Orphanages, Families, and Ethical Volunteering
Most students studying Social Anthropology probably already know about the problems of volunteering at orphanages overseas. Rebecca Smith on the Save the Children website states:
Probably one of the most famous studies on the effects on orphanage care on children is the Bucharest Early Intervention Study, a longitudinal study which started in Romania in 2000 and continues to follow children. They found that growing up in orphanages leads to profound deficits and delays in cognitive and social-emotional development and greater risks of psychiatric disorders. On average, for every three months that a child was in an institution, he or she lost one month of development compared to a child in foster care.
International volunteers who help out at an orphanage for a couple of weeks, or a few months at most, can unintentionally cause harm to the children there. What these ‘orphans’ need is long-term stability, and volunteers don’t help with that. Moreover, many of these children often have at least one living parent.
Save the Children actively discourages people from volunteering at orphanages. Read this blog post by Rebecca Smith, and feel free to watch the video embedded in it as well: https://blogs.savethechildren.org.uk/2018/11/volunteering-in-orphanages-not-solution-save-the-children-uk-blogs/.
We can all accept the problems with volunteering at orphanages. Smith offers alternative solutions. But some questions remain.
Are biological families always the best place for children? What if the child’s biological parents, or even extended family, cannot provide proper care? Is fostering really the better option to orphanages? Think also in terms of the Born into Brothels documentary we watched in class. Is it worth separating families if even one child’s life can be changed for the better? How can we shift attention and resources to the solutions that Smith suggests, which would require the daunting task of building political will among national and local governments?