Last year’s Christmas saw another remarkable gestures by churches, religious groups, organizations both private and public, individuals, families, fun clubs, flooding the doorsteps of orphanages with various food items and other provisions for the sustenance and welfare of children in these institutions. As to the purposes behind these gestures, it is best known to themselves. No matter the reason behind these gestures, these donations are an endorsement to the presence of these institutions in our societies.
The time has come for us to measure the impact of our donations to these institutions and assess whether they are solving the developmental needs of these children or rather, a means of fulfilling goals and ambitions of these donors. I recall a statement made by a sport journalist that, Ghana’s first qualification to the World Cup was made possible because of a donation the Black Stars made to a particular orphanage. We hear stories of people recounting their business success and riches to some donations they made to several orphanages. Orphanage homes (institutional care or residential home) have become means to garner riches by donating. Our concentration is no more on the effect of our donation on the development of these children in these institutions, but rather, on personal ambitions, recognitions and divine blessing emanating from our donations. After carefully studying the effect of these institutional homes on the children involved, I wouldn’t be surprise that you would prefer to foster or help placed a kid out of orphanage into a family setting.
Orphanages in some countries are rapidly facing off due to its devastation and deleterious developmental impact on the children involved. Institutional cares in these countries are now reserved only for children with significant emotional and behavior problems that cannot be managed at home or in the community, or for children with severe disabilities who are dependent on technological support. Children who have attained dramatic improvement in their conditions are reunited with their families. These institutions, due to the limited number of children involved, are well funded and supported by the government and do not advertise for support from the general public. An alternative approach such as formation of Community Child Protection committees, streamlining fosterage and adoptions, provision of cash transfer support to impoverished families and strengthening departments and ministries involved with children welfare, are the effective practices adopted by these countries in helping children in need of care and protection.
Why are some countries replacing orphanages or institutional cares with other alternative care for children? Reports on countries with a history of institutional care indicated evidence of developmental problems and difficulties reintegrating these children into society when they become young adults. A research in Russia documented that one in three children who leaves residential care becomes homeless, one in five ends up with a criminal record and up to one in 10 commits suicide. Other studies recorded lower IQ than their peers in foster care.
A study found that young children who were moved from orphanage to supported foster care recorded dramatic developmental gains across several cognitive and emotional development parameters compared to those who continued to live in orphanage. Some researchers recorded attachment disorders, developmental delay and neural atrophy in the developing brain are characterized among children in institutional care. Lack of continuity care, high ratio of children to staff, the high frequency of staff turnover, lack of love and emotional attachment are notable causes of poor developmental problems facing children in orphanages.
Mostly, we are tempted to believe that most of these orphanages are being occupied by children who have lost both parents. Some studies have outlined poverty as the major reason most children are pushed into institutional care. It would surprise you that the cost of providing for a child in a family setting compare to a child in an institutional home indicates that the latter is far expensive than the former. A World Bank calculation of cost per child in Romania, revealed that professional foster care would cost USD$91 per month, per child compared to between USD$201 and USD$280 per month/per child for the cost of institutional care. Institutional care also comes with recurring cost such as residential facilities cost, salaries of staff, maintenance cost of building, food and other service providing cost. A study in South Africa found institutional care to be up to six times more expensive than providing care for children living in vulnerable families, and four times more expensive than foster care or statutory adoption.
Several reports have debunked these residential homes as a place for child development. These residential homes serve as the last option for child’s placement when all other available options have been exhausted. The best alternative care placement option which focuses on the development of the child have been to place the child in a family setting which comes with options such as foster care, kinship care, adoption, community based alternatives to children in need, and so on.
It should be noted that all forms of alternative care can be harmful if implemented poorly. This even goes beyond alternative care; it is a fact in our daily practical living. Anything managed poorly will bear a harmful result. When it comes to the need of a child at different stages of development, it can be concluded that family-based care is better than institutional care. Strengthening Social Welfare Departments and forming Community based Child Protect committees can help provide the needed support to families in providing adequate care and protection for the children.
You do much good to a child when you foster them than sending them food while they are under institutional care. If all the churches, organizations, and groups in this country resolve to foster a child in these orphanages, it would do much better to this country, to the child and to themselves. It is much better for the children in these orphanages to be placed in a family setting than to wait for the year to end and send some food items. Institutional care is not the best place for child’s development. Let’s focus on providing a family for these children to help them grow and develop well.
Jeffery Amo - Asare