Study Finds Orphanages Can Be a ‘Viable Option’

I read this in the USA Today the other day and I think it is important to make a few comments. The article reports:

Children who live in orphanages fare as well or better than those in family homes, reports a Duke University study that tracked more than 3,000 children in five Asian and African countries.

The study, released today, is touted as one of the most comprehensive ever done on orphans. Orphaned and abandoned children ages 6-12 were evaluated over a three-year period in 83 institutions and 311 families in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania. Those in institutions had significantly better health scores, lower prevalence of recent sickness and fewer emotional problems.

The study’s findings contrast with U.S. and international child-welfare policies that strongly favor family placement over institutional care for orphaned or abandoned children.

That last line is exactly the kind of sentiment that is dangerous. The research is not conclusive. It only says that orphanages might be better than certain in-country options like foster care and group homes – which may well be true. The dangerous aspect is that it gives the idea that orphanages are actually adequate or the best option for kids which is not true. In a day when international adoption numbers are on the decline and the number of orphans remains in the millions, we do not need encouragement to keep children institutionalized. We need to find ways to provide these children with permanency in a family, indigenouslly and internationally.

I highly recommend Dr. Elizabeth Bartholet’s paper ‘“International Adoption: The Human Rights Position,” for perspective on this issue.

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5 thoughts on “Study Finds Orphanages Can Be a ‘Viable Option’

  1. Thanks for commenting on this. I saw this article too and it was concerning to me as a soon-to-be fost-adopt parent. It certainly is not good for kids to be bounced around from home-to-home in foster care which is only another reason why the Church needs to take on the responsibility.

    • Amen Krysta! It is exciting to see the church rising up around the country. Much grace to you guys as you foster-to-adopt!

  2. Given the horrible poverty so widespread in the countries in this study and the reality that many orphanages around the world are state run and therefore have at least marginally more resources available than many families, some of the conclusions of this study aren’t too surprising. I agree with you completely, however, that this article leaves readers with the impression that institutions are undoubtedly the best option for orphans…an impression that is misleading, at best, or just downright dishonest, at worst.

    Even in Ukraine, where we adopted our son, both the state (as an entity) and the orphanage workers (as individuals) realized that long-term foster care (i.e., within a single family) in a loving home is tremendously more beneficial to children than is growing up institutionalized. Adoption, they realized, is by far the best option for them. I’ll never forget the tears of joy shed by our son’s caregivers as they waved goodbye to him–understanding fully that this precious, wonderful boy would now graciously be given a real chance in life, something statistics show is not a reality for the millions of orphans that age out of Ukrainian orphanages into the ‘real world.’

    There is no doubt in my mind we’ll find the exact same thing when we travel to Ethiopia.

  3. This kind of research is really concerning to me, because I believe it leads to complacency from the general public in regards to institutionalized children, and further fuel for anti-adoption advocates. As a family therapist and research geek, I also find it misleading that they are making any kind of comment about emotional health after a three-year period. How will these children fare in relationships as adults? How will they attach to their spouse and/or children? These questions are important and I don’t think children who are raised outside of a loving nuclear family will be equipped to move into loving family relationships in adulthood.

    • Kristen – Thank you for weighing in! You make some very important and crucial points on the issue. We really need more voices like yours to speak to the best interests of orphans!

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