By the end of 2017, Projects Abroad shifted its focus away from residential care and orphanage volunteering abroad to community-based childcare. Residential care for children, usually in orphanages or children’s homes, is common in many developing countries. However, this isn’t the best way to care for vulnerable children. This is why our volunteers no longer work in orphanages abroad, and we are committed to a future without orphanages.
Why we think it’s important to shift away from volunteering in orphanages
For many years, we worked closely with selected residential care facilities to provide additional support for children there. Our volunteers and staff made amazing contributions to improving the lives of these children through volunteer work in orphanages abroad. However, we’ve always supported local partners who aim to reduce the number of children in residential care, because we believed that institutional care should be the absolute last resort for any child.
At the same time, we kept ourselves abreast of the new research in the area of childcare and recognised the concerns raised about the orphanage industry. Over a number of years, we’ve seen a growing amount associating orphanage care with child trafficking and exploitation. As an ethical volunteer organisation, we’ve never – and will never – knowingly place children at risk through our programmes.
We embarked on a review and assessment of where our volunteers make the most sustainable and significant impact, especially when working with children. A recurring theme from this process was that we should be focusing on community-based care for children to make the most sustainable and positive impact possible.
With more than eight million children in residential care globally, investing in family and community-based care solutions for children is crucial. Up to 80% of children living in residential care have one or more living parents. With extra support, many of these parents may be willing and better able to care for them. In the future, we’ll continue to focus on providing support exclusively to community-based childcare programmes.
Partnerships Supporting Our Move Away from Orphanages
During our review process, we joined with ReThink Orphanages to get extra support in transitioning away from volunteer work in orphanages abroad. This partnership ensures that we collaborate with others in the volunteering and development sectors to raise awareness of this issue. By doing so, we can ensure children aren’t separated unnecessarily from their families and placed in orphanages. We work with our partners in each country to provide resources, support, and advice on shifting towards family-based care models for children. We continue to connect partners directly with organisations that reintegrate children back into families.
Projects Abroad is also a part of the cross-sector alliance Orphanage Divestment Action Group, which has been convened by the Better Care Network, in partnership with ReThink Orphanages. This is an international network of organisations committed to supporting children without adequate family care around the world. The group works by fostering collaboration, research, and information sharing on family strengthening and alternative care. They also advocate for changes to national, regional, and global policies to improve children's care situations.
Moving Away from Volunteering in Orphanages Abroad: Our Projects
Moving away from orphanage volunteering to a community-based approach to childcare meant that we shifted our focus to being preventive rather than reactive. In essence, we try to mitigate the number of cases of children ending up in residential care facilities rather than assisting them after they’ve been separated from their families. As part of this approach, new project models were developed and existing community-based projects strengthened.
Childcare Projects now take on a wider more holistic scope and are driven by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs):
- UN SDG 1: No Poverty
- UN SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being
- UN SDG 4: Quality Education
- UN SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
- UN SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities
- UN SDG 13: Climate Action
Management Plans exist for all our Childcare Projects. All of the countries we work in adopt 3-5 of the following goals in their project design:
- Promote Early Childhood Development
- Increase Literacy
- Increase Numeracy
- Improve Hygiene
- Improve English
- Raise awareness of healthy living, the environment, family planning
- Improve the quality of life for those living with disabilities
- Improve the level of stimulation to each child
In addition to these measures, we continue to have a strict Childcare Policy in place to protect the children we work with.
Specific Case Studies from our Projects
The case studies below demonstrate the evolution of our work to support vulnerable children and mitigate the risk of family separation and residential care.
Case 1 – Cambodia
We first piloted our community-based Childcare program in Cambodia in 2014. Since then, we’ve developed several tools to monitor the impact of our volunteers. Using Management Plans and our Global Impact Database, we can monitor and improve in areas such as English, literacy, numeracy, and early childhood development.
