The point of this page is not to disparage people working with orphanages, shelters, group homes, etc. The point is that we can do better. To all those readers who are working with orphanages etc., we need your understanding and partnership. On behalf of the most vulnerable children and families, let’s work together to make positive changes.
Keeping Children Out of Harmful Institutions (2009)(.pdf)
This is a “must-read” introduction from Save The Children. It outlines the problems with orphanages and other forms of residential care, and it explains the alternative of supporting children in families and communities instead.
Support Families Not Orphanages (2010)(.pdf)
This is a longer, more comprehensive report summing up research and experience from around the world. If you only read one document posted here, let it be this one. The authors don’t demonize orphanages or idealize family-based care, but they do make the strong case for moving away from residential care in developing countries and toward family-based alternatives.
Save the Children Intercountry Adoption Brief (2012)(.pdf)
With a renewed interest in intercountry (international) adoptions, it’s vital that potential adoptive parents educate themselves. Don’t take it for granted that your adoption agency will tell you the whole truth, and don’t be caught up in the glowing words about saving children through adoption.
Why Not a Family? (2013) (Video/DVD)
This 20-minute video was produced in Cambodia and release in 2013. It’s a great introduction to family-based care and the problems with raising children in orphanages. Watch it online at the link above, where you’ll also find links for Korean, Japanese, and French subtitled versions. You can also order copies of the DVD on a donation basis. While you’re watching take a moment and share the video with others by Facebook or email. The video was produced and directed by Andy Gray, the editor of Uniting for Children, with limited funding from M’lup Russey in Cambodia.
Are you ready to dig deeper into the issues? Here are more recommended readings to help complete your basic overview. Don’t skip the “Regional” tab where you’ll find excellent reports with stories and insights from specific regions of the world.
The Risk of Harm to Young Children in Institutional Care (2009)(.pdf)
Most developed countries don’t have orphanages anymore, because we discovered long ago that children raised in institutional environments, even good ones, suffer serious setbacks. This report summarizes the negative effects, physical and psychological, on children raised in institutional settings.
The Hague Conventions on Inter-Country Adoption (1993)(.pdf)
These are the international standards for intercountry adoption. They were not created to make life more difficult for adoptive parents, but to protect children and families from being trafficked, exploited, and harmed.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990)(.pdf)
The fifth and sixth paragraphs declare that children belong in families, and families ought to be strengthened and protected. Separating children from their families due to poverty and other issues that can be solved may be compromising their human rights.
UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (2010) (.pdf)
What if a child’s own family is not an option? These guidelines details the responsibilities of governments and non-government organizations to protect vulnerable children who are separated from their parents.
Rights of Children at Risk and in Care, by Bragi Gudbrandsson (2006)(.pdf)
This is a technical report detailing standards for children who are placed in care, including foster and residential care. It is a guide for governments to develop policies. If you run, visit, or support an orphanage, do you know if it meets the basic international standards?
De-institutionalizing and Transforming Children’s Services (2007)(.pdf)
This report once again spells out the problems with placing children in orphanages and other institutions, but it offers a way forward. The working goal is to transition away from institutions back to family-based care: foster care and, ideally, reunification with the birth family. Many of us are aware of the problems with foster care in developed countries, but consider that foster care was developed to avoid something worse. This report offers many insights for foster care and reunification in developing countries.
Children in Institutions: The Beginning of the End? (2003) (.pdf)
This in-depth report explores how to transition toward family-based systems including kinship and foster care. It tackles the difficult issue of reunification of children in care with their families.
From Faith to Action (2006)(.pdf)
This is worth reading whatever part of the world you’re in. It’s a very practical guide for the care of orphaned and vulnerable children. It’s informative, illustrated with colorful pictures and stories, and based on the principle of caring for children within families and communities.
Forgotten Australians (2004)(.pdf)
An estimated 500,000 Australians were placed in orphanages and other residential care institutions in the past century. Most were not orphans, but reasons ranged from family dislocations to domestic violence to being born to single mothers. Nearly every Australian alive today is related to someone who lived in an institution. Now the extent of abuse and suffering in Australian orphanages is coming to light, and Australians are coming to terms with this part of their history. The experience in Australia is a recent example of a developing country coming to understand that children don’t belong in orphanages, and despite the challenges of families and foster care, institutionalizing children is worse than the alternatives.
