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The Problem

For many families, the only option is to put their child in an institution or orphanage

Poverty, discrimination, war or natural disaster are all factors that can cause children to become separated from their families. For many desperate parents seeking help, their only option is to put their child in an orphanage or other institution.

With support, most families could care for their children. And children without families could be looked after in family-style environments, or community-based services, where they can be provided with the care to meet their needs.

It is a global problem 

A mother and a baby

The problem with orphanages and other institutions

Raising children in an orphanage or other institution harms their health and development. It increases their exposure to abuse and puts them at risk of future criminal activity.

Children in orphanages are isolated.

They are isolated from their families and their communities. They are often hidden behind walls and segregated.

Even when orphanages and institutions are set up with good intentions, care is tailored to the needs of the institution, not the child. Staff struggle to cope with high numbers of children, particularly those with complex needs. Physical contact, care and attention become a luxury.

Good care has the child’s needs at its heart – whether that’s in a family or a family-like setting. 

Why are children in orphanages and other institutions?

Perhaps surprisingly, most children in orphanages have families who love and want them, but are born into poverty, or with a disability, in a place where families have little or no support.

With access to health and social care, it is hard to imagine making the decision to place your child in an orphanage or institution. But for many families, there is no choice.

At Lumos, we have found that extreme poverty is the main reason children are placed in orphanages.

Circumstances such as war or natural disaster, discrimination or disability compound the problem and force desperately poor parents to seek help. Without support, the only option they have is to put their child in an orphanage.

Orphanages take children out of poor families with the promise of education or healthcare that their parents can’t access – or feel they are unable to give.

When you are struggling to feed your family, the burden of having to travel to access the right healthcare or education for your child seems impossible. With a lack of local infrastructure and support, it often is.

Sadly, the reality is that even in orphanages, children can be neglected and exposed to serious abuse and harm. They are often traumatised by their experiences.

This all means that many children end up institutionalised for life.

But this shocking global problem has an affordable solution.

With support, most families could care for their children. And children without families can be looked after in foster or adoptive families, or in small group homes.

Defining an institution

Defining an institution or orphanage

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. 

Find out more about how we define what an institution is.

Stories from Families Lumos Has Helped