A few years ago we were invited to participate in a two-day meeting called by Save the Children UK, which commissioned the Better Care Network in 2003 along with the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund (DCOF), the Africa Bureau for Sustainable Development of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Some 40 leaders in child care from all over the world were in the room, and the consensus was clear from the outset: short-term volunteering in orphanages are bad for kids. As the video by the Better Care Network explains, "Showering children with love and attention in an orphanage might seem like a good thing to do. But then you leave. And you become just one more person in a repeated pattern of abandonment." Children in institutional care are often struggling with attachment disorders. When we volunteer in orphanages on service trips, we exacerbate this problem. It's difficult for us to see, but that unbridled delight a child shows us when we visit may actually be a symptom of the unhealthy emotional roller coaster of instability intrinsic to the institutional care model.
As the Better Care Network video explains, "The research demonstrates, there are not bad and good orphanages. Rather, orphanages are simply not a good solution for children. Children grow up best in families. Foster families, extended families, and other arrangements. But families, not institutions."
As someone who has volunteered in orphanages, I feel especially responsible for sharing what I have learned on this topic. If you have volunteered in an orphanage, I invite you to join me in posting this information on social media and sharing it kindly with any organizations, churches, or service organizations involved in these practices.