A Terrible Way to Grow Up (2007)(.pdf)
According to survey results, nearly 50 percent of children in residential care in Australia were sexually molested. This report explains the results of the CLAN survey that was conducted in 2006. The situation in Australia is not ancient history. Australia is one of the last developed countries to move away from putting children in orphanages and other forms of residential care in favor of family-based alternatives.
Fact Sheet: Residential Care in Cambodia (.pdf)
Since 2005 the number of children placed in residential care in Cambodia has increased by 75 percent, but the majority of these children are placed in orphanages due to poverty. Nearly 80 percent of children in Cambodian orphanages have one or two living parents. Many orphanages in Cambodia actively recruit children from poor families. Quickly gather facts and insights in this short (4 page) summary from UNICEF.
A Study of Attitudes Toward Residential Care in Cambodia (2011) (.pdf)
Don’t miss this! Read it for the human insights and stories from parents and children. The report is based on ground-breaking research using focus groups of children and youth in orphanages to measure their attitudes toward being in care and the prospect of leaving care.
Rights of Children at Risk and in Care (2006) (.pdf)
This publication was written as a guide for European governments to continue moving away from institutional care for children toward family-based alternatives such as foster care. There is still significant diversity across Europe, and many children are still growing up in residential care, but efforts are being made to move the region toward common principles.
Family Matters (2005)(.pdf)
This is a study of institutional childcare in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The number of children placed in institutions in this region has actually been increasing, and traditional family-support networks have been breaking down. It’s a complex problem with many historic and economic factors, but the report offers hope in the form of efforts to support vulnerable families.
Children in Institutions: The Beginning of the End? (2003) (.pdf)
As the report states: “There is a growing global consensus that sporadic or isolated efforts to improve individual institutions will not solve the problems of children in residential care, or meet their best interests.” But moving beyond institutions isn’t as easy as just saying this words. This in-depth report explores the situation in several countries to consider how to transition toward family-based systems. It also tackles the difficult issue of reunification of children in care with their families. Most children in care worldwide have families, but they are placed in care due to a wide variety of challenges faced by their parents and relatives. Increasingly, governments are turning toward ways to address these problems rather than putting children in care as an “easy” solution.
Japan’s Forgotten Children (.pdf)(2012)
This short article is worth reading to get a Japanese perspective on the issues. As of March, 2011, more than 36,000 children in Japan were growing up in residential care. The system in Japan makes it very easy for parents to put their children in residential care for a great variety of reasons without giving up their parental rights, leaving them in long term limbo.
Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting
This book comes out of the orphan care movement among evangelical Christians in the USA. Fortunately, Johnny Carr understands and advocates best practices. Beside calling for a biblical, responsible approach to adoption, he also explains the importance of supporting poor families to care for their own children, rather than “saving” the children from afar. He understands and supports community and family-based care as opposed to orphanages. This is a good book for Christians who want to work with orphans and vulnerable children and those who are considering international adoption.
Oranges and Sunshine
This excellent movie (nearly 5-stars on Amazon) tells a shocking tale of thousands of British children deported to Australia under a cloud of deception where they were placed in orphanages. The children endured hard labor, sexual abuse, and horrendous suffering. The story revolves around the efforts of a British social worker who uncovered the truth and worked to reunite many of the grown children with their parents. It stars Emma Watson, best known for her starring role in the Harry Potter movies. It is vitally important to understand the consequences of being naive on these issues, and that is why we hope many people will watch this movie and consider the situation today, when people from the developed world are funding a ever-growing wave of orphanages in developing countries with many of the same consequences.
Oranges & Sunshine
See the description above. The book is also rated nearly 5-stars on Amazon. In the words of one reviewer there: “A very moving account of the trauma suffered by thousands of children sent from the UK to institutions in Australia, Canada and Rhodesia, often without the knowledge of their parents… The book provides a lot more detail about the callous disregard of these children’s interests, the efforts of governments and welfare organisations to conceal what had happened, their attempts to justify it and their reluctance to apologise to or compensate the victims.”
The Urban Halo
Craig Greenfield went to Cambodia with his wife intending to work with children orphaned by AIDS. He considered opening an orphanage, but after some research, he decided a family-based care program would be best. This book has been a wake-up call for many people. Besides that it’s a great story of one family’s journey living immersed among the poor and finding innovative ways to serve in an area of great need.
If you’re doing research related to orphans and vulnerable children, or if you want more information and resources than we’ve provided here, head over to the Better Care Network for more. Many of the publications featured here come from BCN. While you’re there, sign-up for their newsletter as well.
Uniting for Children (Facebook Page) (http://facebook.com/unitingfor)
The Facebook page associated with Uniting for Children (this website). “Like” it as a way to get connected!
