Strengthening families and the communities in which they live is a better form of prevention than sending children to live in orphanages due to poverty.
Did you know that a large proportion of children living in orphanages still have at least one living parent? The exact number is unknown, but may be up to 4 out of 5 children in orphanage care. The reason for this is many families struggle due to poverty or other life challenges, and they end up sending children away for care when they cannot afford to support their families themselves.
Why This Is a Problem
However, many people are starting to question this practice. “No mother should have to make the decision to give her child away because of poverty. What she needs is hope and help,” says Kim Quinley, from Step Ahead, a community service program in Thailand offering “a place of peace for struggling single moms, grannies, and aunties all raising children on their own, so they can work without worry, knowing their child can learn and play in [their] compassionate care.”
There is growing recognition that large institutions providing care are not a cost-effective way to help children in need. “Decades of research show that children, especially younger children, placed in institutional care are more likely to experience poor health, developmental delay and emotional attachment disorders. So rather than supporting institutions that have poor track records, UNICEF and virtually all children’s rights groups favor helping destitute families and communities provide care.” (Source: Politifact) Having the love and care of a consistent caregiver is widely recognized as being key to children’s healthy development. Lack of money should not be the thing that prevents families from providing that care.
“Children around the world are languishing in orphanages because parents can’t afford to pay for their food, clothes and education. It’s outrageous that children are separated from their families when they have parents who, given a bit of help, could look after them.” – Paul O’Grady, Save the Children ambassador
Focusing on Families
In the long term, children are better off with loving families, and investing in supporting the family is the better way to go. “We believe that an institution, like an orphanage, is no substitute for the care and affection that can be provided by a family,” said Matthew Stephens, senior child protection advisor at World Vision U.S. Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, further notes that both Scripture and social science support families as the best for children.
What’s Being Done
Thankfully, governments are beginning to heed the call to reduce the number of children living in residential care by preventing family separation as much as possible, and investing in community-based family support programs. China, Rwanda, and countries in Eastern Europe are leading the charge in “de-institutionalization.”
We at The Freedom Story are committed to strengthening families and communities to help keep kids in school, provide the counseling and mentorship they need to strengthen family bonds, and promote healthy relationships that help lead children toward a better and brighter future—one free from trafficking and other forms of exploitation. If you believe in the importance of healthy families and vibrant, thriving communities, please consider supporting our work.
Dr. Jade Keller is the Research Writer and Executive Editor for The Freedom Story (formerly The SOLD Project). After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand in 2010 to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness. She currently writes from Berlin.