What Is an 'Institution' or 'Orphanage'? - Lumos Skip to page content

What Is an 'Institution' or 'Orphanage'?

Children belong in families,
not orphanages

An orphanage is one of the most well-known types of institution. 

Defining an 'Institution' 


There are numerous definitions of what the term 'institution' means when referring to children. And a clear distinction is needed between an institution and high-quality residential care. However, an institution would include at least one (often more) of the following key factors that research evidence shows result in harm to children, including:
  • Children are arbitrarily separated from their parents (and often their siblings) and raised by personnel who are paid to care for them, and who usually work shifts
  • Large numbers of unrelated children live together in the same building or compound
  • The child does not have the opportunity to form a healthy emotional attachment to one or two primary caregivers
  • The setting is isolated from the broader community and is distinctly identifiable as being outside the broader community (by the use of high walls or fences, barbed wire, guards on the gate, provision of school on site, inter alia)
  • Contact with the birth and extended family is not actively encouraged or supported, and is at times discouraged
  • Care is generally impersonal and the needs of the organisation come before the individual needs of the child
  • This often leads to a range of neglectful behaviours on the part of personnel (eg., children are not fed sufficiently, babies are left in soiled nappies for long periods) and the use of restrictive or dangerous measures to control children’s behaviour (such as severe physical punishment, tying up children or the use of psychotropic drugs, inter alia).

Institutions for children include, but are not restricted to:

  • Orphanages
  • Any residential settings for babies and very young children
  • Residential special schools
  • Large children’s homes
  • Centres for unaccompanied migrant/refugee children
  • Social care homes (adults and children with disabilities housed together)
  • Secure units
  • Psychiatric wards
  • Paediatric wards (long stay)
  • Prisons.