So, what is the problem with children’s homes?

Did you know that even the best-run modern children’s home, can never be a replacement for family life? Everything can look perfect to the outside eye, but how is it r-e-a-l-l-y for the children growing up there?

For many years, children’s homes were fully accepted globally and were seen as a good way to save children, with little or no consideration of how it affected them. Believe it or not, research on the topic showed the harmful effects of institutional care already in the 1930s. Quite a few countries have responded to this, and have made other plans for children at risk, while other countries have not done anything at all. Still, approximately 90 years later.

So, what is the problem? The first one is that more than 80% of all children in so-called orphanages are not orphans at all. They have at least one living parent, who could raise their own children if they just received some support.

When it comes to the actual care of the children, it is complex. They have been taken away from the community they are from, which means that they most likely have been separated from siblings, family, relatives and friends and will now not be able to maintain these relationships.

At a children’s home, there are normally many children. All tend to be treated more or less the same regardless of their age, gender, abilities and needs. The presence of the childcare workers who do the daily care of the children is not consequent. They work shifts, go on leave and might resign.  Relationships end again and again. Not to forget, the high numbers of physical and sexual abuse within the walls.

Children between the age of 0 – 3 years old are especially vulnerable when it comes to growth and development. They need nurturing, responsive and individual personal attention and care for proper physical and brain development, even more than older children. This is the period when they are supposed to learn to love and trust.

Many children growing up in children’s homes from a young age are physically, socially and emotionally underdeveloped, which limits their life chances. They are used to following very structured routines and have little chances to learn to do things on their own.

The opportunities children growing up in families normally have is not there for children in a children’s home. They have lost their so important social network, that would help them thrive.

Cooking, finances or taking their own initiatives are just a few examples they may struggle with when they eventually leave the children’s home for an independent life. They are also less aware of their rights and tend to follow instructions without question, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation and various kind of abuse. The risk to fall into addictions and criminality as well as depression and suicide is higher compared to others.

Heavy reading? Yes, but knowing this helps us to see that what children need is loving adults, who know them well and who are always there for them. Foster care is one great solution to avoid the many risks mentioned above and can offer individual care and love from a parent. Children experience family life in foster care, they can be involved in school and community activities they would not be able to do living in a children’s home and have a much better chance to become well-functioning adults one day.

Give a Child a Family Africa is currently in transformation. Having run parenting courses for years and had a foster care programme for 20 years plus, we have added emergency parents to our database, but we want to do more. In a future blog post, we will explain the organisation’s exciting transformational development that has all to do with children growing up in stable, secure and loving families. Stay tuned!

Written by Anna-Karin Öhrnstedt

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