Children who are placed in institutions or so called ‘orphanages’ are not only deprived of a family life but, very often, are also denied the opportunity of growing up in their communities.
Institutions are often placed outside of villages or towns; some may also have high walls. Whatever the physical appearance of the building, there is usually a prevailing culture of keeping children interred within the walls.
Developmentally, it is very important for children to be able to connect with and learn about their external environment, so they can function, as adults, within society.
Children leaving institutions at the age of 18 are often extremely unprepared for life outside the institution. This leaves them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. One Russian study showed that children leaving institutions were ten times more likely to be involved in prostitution; 40 times more likely to have a criminal record; and 500 times more likely to commit suicide.
From outside of the institution, local people know little about children who have lived behind its walls. And so when the time comes for the authorities to close down an institution - creating new services that serve the needs of all children and reunite children back to their families or help them back to community-based family life - there can be mistrust and misconceptions from the wider community. People have asked:
“Are these children dangerous or infected?”
“Will they hurt my children?”
“Will they put strain on our local resources?”
That is why we attach great importance to community engagement work. We have often seen cultural resistance to the idea that children who are ‘different’ - because they are disabled, or have behavioural ‘problems’ – should live in local communities. This is particularly true in countries where institutions have been the only option for disadvantaged families.
This mistrust – if left unchallenged – can undermine years of work to reform services. This is particularly troubling in the case of ‘small group homes’ – places which may from time to time, become home to some children with complex needs or challenging behaviour. In small group homes those children can live within their communities, close to their families but receiving the highly specialised care they need. In the worst cases, centres have been identified and financed, only for local protests to jeopardise the project. At times, projects have been scrapped entirely.
Lumos helps local authorities to work with local communities - in schools, or town halls, or public meetings – as early as possible in the DI process, to prevent the resistance reaching such damaging proportions.
There is a saying - that it takes a village to raise a child. Our aim is to remove the stigma attached to institutionalised children and to persuade local people that they are just children who, like all the others, want and need the love of a family – and the support of their local community.