Radical decision to close down country’s 34 institutions has been fraught with difficulties.
“Kathryn Whetten, a professor at Duke University in the US, followed 1,357 children in institutions, and 1,480 in families in Ethiopia and Tanzania, to compare the effect of living in orphanages with family care.
Whetten published her conclusions in the scientific journal PLOS ONE in 2014, saying that without substantial improvements in care and support, placing children back with families will not significantly improve their welfare.”
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.
The focus in this edition of The State of the World’s Children (2013) is to promote the inclusion of children with disabilities as equal participants in society. Inclusion goes beyond just integration, however. Inclusion requires that the current framework change in fundamental ways to help mitigate the institutionalized barriers to normal life associated with being disabled.
Often treated as objects of pity, or even worse as targets of discrimination and abuse, children with disabilities face many challenges. According to the report, they are more likely to live in poverty and are less likely to attend school or to have access to health clinics. Around the world, only 51% of children with disabilities complete primary school, as compared to 61% of those without disabilities. 1 in 20 of those aged 14 or younger live with a moderate or severe disability of some kind. Girls, who are disabled, often face even more discrimination than boys, which can lead to malnutrition, low school attendance, and even infanticide. Beyond neglect and exclusion, children with disabilities can face verbal and physical abuse. Children with disabilities are three to four times more likely to be victims of violence. Caregivers of children with disabilities face the added strain of caring for a disabled child, and this strain increases the risk of abuse. To add to this problem, these estimates of abuse may be an underestimate as children with communication disabilities struggle to find ways to report their abuse.
Despite these structural disadvantages, children with disabilities are capable of participating in society and contributing equally to the life of that community. Inclusion of children with disabilities around the world is possible if perceptions regarding the disabled change from those of shame and mistrust to those of solidarity and encouragement: “What is needed is a commitment to these children’s rights and their futures, giving priority to the most advantages- as a matter of equity and for the benefit of all.” Many countries have taken steps to emphasize the importance of greater equity for the disabled, signing and ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The conventions demand recognition of each child as a full member of his or her community rather than as passive recipients of care and protection. These Conventions are indicative of a growing global movement dedicated to the inclusion of children in community life.
This report includes seven chapters detailing the current challenges to achieving greater equity for the disabled as well as future actions that might be taken to confront these challenges. The report also includes perspectives and personal accounts from both individuals living with disabilities and individuals advocating on their behalf around the world.
Follow this link to read the full report and find other interactive media.
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.
In March 2011, USAID released a report titled Early Childhood Development for Orphans and Vulnerable Children: Key Considerations, providing an overview of important early childhood development (ECD) interventions and current evidence of ECD programs implemented to support orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). The report details critical elements of ECD programs as well as provides key findings from prior literature and evaluations. It also includes answers to common questions, resources on how to learn more about ECD, and examples of well-developed ECD programs that target OVC.
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