Projects Abroad funds several daycare centres in Phnom Penh, through a local NGO. These daycare centres provide education, healthcare, and support for children of families who predominantly work in clothing factories.
Through the relationships we built with the wider community through our work at these daycares, we expanded our efforts to include a Micro-finance and Public Health Project. With these projects, we’re able to further economic empowerment and wellbeing for parents, and enabling families to live more stable lives.
This is a model we want to develop in other countries, through partnerships with and resources for local grassroots organizations.
Our partners in Cambodia are incredible, and the multidisciplinary community impact is inspiring. It’s widely praised by our staff and third parties.
Case 2 – Ghana
Projects Abroad previously worked with a number of orphanages or residential care facilities in Ghana. Now we focus on supporting low-cost community-based daycare facilities for children. This allows their mothers to travel and trade goods in order to earn an income to support their families. Previously, these mothers would have:
- Left children unsupervised or improperly supervised
- Stayed home to take care of the children and not be able to earn an income (leading to poverty and hunger)
- Surrendered children to residential care homes (formal or informal) because of their inability to cope
- Supporting these community-based care facilities allows children to stay within the family setting. Our volunteers are also able to focus on early childhood development and other project goals with these children while they’re at daycare.
Case 3 – Jamaica
At the time we stopped volunteering in orphanages, we worked with four residential care facilities for children in Jamaica. Our volunteers assisted with the general care of the children, along with math and reading fundamentals. The move away from working with residential care facilities wasn’t welcomed at first. The change was challenging at that time, because both staff and volunteers had an established workflow with the care facilities and care givers. We were sensitive to the needs and desires of our stakeholders and were careful not to make any sudden changes that might adversely affect the children. Therefore, the transition was done over a period of months.
During this period, the local team worked on creating a project model that would continue to support vulnerable children, but focus on prevention efforts, rather than providing a structure that supports keeping children in homes. Projects Abroad took a holistic approach, and channeled volunteers’ skills into several prevention efforts:
1. Provide support in local schools for children with learning difficulties, through Childcare Projects: We found that a large number of disadvantaged children didn’t have academic support at home. In some cases, they also faced abuse at home. They had difficulties learning and required one-on-one attention to keep up in class. We ensure our volunteers are equipped with the skills and tools to support these children.
2. Educating communities about children’s rights through a Human Rights Project: Volunteers with the appropriate skills and academic background engage in a Child Rights Educational Campaign. At the core of this campaign, volunteers educate children as young as three about their rights and responsibilities under the law, using age-appropriate techniques and material. We also educate childcare providers, parents, and the public. We’ve found that cultural ways of parenting and disciplining children (physical punishment and verbal abuse) often lead to court action and separation of children from their families. Knowledge of the law surrounding childcare and ‘appropriate’ forms of discipline helps to mitigate incidents of abuse leading to separation.
3. Raising awareness about mental health through our Psychology Project: We engage children and adults in workshops and other forms of information-sharing activities. The following activities help to mitigate incidents of child abuse and neglect leading to forced or voluntary separation:
- Address the more individual causes and effects of child abuse
- Identify signs of psychological issues
- Encourage a better understanding of mental health
- Provide tools to help to manage one’s emotions and actions
- Encourage positive parenting and share support services available to both parents and children
These initiatives have moved us into a position where we’re actively trying to reduce the number of children in group homes by giving families the skills and information they need.
Can I volunteer at an orphanage?
This is a question we’re often asked. However, the more important question you should ask yourself is “Should I volunteer at an orphanage?” We hope that the above information helps answer this question, and inspires you to embrace a more responsible form of volunteering.
We strongly encourage you to take the time to make an informed decision about volunteering in an orphanage. If you have further questions about orphanage volunteering abroad, or our approach to community-based childcare, our friendly Project Experts are always available.
Interested in volunteering abroad with children?
We have a wide range of Childcare Projects where volunteers can work with children in the developing world. Get in touch with us to learn more about how you can help and which project would be the best fit for you.
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