Determining Best Practices for Volunteers and Short-Term Mission Trips

In recent years, there has been a trend in sending short-term mission groups and volunteers to residential care facilities to make a difference in the lives of orphans.  However, these efforts tend to inhibit a transition to family care by perpetuating business models that rely on the donations of visitors to keep their operations running. Furthermore, while the love and attention of volunteers may at first seem positive, it can put children’s development and ability to form healthy attachments at risk.  Children can also be in vulnerable positions if the orphanage does not have child protection policies or adequately screen volunteers.

More appropriate use of volunteers during a transition to family care may involve partnering with local churches or organizations to promote family-based alternatives, building staff and organizational capacity to work with children and families, running meaningful community-wide events for children, or providing technical expertise in social work and family strengthening.

Short-Term Missions: Guidance to Support Orphans and Vulnerable Children Provides guidance and better practice standards for short-term missions to ensure positive outcomes for vulnerable children, their families, and their communities. It encourages short-term missions to shift their focus from engaging with children in residential care centers to engagement in activities that support family-based care. Twenty-eight organizations have endorsed the Guidance, including the Standards of Excellence (SOE) in Short-Term Mission. (Faith to Action Initiative)

Protecting Children in Short-Term Missions: A Guidance Manual and Toolkit for Churches and Christian Organisations Focuses on protecting children and upholding their best interests in short-term missions programs and reflects the most common scenario, which involves sending and receiving organizations working in partnership. (ACCI Relief)

Ethical Volunteering with Vulnerable Children Highlights ethical considerations around working with vulnerable children and including alternative ways of supporting families and communities. (ACCI Relief)

Better Volunteering, Better Care Initiative Provides useful information on issues and concerns of volunteering in orphanages, and a wide listing of resources and links related to volunteering, including materials from faith organizations, on issues with volunteering in orphanages for mission teams. (Interagency Initiative)

Guidelines on the Deployment of Volunteers Working with Children Abroad Includes brief sections on being aware of children’s attachment, ensuring that volunteers are trained and experienced, codes of conduct and policies on protecting children, preparing and supervising volunteers, and choosing partners. (Better Care Network)

Interview with Anna McKeon, Communication Consultant, Better Care Better Volunteering Network Provides an overview of the Better Volunteering initiative from the perspective of the coordinator and offers insights into why rethinking volunteer work with vulnerable children is needed. (Galimberti, S.)


Videos Offers a series of short videos and documentaries that discuss the potential harm that can come from international volunteering in residential care. (Better Care Network)

Orphanage Tourism, Faith Communities, and Holistic Development Encourages ethical global service partnerships among faith communities. (

Orphanage Tourism Encourages a rethinking of volunteering in residential care, particularly geared toward young people considering international missions or student volunteering. (Learning Service)

Broken Dreams: Why Volunteering in an Orphanage Is Part of the Problem Features personal testimony of a careleaver who explains why individuals should engage in volunteer efforts to support family care for orphans and vulnerable children instead of volunteering in residential care centers. (Catholic Relief Services)