Your excellent article ‘Orphanage tourism: help or hindrance?’ (Friday 3rd February), raises many important issues about the growing numbers of privately run “orphanages” in Cambodia. EveryChild works with some of Cambodia’s poorest and most vulnerable families and the many children who leave home to earn a living on the street where they often get into trouble with the police and end up in even worse conditions in prison. But orphanages are not the solution.
We have first-hand experience across the world of the damage done to children brought up in large-scale institutions. Our report Scaling down: Reducing, reshaping and improving residential care around the world, documents the body of evidence on the harmful effects - both mentally and physically. Children need the consistent love and care of one or two adults with whom they can form a lasting attachment. The absence of this attachment and loving care damages children’s brain development, leading to physical and mental health problems. Evidence from CEE/CIS countries shows that more children leave large-scale facilities with disabilities than those who enter them, suggesting that inadequate care in such facilities can actually disable children. Children in institutional care – particularly privately run orphanages with no regulatory authority - are also highly vulnerable to neglect and abuse.
Our work with the poorest and most vulnerable families demonstrates that it is possible for parents to find ways to look after their children and keep them safe. When this isn’t possible family-based alternatives such as foster care should be prioritised and we have worked with many organisations and authorities across the world were this has been successful. Supporting parents and developing family-based alternatives gives children the opportunity to enjoy a childhood in a safe and caring family, free from poverty, violence and exploitation.
A 15-year-old boy living in residential care in Malawi summed it up best when he said: “It is better to have a home and to be visited by relatives... you feel safe when you belong to a family.”
Chief Executive, EveryChild