Our Stance On Orphanage Volunteering
In 2017 we made the commitment to responsibly transition away from any and all activities at residential care institutions by the end of 2018. Our commitment was made in response to decades of research showing the harm caused by institutionalized care to children. In addition, we hope to work toward ending the perpetuation of child trafficking and the separation of children from family care.
We are currently working with our local partners to assist them with transitioning to alternative solutions that aim to reunify children with their families or, if not possible, finding a family environment for every child. We are withdrawing from working with partners who are not willing to make the transition.
The reason we have undertaken this as a long-term process is because withdrawing resources immediately could be harmful to any children involved. The wellbeing and empowerment of all children is our main priority which is why we have ensured that the withdrawal of our support is done responsibly.
What Research Shows About Orphanage Volunteering
Over the last couple of years, global research into the topic has shown that many of the children currently residing in orphanages have at least one living parent and many have relatives who could care for them. It has also been shown that children are being separated from their families and placed into orphanages as a means of attracting international visitors. The massive growth of these orphanages, and the trafficking industry set up to supply them, are supported and funded by international tourists, volunteers, and donors.
Separation from a family causes trauma, even under the best of circumstances. This means that most children in residential care are in a vulnerable state, no matter how they arrived at the institution. Children with special needs, who are often placed in residential care due to additional living costs and specialised skills required for appropriate care, need to be treated with even greater sensitivity.
Children in these orphanages interact with many different caregivers who come and go. Child psychologists have shown that interacting with several caregivers in this way can be harmful to a child’s emotional and social development. When these caregivers are international volunteers who may not not immersed in the cultural context of the child or only spend months, weeks, or even days with the children, the risk of harm increases. Although risk mitigation strategies, that may reduce some of the potential negative effects, exist, they are, as standard practice, not often applied across the volunteering sector.
In addition, over a decade of research has shown that children in all forms of residential care are burdened with lifelong physical, cognitive, emotional, and social challenges. What children require for effective development is a family environment with long-term, dedicated caregivers. The main aim should always be to get them back to their biological parents or relatives. In rare cases where this is not possible, a loving, reliable foster family should be sought out.
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What Is The Alternative To Orphanages?
Any sustainable development organization looking to invest in improving the wellbeing and education of children, should support the development of local child protection and foster care systems. This would enable qualified local professionals to ensure that children stay with their families and are reunited if separation does or has occurred.
Our Responsible Transition Strategy
After consultation with external experts from Better Volunteering Better Care we made the decision to officially withdraw our support from orphanages who were not willing to transition their own operations to alternative forms of care. This has proved to be a lengthy and often complex process. We have consulted with many external experts in order to complete the process effectively yet responsibly. As is necessary with any sustainable development project, the withdrawal of resources should be done responsibly in order to ensure the support of local capacity development and the protection of any vulnerable persons involved. To withdraw all our support immediately might negatively affect children in these institutions which is exactly the opposite of what we would like to achieve. We have, nevertheless, committed to completely withdrawing our support from residential care institutions by the end of 2018.
Our Next Steps For Solving The Problem
In addition, we are looking to partner with organizations who seek to create awareness around the potential harm of long term residential care and assist existing orphanages to transitioning toward a family reunification and foster care model.