How many children are in orphanages, and why?
Over 5 million children around the globe are living in institutional care, often called orphanages. It may be surprising to know that the vast majority of the children have a parent or relative. The main reasons that children are in orphanages are because their families are poor, lack access to basic services, or have been overwhelmed and struggle to care for them. Children needing additional care because of disabilities are especially at risk of family separation.
A vital part of helping children is by helping their families too. Catholic Care for Children helps to strengthen families. When a family is in distress, support is provided to prevent separation of the child from the family. If a child has already been separated, efforts are made to reunite the child with the family or to find a safe, nurturing family-like alternative, such as foster care or adoption.
Why is family-based care considered better for children?
Research in social sciences affirms that families are the ideal environment for children to develop. In families, children develop a sense of belonging and find the support needed for their optimal physical and emotional development. Families also situate children in a community, where they can develop meaningful relationships with others that can last a lifetime.
The social sciences are also clear about the risks associated with institutional care. Separation from family is traumatic for a child, regardless of circumstances. Outside of family care, a child is more likely to be abused, neglected, or trafficked. Incidences of homelessness, crime, and suicide are higher among young people who leave residential care after significant stays.
Even the best orphanages cannot replace family care. However, orphanages and other residential settings still have a vital role to play. They can provide high quality care on a short-term basis as part of the child’s transition to a family.
What is behind the worldwide trend from institutional to family care?
The global trend away from institutional care for children has gained momentum in recent times. Many factors play a role in this, in particular the social sciences, which are informing new practices and legal frameworks around the world. The United Nations is influencing governments to change the systems of care for children who are separated from their families or are at risk of separation. As a result of UN recommendations, governments are implementing new policies and practices, which brings change not only for children and families but also those who have provided care traditionally in institutional settings.
Some of the main actions of the UN that are influencing the trend from institutional to family care are:
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) an agreement by countries promising to protect children’s rights.
- The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (2010), for children separated from their parents or at risk of separation. The guidelines are for use by governments to provide for children’s rights to quality care in families and alternative care settings.
- Resolution on the Rights of the Child (2019), which provides recommendations for governments to improve child welfare and protection systems, to improve care and reform efforts, and to prevent unnecessary separation from parents.
The child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.
Preamble to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
How can you be sure that children will be safe at home?
Care for children does not end when children leave an institution. It continues throughout the journey of becoming part of a family. This is the role of safeguarding. For organizations that are part of the child’s journey, safeguarding involves a range of policies and practices to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. This includes measures such as the recruitment of qualified staff and ongoing staff education to ensure that children are in safe environments where they feel protected.
Safeguarding and protecting children are key priorities for religious institutes worldwide. Catholic Care for Children initiatives focus on these priorities and achieve the highest possible standards for child safety and protection. The initiatives take into consideration different cultural backgrounds as well as legal systems within various nations and the Catholic Church. Through Catholic Care for Children International, the best practices that are developed are shared with other religious institutes with a charism of care.
How are Catholic Sisters part of the global trend?
In many countries, Catholic Sisters are among the largest providers of care for children who are outside of family care. Through Catholic Care for Children International, Catholic Sisters are transitioning from institutional to family-based and community-based child care.
The approaches they are developing, which are adaptable to different locations and cultures, require significant change in the customary ways that Sisters have functioned.
Dozens of Catholic Sisters and staff have earned academic degrees and other professional credentials in areas such as social work. New record keeping and case management practices have been implemented by the Sisters. Activities such as family tracing have aided the Sisters in reconnecting thousands of families with their children. And because Sisters depend on donations to fund their work with children, donors have refocused their support on family-based care, recognizing the shorter-term, temporary role that orphanages are now having in the transition of children into families.
The global trend includes working with new collaborators. At the national and local levels, Catholic Sisters work with a variety of government agencies, policymakers, Catholic and other Christian social service organizations, and many other groups who share the vision of a family for every child.
What are the key principles of Catholic Care for Children?
Catholic Sisters have a long history of caring for the most vulnerable people in society. Many institutes of religious life were established for that very reason, and today they express that founding spirit—that charism—in ways needed at this time in history.
Catholic Care for Children is building capacity to express a charism of care for children in today’s world, to reduce recourse to institutional care and to encourage family- and community-based care.
Catholic Care for Children is animated by the charism of care expressed by religious women and men who have often embodied the best of the Christian mandate to care for those in need. The key principles of Catholic Care for Children are described as three pillars:
Rooted in touchstones of the Catholic faith, especially
- Biblical mandates to care for children and other vulnerable persons
- Principles of Catholic social teaching, especially those emphasizing the dignity of each person, a preferential option for the poor, and the right of each person to participate fully in family and community
Informed by social sciences that are clear about the
- Importance of nurturing family bonds for wholistic, healthy development across life span
- Risks associated with separation from family care, especially in institutional settings
Aligned with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that spells out
- The child’s right to a family
- Guidelines for alternative care of children who are separated from their families
Grounded in these pillars, Catholic Care for Children is committed to a continuum of care pertaining to the best interests of the child.