First, do no harm
Today, millions of vulnerable children around the world are growing up in orphanages, without the love and care of a family. In the best cases, the children are receiving food, clothes, a cot or bed, an education and a roof over their heads. They are supported by well-meaning charities, churches, individuals and governments. In the worst cases, they are isolated, starved, abused, sold into international adoption or sex cartels, and many die.
In all cases, they never get the love, support and sense of identity that only a loving family can give. Hundreds of studies tell us - as does our common sense - that family life is critical to a child's healthy development. Without it, children suffer great harm and are deeply damaged.
The physical and psychological harm
Evidence shows us that children who grow up in institutional care are more likely to suffer from poor health, physical underdevelopment, deterioration in brain growth, and to experience developmental delays and emotional attachment disorders.
Consequently, they have lower intellectual, social and behavioural abilities than children growing up in a family environment. They also suffer the social consequences of having no family support structure and being branded as social outcasts, which often lasts a lifetime.
With the right support, the older children can go on to live fairly normal lives. But most can expect little more than a life of homelessness, loneliness, difficulty developing permanent relationships and turning to substance abuse, crime and self-harm. Many will continue the cycle of placing their children in orphanages, as that is all they all know about childhood and parenting.
For babies and young children under the age of three, the harm is often permanent and irreversible; no amount of physical or psychological treatment will ever restore them. Their future is very bleak.
Every day that a child spends in an orphanage is one day too many. It denies him or her a life in a family and the opportunity to grow up to be a healthy and happy individual.
Rather than creating, supporting and funding solutions that keep vulnerable children in orphanages, we need solutions that keep children and families together.
Children have the right to a better life than the one an orphanage provides.
Read some studies about the harm done to children by being placed in orphanages.
Unintentional harm done by volunteers
Most children in orphanages live with a deep sense of abandonment and most do not have a long-term carer who they are attached to. It is therefore only natural that they form strong bonds with caring volunteers who come to look after them for a while, and who show them care and attention. This bond may include the hope of adoption.
When the volunteer leaves after several weeks or months, the wounds reopen. When this happens month after month, year after year, many children learn to protect themselves from further harm and stop creating human bonds, cauterising themselves from love and hope.
The REPLACE Campaign calls for an end to volunteering in orphanages. Whereas volunteers may feel they are doing the right thing, and it may give them a real sense of well-being and purpose, evidence shows that it is causing the children more harm than good. Please do not be the straw that breaks a child's sense of trust, hope and their ability to love.
Do No Harm - Do Your Research
The following two reports are quite detailed, but well worth reading before volunteering.The Paradox of Orphanage Volunteering (Nepal)
Volunteer's Perceptions (Cambodia)