A Duke University study of more than 3,000 orphaned and abandoned children in
five Asian and African countries has found that children in institutional orphanages fare as well or better than those who live in the community.
The findings contrast sharply with research that associates institutions with poorer health and well-being, and the policies adopted by many international agencies/ governments.
"Our research is not saying that institutions are better. What we found is that institutions may be a viable option for some kids," said study leader Kathryn Whetten, director of the Center for Health Policy at the Duke Global Health Institute. "As the number of orphans continues to rise worldwide, it is vital not to discount orphanages before assessing whether they are harmful to the millions of children for whom they care."
Whetten's research team compared the physical health, cognitive functioning, emotion, behaviour and growth of orphaned or abandoned children ages 6-12, half of them living in institutions and the other half dwelling in the community. The study found that children in institutions in five countries reported significantly better health scores, lower prevalence of recent sickness and fewer emotional difficulties than community dwelling children. These findings suggest the overall health of children in orphanages is no worse than that of children in communities.
The research team has been following the 3,000 orphans involved in the study for three years, and they plan to continue tracking them into their late teens and early 20s to determine how their childhood affects their life course.
Published today in the interactive open-access journal PLoS ONE, this is one of the most comprehensive studies of orphans ever conducted. Data were collected between May 2006 and February 2008 from children and their caregivers in 83 institutional care settings and 311 community clusters. The study assessed five culturally, politically and religiously-distinct countries that face rising orphan
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