Alternative Care Uganda (https://www.facebook.com/groups/198577020276970/)
A Facebook group based in Uganda with members across Africa. Focused on transitioning toward community and family-based care in Uganda and beyond.
@unitingfor (Twitter) (http://twitter.com/unitingfor/)
Uniting for Children on Twitter.
Alternative Care for Children in Uganda (http://www.alternative-care-uganda.org/)
This website is the public face of a movement to transform the care of orphaned and vulnerable children in Uganda. It’s a great place to learn about alternative care practices and see what it takes to bring about needed change for a whole country through partnership between the government and key organizations.
The Replace Campaign (http://replace-campaign.org/)
A straight-forward, focused website driving home a clear message: children don’t belong in orphanages but in families. It’s not necessarily a gentle approach, but the writing is excellent and the logic consistent.
This is just a sampling of the many organizations around the world that support for family-based care for orphans and vulnerable children. Learn from them, partner with them, and support them. Take them as models to aspire to for new projects, and surpass them. Please send information for any organizations you think should be included here.
Children in Families
One of the pioneers of family-based care in Cambodia. This is a Christian organization supporting orphans in kinship and foster care. They also do educational work in and outside Cambodia.
M’lup Russey (“Shade of the Bamboo”) has tirelessly worked to move Cambodia away from reliance on orphanages toward family-based care. They have helped shape government policies; they train government and organizational leaders; and they provide reintegration services for children from closed orphanages and emergency foster care for youth forced to leave orphanages.
Spien / De Brug
Spien (“De Brug” or “The Bridge”) is supporting nearly 2,000 Cambodian children in kinship and foster care. Spien has developed a grassroots network of volunteers at the village level. They also provide targeted assistance to strengthen families and communities. The organization was started by a Dutch worker, but most of the present leadership is Cambodian.
Casa Viva is establishing a model for family-based care for Costa Rica and Latin America, including family preservation, family reunification, local adoption, and foster care. They are committed to local solutions.
Works to reunite orphaned and vulnerable children with their own families and relatives or place them with Christian Ethiopian families.
Foster Care India
Foster Care India advocates and builds capacity for kinship care and foster care for orphaned and vulnerable children in India
Amani Baby Cottage
Amani Baby Cottage is a home for orphaned and abandoned children from newborn to five years old. Their goal is to find a permanent home for all the babies in their care either through placing them with relatives, foster families, or adoptive parents. was established in 2003 and has been the home to 324 children. It is a babies’ home that provides care for orphaned.
Arise and Shine Uganda
Arise and Shine runs various projects in Jinja, Uganda, including an emergency babies home. Their mission is to restore each child into the care of a loving family. Although they are approved for international adoption, they prefer to place babies whenever possible with loving, long term Ugandan foster parents (who will raise the children as their own).
Child’s i Foundation
Child’s i Foundation runs an emergency home for abandoned babies in Jinja, Uganda. They work tirelessly to trace the families of abandoned babies and, if possible, reunify them with their parents or relatives. If that doesn’t work, then they place them with loving, long-term foster families. In 2011, they launched the Ugandan’s Adopt Campaign, and they are proving that loving and healthy Ugandan families are willing and able to adopt Ugandan children.
Ekisa Ministries is working with children in Uganda who have disabilities. They envision a Uganda where each child grows up in a loving family, despite his or her disability. Although they run a children’s home, they are encouraging and supporting families to raise children with disabilities rather than leaving them in residential care.
Revelation Life is doing wonderful work in the slums of Kampala, Uganda. As they say, “We want to see families flourish, lives rebuilt, and hearts changed in the slums of Kampala.” Their work is all about making struggling people – and families – stronger.
Step Ahead is pioneering family preservation and family-based care in Thailand with a variety of projects including child development centers and other services that support and strengthen families and communities.
Hope and Homes for Children
Working to promote family-based care and reintegrate children from institutions back into families. International but focused in Eastern Europe.
Works to replaced institutions with community and family-based care for orphans and vulnerable children. Working in Eastern Europe, Haiti, and Mexico.
Substitute Families for Abandoned Children (SFAC)
SFAC was founded by Mick and Brenda Pease and provides training and consultation with governments and organizations worldwide in support of family-based care, foster care, and best practices for the care of orphans and vulnerable children.
World Without Orphans
WWO is mobilizing and equipping Christians to care for orphans based on international standards for best practices, including a needed emphasis on keeping children in their own families and communities.