Orphanage VolunteeringVolunteering in orphanages seems, at face value, to be a selfless act of charity that can only do good. Sadly, this is very rarely the case so we would like you to take a few minutes to read about the reality of orphanage volunteering.
In many countries – developed and developing alike - there are vulnerable children for whom living at home in what we perceive as a “normal” family environment is not safe. Different countries deal with this problem in different ways. Sadly, in countries where state social care is undeveloped the problem of keeping such children safe is even more complex than it is in the developed world.
In some countries these vulnerable children are housed in institutions that have come to be collectively known as “orphanages”, even when many of the children who find themselves in such orphanages have at least one and sometimes two parents still living. And in some cases desperate parents are paid to allow their children to live in such institutions on the promise of a better life for their children.
In some cases children may be safer in institutionalised care in the short term, but unless such homes are properly managed and properly regulated it can lead to long term and serious harm for the children. The negative impacts of institutionalised care are also greatly increased for children under five years of age, typically the age group that many volunteers wish to work with.
The problems with bogus and badly run “orphanages” are particularly prevalent in countries such as Cambodia and Nepal where child trafficking is rife, often under the guise of children being taken into care. Despite what some organisations say, regulation of orphanages and child safeguarding in such institutions are unreliable at best and at worst non-existent.
The reasons these practices are wrong are well documented and are being addressed at national and international levels. In the context of volunteering in residential homes for children we believe that the following policies must be adhered to in order to protect vulnerable children:
- Volunteer organisations should only work with institutions that are actively seeking family-focused solutions for the children in their care, wherever it is safe to do so.
- All volunteers working with children in any capacity must be background checked.
- The physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing of children living in any kind of institutionalised care home should only be left to professionals who are sufficiently qualified to take on such a responsibility. Intervention by unqualified volunteers should be the last resort in exceptional circumstances.
- Volunteer organisations and unqualified volunteers should only work with government registered and regulated institutions in countries where adequate legislation is in place - and enforced - to protect children in care.
- Unqualified volunteers should only be permitted to work in roles that do not allow any kind of physical or emotional attachment to be made and only under the supervision of suitably qualified permanent project staff.
At Globalteer, we have many years of first-hand, on-the-ground experience in all the countries where we work and permanent staff in the countries where we work with children. Globalteer believes that any kind of volunteering with children in institutionalised care that does not comply with the above guidelines is potentially seriously harmful to children.