Family is so central to a child’s healthy development, and yet family separation—the separating of a child from his or her family—happens for many different reasons. Poverty is a primary reason for children being placed in residential institutions in many countries around the world. Parents may see residential care as the only way to meet their children’s basic material needs such as food and shelter, or provide them with access to an education and other services. In other instances, children cannot remain with their parents because the care provided is not adequate or safe. Disability and illness (on the part of parents or children), parental death, natural disaster, or conflict are other causes for separation. In these and other instances, services that address the root causes of vulnerability and separation can make the difference between a child remaining in his or her family or being placed in residential care.
There are both “push” and “pull” factors that drive parents to place children in institutional care. Push factors are difficult circumstances – pushing families to consider orphanages as a way out of their hardships. Pull factors are real or perceived benefits – pulling families toward orphanages as a means of providing resources children may not otherwise have access to.
A realistic look at children living in institutions reveals that:
- Between 2 to 8 million children around the world are living in institutions and away from their families and communities. The range of estimates is due in large part to the number of residential institutions that operate outside of registration systems or the lack of data systems to track the number of children living in care.
- Evidence suggests that the use of residential care for vulnerable children is on the rise in many countries, even while unnecessary and used in place of supporting family and community-based care.
- Most children in residential care are not orphans; according to figures up to 90 percent of children in institutions worldwide have at least one living parent, and most children who have lost a parent are able to live with the surviving parent, primary family members (such as older siblings), or extended family (such as grandparents).
Why are children often separated from their families and placed in residential care?
Elly Muthoni & Roda Akeyo