Poverty, lack of support for children with disabilities, discrimination, disaster, disease and conflict too often tear children and families apart. Across the globe, millions of children live without necessary, protective family care. Some survive on the streets or fall victim to traffickers, are forced to join armed groups or are exploited for their labor. At least 8 million children worldwide live in orphanages or residential care centers at great risk to their physical, emotional and intellectual development. More than 80 percent of these children have living parents or family who could, with support, provide them with the care they need.
The overwhelming majority of these children have been placed into orphanages not because their parents have died or because they have experienced abuse or willful neglect at home, but rather because their families live in extreme poverty without health, education and other services in their local community. Where family- and community-based support is lacking, parents may believe that institutionalization is the only way to access basic or specialized services for their children.
For more than 100 years, the US Government has advocated for American children to be in protective and permanent family care. Progressive reformers championed deinstitutionalization in America beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, starting with a call to move children out of so-called “orphanages.”Children, reformers believed, “should not be removed from their families except for urgent and compelling reasons.” Instead of placing children in orphanages, poor families were to receive financial aid to support their children at home.
Since then, 80 years of research has confirmed that institutionalization can disrupt healthy child development. Children raised in institutional care do not get the same love and close adult attention as children in families. They do not have the chance
to form crucial, permanent attachments to a caregiver, which can lead to long-term problems forming normal, trusting relationships. In residential care, children can experience abuse, neglect, lack of stimulation and toxic stress, all of which can have a profoundly negative effect on their development and prospects in adult life. Yet, despite this evidence, the institutionalization of children is on the rise in many parts of the world.
Dollars and Sense, a research report on US government funding is the first of five highlighting strengths and weaknesses of funding streams in key sectors.