The answer to this seems obvious right? Orphanages are for orphans; children who, due to parental death, displacement or abandonment, have no one to care for them.
This is what most of us understand and the idea is reinforced by media and marketing campaigns that show images of children alone and vulnerable leading us to believe that there are millions of children without parental care in need of orphanages. The reality is that most children in orphanages have living parents and are not orphans at all. Most true orphans don't live in orphanages but are cared for by their relatives in the community.
In countries facing extreme poverty where little or no support is available to assist families in crisis, orphanages will create orphans. Desperate families will place their children in orphanages in order to ensure their children receive food, education and clothing. In this sense orphanages create a 'pull factor' that encourages family separation. These parents love their children and do not wish to abandon or be separated from them, but there are often no other options.
Many orphanage staff visit rural or slum communities and actively recruit poor children, convincing poor families that their children will have a better future in the orphanage. This is highly unethical and disrespectful of families. Being poor does not equate to being a bad parent and no parent should have to choose between relinquishing their child or abject poverty. Programs should aim to prevent family breakdown by assisting families to meet the needs of their children rather than removing these children to live in an orphanage. If we truly want to help vulnerable children, we need to see them in the context of their families and address the crises facing the whole family in order to best assist the child.
Whilst programs that assist families can support most vulnerable children, there are some children who have no family. For these children there are other options that should be explored before they are admitted to an orphanage or another form of residential care. These options include kinship care, foster care, adoption and semi-independent living (for older children). These are all considered family-based care and are preferable to the long-term placement of child in an orphanage, as they protect the child's right to grow up in a family and as a part of a community.
International law states that residential care should be a 'last resort and temporary' care option for children. This is in recognition of the harm residential care can do to children's development and their right to grow up in a family (UNCRC).
Whilst orphanages should never be used to address poverty, there are some cases where a form of residential care is necessary. This is the case when it is not possible to preserve the family unit and all attempts to find the child family-based care options have either failed, or are not in their best interest. This is what is meant by 'last resort'
When a child is admitted into residential care, it should be considered temporary. A care plan should be developed in the best interests of the child and the aim should be to work towards reintegrating them into the community as soon as it is possible. Ongoing care should be assessed at least every 12mths to ensure children are not placed in long-term care unnecessarily.
When placing a child in residential care as a last resort, the priority should be to find a small family-like care centre that operates to a high standard and has good child protection and safeguarding procedures in place. This will help to minimise the harmful effects of residential care. All Kinnected residential care programs are committed to being last resort and temporary and have reintegration programs to ensure that children can leave as soon as it is in their best interest (either reunified with their family or placed in family-based alternative care).
Whilst residential care has a place and is necessary in some circumstances, removing a child from their family and community is considered an extreme intervention, which can have some detrimental effects on a child’s development.
Some of the most common and concerning of these effects are listed below. For more information on these effects you can see the FAQ page.