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J.K. Rowling: international aid can help end the institutionalisation of children ‘in our lifetime’


J.K. Rowling: international aid can help end the institutionalisation of children ‘in our lifetime’

Author launches #LetsTalkLumos campaign for eight million children in institutions or orphanages, of whom over 80 per cent have living parents. J.K. Rowling today urged some of the world’s largest international aid donors to use their financial might to eradicate institutions and orphanages that harm children.

As Founder and President of the international children’s charity Lumos, she told a London conference that all children had a legal and moral right to a family life and that institutions, despite the best intentions, cannot give the love and care they need to grow and reach their potential.

Speaking to representatives from organisations controlling billions of Euros and US Dollars in international aid - including the EU, the US Government and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – the author emphasised the clear economic case for ‘deinstitutionalisation’. Supporting children to stay with their own families in their communities was – in nearly all cases - significantly cheaper for societies than funding institutions, she said.

“I recently committed to becoming President of Lumos for Life,” she added, “and it is my dream that by the time my life ends, the very concept of taking a child away from its family and locking it away will seem to belong to a cruel, fictional world.”

J.K. Rowling addressed more than 50 government officials and diplomats from Europe and around the world, at the major policy conference hosted by Lumos, in Westminster, Central London, entitled In Our Lifetime: a Global Conference to End the Institutionalisation of Children.

The author is also helping to launch Lumos’ online social media campaign, #LetstalkLumos, aimed at raising awareness of the plight of up to eight million children globally who are living in orphanages and institutions, despite over 80% having living parents. The campaign will also raise funds for a special education unit in a mainstream school in Moldova, to demonstrate that children with complex disabilities can be educated alongside their peers without disabilities.

At the conference, J.K. Rowling met Dumitriţa, aged 14, who lived for five years in an institution from Moldova until, with Lumos’ support, she was reunited with her family in 2013. Dumitriţa has been included in a mainstream school and is now an active promoter of inclusive education for all children. The author also met 17-year-old Cristina, the leader of children’s council at Dumitriţa’s school.

Lumos today released a report about aid from governments – either directly to a country or through international agencies such as the United Nations. The report concluded that some donors had achieved a great deal in helping countries to ‘deinstitutionalise’ but found weaknesses in the way aid has been given:

  • In countries embarking a deinstitutionaliation (DI) process, donor funds were used to improve and ‘prop up’ institutions in the short term, with the unintended impact of perpetuating their existence.
  • Medical care for children has been funded through institutions, rather than in the community, creating the risk that parents are compelled to give children up to institutions to receive this support.
  • In disasters, conflict and other funds are often spent on orphanages as the ‘simplest’ service for children separated from families. However, once admitted, children tend to remain in institutions for long periods.
  • Funding plans for DI that do not take into account of the needs of institutionalised children with complex disabilities or behaviours risk ‘leaving them behind’ when other children return to the community.

Donors, the report added, sometimes gave mixed messages to countries, appearing both to support DI and the perpetuation of institutions. At times, funds went ‘inadvertently’ to institutions. Donors should review funding procedures, it concluded.

Georgette Mulheir, Chief Executive Officer of Lumos, who was recently named as one of the ‘world’s most influential social workers’ by a US academic publication, welcomed the commitment of major donors to support deinstitutionalisation. She cited EU regulations in 2014 that prohibit funds to Member States being used to build or renovate institutions.

However, she added: “There is now extensive scientific proof of the harm that living in an institution can cause a child. This is a critical time for ending the institutionalisation of children. The commitments made by the EU, US and the Global Alliance for Children (a grouping of public and private bodies) set an important precedent for other donors. It is important not to lose momentum and to build upon these achievements.”

Notes to editors:

The conference heard a presentation, entitled What Works: Effective Deinstitutionalisation in Moldova, by Dumitriţa and Cristina, from Moldova. Speakers at the event also included Rob Horvath, US Government Special Adviser on Children in Adversity; José Fernando Costa Pereira, Policy Advisor to the Africa Department of the European External Action Service, EU; Allison Llera, Counsellor to the Haitian Prime Minister; Neil Boothby, Senior Adviser to the USAID Administrator, Global Alliance for Children.

In four years, Lumos has

Supported more than 12,000 children to move from harmful institutions to families or supported independent living;

Saved the lives of 644 children suffering from malnutrition, severe neglect or a lack of access to medical treatment;

Trained more than 17,000 social workers, medical professionals, teachers, carers, civil servants and policy makers;

Helped redirect €367 million (approx. US$500 million) that was planned to be spent on institutions and ensured that it was spent on community based services instead.

For more information on the scale of institutionalisation and the harm it causes, read Lumos factsheets.

Lumos is running a digital fundraising campaign on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo from the 24th November. The aim of this campaign is to raise funds to help children with disabilities access education in Moldova. We are building a Special Education Unit as an annexe to the local mainstream school. This will enable local children with complex physical and learning disabilities to access mainstream education for the first time in their lives.

Lumos is an international non-governmental organisation, set up by the author J.K. Rowling, which works to end the institutionalisation of children around the world. It helps countries to transform education, health and social care systems so children can be moved from institutions and supported in the families and the community.

A new report 'Ending Institutionalisation of Children' is available here

Lumos publications are available here

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Contact: Vicky Gillings, Head of Communications - +44 (0) 7881 816599; John Steele, Senior PR & Communications Executive - +44 (0) 7768 660953; Miriam Rich - +44 (0) 7810 395490