This year as we celebrate International Youth Day, we are asked to think about how to make education more inclusive and accessible to all. When I first started working in child protection and learned that globally between 80-90% of children in orphanages or child care institutions have at least one living parent, I was shocked. Why would a parent leave their child alone in an orphanage?
As soon as I started supporting our child protection teams though, I realised what a complex issue this is. Putting your child in an orphanage can seem like the only option to protect your child’s future when your family has fallen into deep poverty. And because schools are not to be found in some communities or are too expensive, the directors of orphanages that offer some form of schooling can make it seem like it’s the best possible way to give your child a good start in life. We even see examples where local schools are disregarded by parents because orphanages appear to have more resources and external support. In the majority of countries in which we work, poverty and getting an education, are the main reasons why children are placed in orphanages.
A study that we did in Indonesia together with the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNICEF, for example, found that very many poor parents in Indonesia were putting their children in child care institutions to get access to basic services like schooling and health care. Parent who couldn’t afford or couldn’t access services like these for their children, assumed they would be better off at an orphanage that could.
Decades of research has proven that this is not the case. Please see my previous blogs: Orphanages are Not the Solution on the problems of residential care and Why We Don’t Support Orphanage Volunteering on why Save the Children does not support orphanage volunteering. Children need stability and security within a family to survive, learn and thrive – yet in so many places, parents are given the message that children would be better off placed in a child care institution to access education than at home with a safe and loving family.
The new US Government Strategy on “Advancing Protection and Care for Children in Adversity” explains how this happens “parents and community members may be under the impression that an orphanage is beneficial to a child because it fulfils some of his or her basic needs without realizing the detrimental effects it can have on a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development”.
OneSky Foundation in Thailand created this powerful video on how they work to keep families together by supporting their education:
They are part of Alternative Care Thailand which brings together agencies all working together with the same goal to support family-based care.
As a parent of two young children, I cannot imagine having to choose between having my children live with me or having to send them away in the hope that they will get an education that I can’t provide. At Save the Children, we believe that no parent should ever have to make this choice.
We work with children, families and community members to help address the upfront and hidden costs to education, like fees for uniforms or transportation costs. We work with families and community members to help them understand how important they are in their children’s lives.
We believe all children should be able to live in safe and loving families as well as go to school. We support communities and national and local governments to improve access to school. In Eastern Europe, Save the Children works with the community to make schools and households more accessible for children with disabilities.
Save the Children, together with the Better Care Network, co-founded ReThink Orphanages to bring together organisations working globally to shift support away from orphanages and towards family based care. If you are thinking about volunteering oversees, please see the volunteer checklist of things to consider before you go.