Editor’s Note: In our September 2013 newsletter, we solicited responses from our readers regarding three articles recently published in The Economist, The Washington Post and the Huffington Post, which discuss the deinstitutionalization of orphanages. Below is a response by Kyle Hamilton (MTS), Editor of OVC Wellbeing’s “News & Opinion Blog,” to The Economist article, “Children’s homes: the nanny state” (published August 17, 2013).
The author of “Children’s homes: the nanny state” argues that orphanages should be shut down because: “big institutions are poisonous”; “orphanages can prevent children living with what family they have”; and “institutions are costly.” In developing these arguments, the author misuses information and cites inadequate sources in supporting their assertions.
First, the article makes broad generalizations about orphanages without providing sufficient evidence. The author describes poor conditions orphans encounter in big institutions like Sarata Noua orphanage and Chisinau Municipal Institution for Babies in Moldova and implies that 2 million children are living in large, “poisonous” institutions like these orphanages without citing a source to undergird this claim. Yes, there have been and continue to be large orphanages that neglect children. Yet, in reality, not all orphanages or residential institutions are big and not all orphanages are the same. Instead, orphanages around the world are marked by diversity: orphanages employ a wide variety of models in caring for children, including family-style homes, and orphanages do not automatically result in the same outcomes for children. On the one hand, some orphanages, for a variety of reasons, neglect children or worse, resulting in array of developmental delays, malnutrition, etc. On the other hand, some orphanages are able to provide children with loving and nurturing environments.
Second, the article also misuses information and does not use adequate sources to substantiate its arguments. Secondary sources are used without examining the original study. For example, this article cites a report produced by the Better Care Network in order to claim that “for every three months that a child stays in an institution he or she loses one month of development.” Yet, it’s unclear how the Better Care Network arrived at this conclusion, as the three resources cited makes no such claim. Fortunately, however, one of the sources cited in the Better Care Network report did lead me to the author of the original claim. In their study of children from eastern Europe living in hospitals or orphanages, “International Adoptions: Implications for Early Intervention,” Dana Johnson and Kathryn Dole argue, “[o]verall , children fell behind 1 month of linear growth [weight-by-length] for each 3.4 months in the orphanage.” Clearly this study indicates that the specific demographic examined falls outside the normal range for growth (weight-by-height), but the author of “Children’s homes” fails to perform due diligence in making their argument. The author not only cited an inadequate source, but also employs this statistic in order to make a broad claim that exceeds the conclusions of the original study by Johnson and Dole. While the original study is describing “growth” (weight-by-height) among children with the average age of 28 months from Eastern Europe, the author of “Children’s homes” distorts this information by asserting a broad claim about the “development” of a child of any age residing in any orphanage. In short, The Economist article misrepresents the claims and limitations of the original study.
Additionally, “the nanny state” article argues that up to 90% of children living in orphanages around the world have living parents, citing Georgette Mulheir, Chief Executive at Lumos, an organization that promotes deinstituionalization. I am sure that Ms. Mulheir is an intelligent person, but she is not an authoritative source. Again, the article makes another sweeping, global claim without citing an adequate source. Nevertheless, even if most children living in orphanages have living parents, this does not mean that these parents are able or suitable caregivers. Moreover, the author fails to consider the counter factual: where would these kids have been had they not been in the orphanage? And correspondingly, what would the development of these children have been like if these children were not in orphanages, but on the streets or being used for forced labor, etc.?
“The nanny state” article argues, “institutions cost between six and ten times as much as supporting a child within a family.” This claim is difficult to assess and would require further investigation. Do the studies use the same measures and standards of care when calculating their cost? Is the cost of the institutions per child compared to the minimum standard of care in those same communities?
Finally, “the nanny state” article fails to engage the NIH-funded Positive Outcomes for Orphans (POFO) and the OSCAR Health and Wellbeing studies which challenge the article’s narrative.
“A Comparative Study of Psychological Wellbeing between Orphan and Non-orphan Children in Addis Ababa: The Case of Three Selected Schools in Yeka Sub-city” by Afework Tsegaye
The general objective of this study was to compare the psychological well-being of orphan and non-orphan children in Addis Ababa and to explore the conditions or situation that could promote the psychological wellbeing for the orphan. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were employed to achieve the research objectives. Three groups of respondents, recruited from three randomly selected schools in Yeka Sub-city of Addis Ababa, participated in the study. The participants were: 120 orphan children, 120 non-orphan children, and 3 representatives of charity clubs in the selected schools. The orphan and non-orphan children were selected using systematic random sampling technique while the three representatives were purposively taken as a sample. A demographic questionnaire, a psychological wellbeing scale and interviews instruments was administered. Data from the quantitative survey were analysed using percentages, t-test, and Pearson correlation. The qualitative data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis. Using mean split technique on the psychological wellbeing scores of orphan and non-orphan children, orphan had low psychological wellbeing whereas the non-orphan had high psychological wellbeing. T-test for group mean difference on psychological wellbeing revealed that orphans were found to have a significantly lower psychological wellbeing as compared to the non-orphan children. Results from Pearson correlation analysis revealed that grade level was significantly and positively correlated with psychological wellbeing whereas parental status was significantly and negatively correlated with psychological wellbeing. Gender and age were not significantly related with psychological wellbeing. From the analysis of the qualitative data, encouraging the orphan’s individuality and autonomy and enhancing their self-esteem, and respect and care by adults were identified as the major themes that could promote orphan children’s sense of well-being.
