How do we define the terms “orphan”?
The term “orphan” refers to any child who has lost one or both parents from any cause. A “single” orphan is a child that has lost one parent while a “double” orphan has lost both parents. Most orphan statistics include children in both categories. This definition has caused some confusion for individuals and faith-based organizations seeking to work with orphaned children. It is important to remember that of the more than 153 million children classified as orphans worldwide, approximately 18 million have actually lost both parents. Evidence shows that the vast majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent, grandparent, or family member.
Who are vulnerable children?
The term “vulnerable children” describes all children who have been determined to be in greatest need. They can include children who have lost one or both parents, whose parents have become too ill to care for and protect them, children living in extreme poverty and lack access to basic services, or those suffering from illness or disability.
Who is caring for the majority of orphaned and vulnerable children?
Extended family members and the community are caring for the vast majority of orphaned and vulnerable children. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that over 90% of orphaned children are cared for by a surviving parent, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, older siblings, or neighbors and community members acting as “foster families.” Many of these families are living in extreme poverty, which is exacerbated as more children enter the home. Local groups are in the best position to directly minister to the needs of children and families in their own communities. Churches in the United States also have a critical role to play. By learning about, praying for, giving to, and serving with these local efforts, we can help to bring life-sustaining support to children and families in need.
What do we mean by family and community-based care? What does this look like?
Family and community-based care programs are any programs that help to keep children within a family where they can best thrive – rather than in orphanages or in institutional care. They might provide medicine to prevent the death of biological parents, locate and support foster families, provide counseling and home visit services, drop in centers for street children, and daycare centers. Many programs like these are started or run through the local church. Local solutions for orphans and vulnerable children ensure that every child has a family, while also protecting children from mistreatment and abuse. When the family and community are strengthened fewer children are neglected, abandoned, or placed into orphanages. Communities and local churches cannot provide for all of the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children alone. Governments have a responsibility to provide basic services, especially in areas such as public health, education, material assistance, and social protection. Community and faith-based organizations have an important role to play in advocating for – and helping families and children access – these critical services.
What role can orphanages play?
Orphanages are sometimes necessary as a temporary or last-resort response for children in crisis, but they are not a sufficient solution. Orphanages are more costly than family-based care and can only reach small numbers of children. They are also incapable of addressing the scale of the crisis and unable to meet the developmental, holistic, and long-term needs of individual children. There may be situations when they are temporarily needed to offer safety and provide for immediate needs. In these cases the best models are those that provide small group homes, modeled on family life, with trained house parents who can give personal and consistent care. For children outside of parental care, every effort must be made to support family-based solutions to ensure nurturing and consistent family care. This includes reunification, kinship care, temporary foster family care, and adoption. Churches and faith-based organizations can do a lot in these communities to reduce dependency on orphanages.
What are positive and effective alternatives to orphanages?
Scripture, common sense, and years of academic research are all in agreement that children grow best in families. Family-based care which covers the broad spectrum – or full continuum – of comprehensive and family placement options for children include: prevention services and early intervention services for families; reunification and post-permanency supports with a child’s family of origin; relative or kinship care placement; temporary, interim alternative care, including foster family care; and legal permanency through guardianship and adoption should a child not be able to return home.
When is adoption the best option for a child?
Permanent care within a loving and supportive family is the ideal option for every child. Where domestic adoption with extended family or community members is a viable option, governments and non-profits should work together to assess each child and potential family for adoption placement. When domestic and local families are not a viable option, and after due diligence has been done to connect children to loving families in their community of origin, inter-country adoption can provide a loving, safe, and permanent option for orphaned children.
Inter-country adoption can never address the needs of all orphaned and vulnerable children, but as a piece of the continuum of care it can provide a vital solution for children who might otherwise grow up in institutional (orphanage) care.