Kristi Gleason: Why Families Are the Solution to the Global Orphan Crisis

I understand why people think orphanages effectively address the global orphan crisis. According to UNICEF, there are around 140 million orphans currently in the world. And orphanages can provide a place where children are safe with basic needs met. They have toys, clothing and shelter. They go to school. They sometimes have a swing set.

Orphanages allow loving, well-intentioned people to see the direct results of their donations and their work in a tangible way. But are they what’s really best for children? Decades of research tells us no.  It’s time to change how we respond to the Global Orphan Crisis. First, we need to understand that in many ways it’s not an orphan crisis, but an “orphanage” crisis, and in order to usher in real change, we must start to visualize a solution that doesn’t have four sturdy walls:


Orphanages, however loving and compassionate the staff, founders and surrounding community, are not adequate substitutes for real families. Studies have shown that institutional care – like orphanages – affects the way a child’s brain develops, causing dramatic developmental delays and even stunts physical growth; institutionalized children average 1.0–1.5 standard deviations below the mean for parent-reared children with respect to physical growth and behavioral and mental development. In fact, decades of research have shown us how children’s brains develop differently when affected by abuse and neglect. This changes how children form relationships and limits their ability to attach to others.

Then, there is the logistical issue of a few workers caring for many children. Young children are hardwired to need more than just food and water—they need attention and touch and positive affirmation from a consistent and present role model. Even the most good-hearted orphanage employees cannot possibly fulfill these emotional needs to a large group of children in a truly satisfactory manner. Groups of well-intentioned youth groups and church volunteers can also not meet these needs for children.  Everything about growing up in an orphanage has life-altering consequences.

Think about your own family. If something awful were to happen, you wouldn’t want your child would go to an orphanage. Not even one with toys, a school and a swing set.

Parents in the United States often make arrangements for their children to live with relatives should anything unexpected happen, and when that’s not an option, we rely on foster care. By the 1950s, more children lived in foster homes than in orphanages in the United States. Today, U.S. orphanages have largely disappeared with foster care taking their place.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Kristi Gleason