Miracle Mountain: A Hidden Sanctuary for Children, Horses, and Birds off a Road Less Traveled
by Richard McKenzie
Dickens Press, 2013
196 pages ($18.95)
Orphanages of an earlier era, say, before the 1960s, are widely believed to have been hell holes that cruelly worked and starved the children in their care, as portrayed in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. To this day, Dickensian images of orphanages continue to throttle the public debate over how to best care for children of deprivation, neglect, and abuse.
Richard McKenzie spent much of the fall of 2011 embedded in a self-proclaimed “modern-day orphanage,” The Crossnore School, which is home for close to a hundred children in a remote corner of North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. Miracle Mountain: A Hidden Sanctuary for Children, Horses, and Birds Off of a Road Less Traveled is his account of life there, as related through the eyes of the children in residence who have heartbreaking and heartwarming stories of childhood traumas and recoveries. McKenzie explains why children who enter The Crossnore School today have more problems than those in orphanages of the past—with their problems ranging from severe deprivation brought on from drug- and alcohol-addicted parents to physical and sexual abuse. Many of these children have also suffered from cycles of foster-care placements and then reunification with parents who all too often pour on more abuse and neglect.
McKenzie found The Crossnore School to be a beautiful, peaceful place apart (literally, in the middle of nowhere) where hurting children can find a sanctuary in which they can renew and redirect their spirits and lives. The school has an equestrian center with horses that also have been rescued from abuse and neglect. The equestrian center provides two-way therapy, with the horses helping the children overcome their problems while the children help the horses to restore their trust in human beings. The reference in the book’s title to Crossnore being a sanctuary for birds comes from the many birdfeeders and birdbaths scattered across the Crossnore campus, which are tended by crews of small children.
No account of Crossnore would be complete without coverage of its head Phyllis Crain who, in her twelve years at the school’s helm, transformed the campus. She guided the school with a down-to-earth philosophy and with a passion for children rarely found in child welfare circles.
Miracle Mountain has been written for a general audience, especially readers who are attracted to heartwarming stories from one of the most unlikely of places, an “orphanage.” However, the book has a larger policy purpose, to reignite the debate over the place of children’s homes in a menu of childcare options.
A short video on The Crossnore School can be found on YouTube. Richard McKenzie can be contacted by email and (949) 463-2604.
McKenzie is the Walter B. Gerken Professor Emeritus in the Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. He has written more than thirty books, including The Home: A Memoir of Growing Up in an Orphanage, a deeply personal account of his own childhood that helps explain his continuing interest in the fates of today’s disadvantage children.
Authors: Peilian Chi, Xiaoming Li
Title: “Impact of Parental HIV/AIDS on Children’s Psychological Wellbeing: A Systematic Review of Global Literature.”
Journal: AIDS Behavior
Date: September 2012
This review examines the global literature regarding the impact of parental HIV/AIDS on children’s psychological well-being. Fifty one articles reporting quantitative data from a total of 30 studies were retrieved and reviewed. Findings were mixed but tended to show that AIDS orphans and vulnerable children had poorer psychological well-being in comparison with children from HIV-free families or children orphaned by other causes. Limited longitudinal studies suggested a negative effect of parental HIV on children’s psychological well-being in an early stage of parental HIV-related illness and such effects persisted through the course of parental illness and after parental death. HIV-related stressful life events, stigma, and poverty were risk factors that might aggravate the negative impact of parental HIV/AIDS on children. Individual coping skills, trusting relationship with caregivers and social support were suggested to protect children against the negative effects of parental HIV/AIDS. This review underlines the vulnerability of children affected by HIV/AIDS. Culturally and developmentally appropriate evidence-based interventions are urgently needed to promote the psychological well-being of children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Progress in Fourth Report
- Click image above to read entire text of the Fourth Report to Congress
U.S. Government Response to Haiti Earthquake in Review
- Weakened capacity to respond: Key organizations lost their capacity to work with the U.S. Government and other donors on the coordination, planning, and delivery of emergency assistance to children.
- Human resources constraint: Number of people available to focus exclusively on orphans and vulnerable children and child protection was minimal at first. Available personnel faced competing demands for responding to the situation and addressing urgent requests for information.
- Involvement of multiple actors: the large number of actors, offices, and organizations created coordination challenges.
- No child protection lead in Haiti or in USG
- Lack of official policy guidance
Protecting Vulnerable Children
- According to the report, “ highly vulnerable children” refers to a target group and includes children who lack child protection and require child welfare and protection assistance.
- “Child protection” concerns the interventions that many highly vulnerable children require. Protection involves efforts to prevent children from experiencing violence, exploitation, and abuse and neglect, or to assist children already experiencing such hardships.
- The report states that “there is universal acknowledgment that the optimal support for a child comes from a caring and protective family.” The U.S. Government therefore has the goal of preserving and enhancing the capacity of families to care for and protect their children in preventing children from becoming vulnerable and responding to children who face multiple risks.