care for their children. According to the United Nations Draft Guidelines for the alternative care of children
“Family poverty should never be the reason that the children are institutionalized, instead this should be a signal to help the family. Before that happens families should be worked in to help them keep
their children. Whether that be help with livelihoods, counseling, or helping them access other means of social support.”
Many orphans have family members that could care for them
Even children that are orphans will likely have aunts, uncles, grandparents, or godparents that want to care for them but may need some extra resources to help them. If the worst were to happen today and you and your spouse
were to die in a natural disaster, how many people could potentially care for your children rather than placing them in an orphanage? According to the Social Protection Strategy in Eastern and Southern Africa by UNICEF
Available data from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and (sic) demonstrate that the majority of children in institutional care have a surviving parent or contactable relative.
Orphanages should be the last resort not the automatic solution
Building an orphanage should be the last resort, according to the UN working paper Reconstructing well-being after a disaster: Bringing public service to those who need it the most in China
“Support to orphans, emphasizing the priority of care giving by relatives, followed by adoption to relatives, domestic adoption over international adoption, and alternative care (i.e. foster care, community-based residential care). Institutional care is to be used as last resort. The functions of the institutions can be progressively changed to community service centers for vulnerable children (including children with disabilities), gradually minimizing the function of orphanage. When institutional care has to be used, the environment should be designed to resemble family-type care.”
Only when none of these other alternatives work should an orphanage be built. Before donating to any orphanage there should be proof that these other efforts have been attempted first. If the orphanage cannot provide proof that other solutions have been tried, do not donate.
Orphanages are the most expensive way to care for children
Not only should orphanages be the last resort for the benefit of the child, but they are also far more expensive than other methods of caring for them. According to the Social Protection Strategy in Eastern and Southern Africa by UNICEF
“The damaging effects of residential care to emotional and cognitive developmental are now well established empirically.* Moreover, orphanages are expensive. Research by the World Bank in the United Republic of Tanzania, for example, found that institutional care was about six times more expensive than foster care. Cost comparisons conducted in Uganda showed the ratio of operating costs for an orphanage to be 14 times higher than those for community care”
How to evaluate an orphanage
If the orphanage has proven that the 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 Draft Guidelines for the alternative care of children
Is the orphanage legally registered and monitored?
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. Again from the IRIN article West Africa: Protecting children from orphan dealers
“…140 of the 148 orphanages around the country [Ghana] are un-licensed, said the department’s assistant director Helena Obeng Asamoah.”
Does the orphanage have active family reunification program?
“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
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 accomodate 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
“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. Because of their 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.
* This statement is challenged in the recent research findings A Comparison of the Wellbeing of Orphans and Abandoned Children Ages 6–12 in Institutional and Community-Based Care Settings in 5 Less Wealthy Nations
Statement on Haiti from the Adoptees of Color Roundtable – very powerful statement from people that were adopted away from their country of birth
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 Draft 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