Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Families, Not Orphanages

This report, Families, Not Orphanages, from Better Care Network, which is affiliated with Unicef and USAID, assails institutional care for children and the preference for family care:
 With particular attention to lower income countries, this paper examines the mismatch between children’s needs and the realities and long-term effects of residential institutions. Evidence presented in this paper indicates that the number of orphanages is increasing, particularly in countries impacted by conflict, displacement, AIDS, high poverty rates or a combination of these factors. The paper examines available evidence on the typical reasons why children end up in institutions, and the consequences and costs of providing this type of care compared to other options. The paper concludes with a description of better care alternatives and recommendations for policy-makers. (p. 3)
Some interesting passages:
The number of children in institutional care around the world is difficult to determine due to inadequate monitoring by governments. Based on extrapolations from limited existing data, UNICEF estimates that at least two million children are in orphanages around the world, acknowledging that this is probably a significant underestimate. (p. 3)
Studies focusing on the reasons for institutional placements consistently reflect that poverty is the driving force behind their placement. For example, a study based on case studies of Sri Lanka, Bulgaria and Moldova found, “that poverty is a major underlying cause of children being received into institutional care and that such reception into care is a costly, inappropriate and often harmful response to adverse economic circumstances.” Furthermore, the case studies show “that resources committed to institutions can be more effectively used to combat poverty if provided to alternative, community-based support organizations for children and families.”  (p. 7)

Impoverished families use orphanages as a mechanism for coping with their economic situation; it is a way for families to secure access to services or better material conditions for their own children and others in their care. Consequently, residential institutions become an expensive and inefficient way to cope with poverty and other forms of household stress. ( p. 8)
In the history of many developing countries, institutional care is a relatively recent import. In most cases, it was introduced early in the twentieth century by missionaries or colonial governments, replicating what was then common in their home countries. At the same time, institutional care has largely been judged to be developmentally inappropriate and phased out of developed countries that continue to support this care in poorer countries. (p. 8)

Regrettably, much of the popular media coverage of AIDS-related orphaning suggests that AIDS has left vast numbers of children on their own. Statistics on orphaning reported by UNICEF and other organizations have raised global awareness, but they have also created misunderstandings. Such statistics estimate the number of children per country and globally who have lost one or both parents. The vast majority of these orphans, however, are living with a surviving parent or relatives. Of the estimated 145 million children estimated to be orphans, about 9 per cent have lost both parents This important point is rarely made when the media cite orphan figures. Furthermore, evidence suggests that the vast majority of children who have lost both parents are living with an aunt, uncle, grandparent or other extended-family member. (p. 13)

Communities can be organized to identify and support particularly vulnerable children and their families. Local faith communities have often demonstrated that they have great capacity to mobilize limited resources and funding to benefit especially vulnerable children. (p. 14)

The services necessary to prevent unnecessary family separation, reunite institutionalized children and expand quality foster care and adoption require significant financial investments in the short term, but as expensive residential facilities are shut down, resources can be redirected and better used to strengthen family care. Motivating governments, international organizations, NGOs and other policy actors to invest in family support services and alternative care is not easy. Children in institutions tend to be out of sight and out of mind, but the benefits to society of reforming care manifest over time in the lives of more intelligent, functional and socially integrated children, as well as in the lives of the adults thatthey become. (p. 21)
One section contains a very good overview of better care alternatives, including: Family support and strengthening (p. 15), Family reunification (p. 16), Kinship care (p. 16), Foster care (p. 17), Kafala (p. 18), and Adoption (p. 18).  As to adoption, after first noting that the Hague Convention requires in-country placements whenever possible, the report states:
In some developing countries, international adoption is more common than domestic adoption. However, the relative frequency of domestic adoption is increasing in many countries. In India, for example, local adoption was rare and faced certain cultural constraints. In 1989, India adopted national regulations specifying that at least 25 per cent of adoptions would be domestic, and the number of Indian children adopted has substantially increased. By 2005, domestic adoptions exceeded international adoptions.
The whole report is worth reading;  it's very well researched and cites to many specific programs in a variety of countries -- very informative.

No comments: