Category: Blog: News, Events and Opinion

Overview: The Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CT-OVC) Project, approved in 2009, expanded the pilot CT-OVC Programme from 47,000 households caring for OVC in Kenya to around 83,000 households (increasing the coverage of OVC from around 140,000 to 250,000). Early evidence suggests that the program is having a significant impact on poverty reduction, school enrollment and birth registration for OVC. Using IDA resources, innovative technology is being introduced to transfer payments to beneficiaries in a faster and more secure way than was previously possible.

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Child Trends—“a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at every stage of development”—that seeks to ameliorate Child wellbeing and outcomes by providing research to individuals, organizations and institutions that create policies and make decisions affecting the lives of children around the world. In January, Child Trends released an inaugural report, “World Family Map Report 2013: Mapping Family Change and Child Well-being Outcomes,” which aims to examine patterns “the health of family life around the globe and to learn more about how family trends affect the well-being of children” in 45, high- and low-income countries from every region in the world. Sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Focus Global and the Social Trends Institute, the “World Family Map Report 2013”  analyzes family structures and the “strengths and challenges” they provide in relationship to “educational outcomes for children and youth.” Co-primary investigators, Laura H. Lippman (Senior Program Area Director & Senior Research Scientist at Child Trends) and  W. Bradford Wilcox (director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia) summarize the report’s key findings below:

Children’s lives are influenced by the number of parents and siblings that they live with, as well as by whether their parents are married. The World Family Map reports these key indicators of family structure in this section.

  • Although two-parent families are becoming less common in many parts of the world, they still constitute a majority of families around the globe. Children under age 18 are more likely to live in two-parent families than in other family forms in asia and the middle east, compared with other regions of the world. Children are more likely to live with one or no parent in the americas, europe, oceania, and sub-saharan africa than in other regions.
  • Extended families (which include parent(s) and kin from outside the nuclear family) also appear to be common in asia, the middle east, south america, and sub-saharan africa, but not in other regions of the world.
  • Marriage rates are declining in many regions. adults are most likely to be married in africa, asia, and the middle east, and are least likely to be married in south america, with europe, north america, and oceania falling in between. Cohabitation (living together without marriage) is more common among couples in europe, north america, oceania, and—especially—in south america.
  • Childbearing rates are declining worldwide. The highest fertility rates are in sub-saharan africa. a woman gives birth to an average of 5.5 children in nigeria—down from close to seven in the 1980s, but still high by world standards. moderate rates of fertility (2.3-3.1) are found in the middle east, and levels of fertility that are sufficient to replace a country’s population in the next generation (about 2.1) are found in the americas and oceania. Below replacement-level fertility is found in east asia and europe.
  • Given the decline in marriage rates, childbearing outside of marriage—or nonmarital childbearing—is increasing in many regions. The highest rates of nonmarital childbearing are found in south america and europe, paralleling increases in cohabitation, with moderate rates found in north america and oceania, varied rates found in sub-saharan africa, and the lowest rates found in asia and the middle east.

* You can also read W. Bradford Wilcox’s editorial, “The Parent Trap: Do two-parent families help children get ahead in life? The surprising answer: not everywhere,” available on Foreign Policy‘s website.

* Learn more about the research Child Trends does by examining their newsletters, including their Winter 2013 newsletter, “The Child Indicator.”


I had seen the SEED School of Washington, D.C. in the documentary, Waiting for Superman, so I knew to expect a culture of high expectations for all in a learning community committed to academic excellence at this residential, public charter school.  Still, I was struck by both the quantitative measures of success shared by Charles Adams, Head of School, and the excitement about and pride in their school evident in the student ambassadors leading our tour.   These kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, living in what has historically been considered one of the lowest performing urban public school systems in the country, were optimistic about their future given the educational opportunity being afforded to them at SEED.

My tour of SEE was part of the Coalition for Residential Education‘s (CORE) Leadership Insitute in Washington, D.C., where I had the opportunity to present some of the Positive Outcomes for Orphans(POFO) findings comparing the wellbeing of orphans and abandoned children in institutional and community-based care settings in five less wealthy nations. A national non-profit organization founded in 1994, CORE supports the development of high-quality residential education programs and schools for youth disadvantaged backgrounds. Attendees included CORE board members and other leaders from a variety of residential institutions around the country, including Milton Hershey School, Baptists Children’s Homes, the SEED School of Maryland, and Crossnore School.

The membership of CORE is diverse, with some organizations serving some students in the child welfare system, while others do not.  Certainly large, ‘institution-like’ residential treatment programs for children with serious behavioral and emotional problems have been found lacking in their ability to meet these children’s needs.   However, my tour of SEED and discussions with CORE’s leadership led me to consider the role of residential schools and programs for children without serious emotional and behavioral problems involved in the child welfare system, whose chance of breaking the cycle of poverty and/or abuse in their families lies in their ability to access excellent education.  Perhaps it’s time we reconsider residential education as an option for some of these children.

About the author: Kristen Sullivan (Ph.D. in Health Behavior and Health Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is a Research Scholar at Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research at Duke University.

Editor’s note: this opinion piece was originally posted on Dr. Alexandra Murray Harrison’s blog, “Supporting Child Caregivers,” and has been re-posted with permission from the author.

Charley Zeanah presented to the group on September 21 and 22. He has been involved in Romania for 14 years. The Romania initiative traces its beginning to a movement started by the 1909 White House Conference on Children that declared its opposition to the institutionalization of dependent and neglected children. Now institutionalization of children whose families cannot take care of them is rare in the U.S., but not in other parts of the world. Romania is a unique story. The research group was invited to study there in the context of a policy debate about what to do with all the children institutionalized by Ceausescu’s government. Under Ceausescu, the official position was that the State could do a better job in raising children than many mothers could, so mothers who were struggling with poverty or other adversities were encouraged to give up their children in the maternity hospital. After several months in the maternity hospital, if the child had no obvious problems, he was transferred to a nursery, where he stayed until 36 months. At that point, if an exam determined him to be normal, the child was sent to a children’s home.

Although there was wide variability in children’s homes, there were some important common features, including many factors working against the establishment of individualized attachment relationships with the caregivers. The children were fed around the table with little or no talking, there was a lot of “free play time” with little support from the caregivers, and aggressive behavior and expressions of distress were often not attended to.  Films of this “free play time” revealed painful images of children rocking and spinning.

The study created a model foster home project in which social workers were trained to work closely with the foster families to facilitate attachment and support the foster parents. Interestingly, one of the main effects of this intervention was an increase in IQ of the children in foster families. Also, these children showed greater expression of positive emotion than the institutionalized children within a few months. When assessment was repeated after 42 months in foster families, a community control group had the best attachment to their caregivers, the foster group had medium results, and the institutionalized group had the worst outcome.  The children in this last group included a high percentage of withdrawn, inhibited kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder. It is interesting to note that the characteristic “indiscriminate” attachment behavior of RAD persisted even after the group in foster care had formed attachments to their foster families.

Later, when psychopathology was assessed at 54 months, 55% of the children living in institutions had diagnosable psychiatric disorders in contrast with 22% of children in the (control) community group. Both foster care and institutionalized groups had higher levels of emotional disorders (such as anxiety and depression) and behavioral disorders (such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Conduct Disorder) than the community group.  The improved cognitive outcomes in the foster care children were most significant for children placed in foster care before 24 months. Similar sensitive periods were also found for the development of language, attachment, and indiscriminate behavior. An important finding was that secure attachment at 42 months predicted psychopathological outcome at 54 months. Interestingly, there was a big gender difference, with most of the securely attached children at 42 months being girls and most of the children with psychiatric symptoms at 54 months being boys.

In conclusion, the research group found that children raised in institutions have compromised development across almost all domains, that attachment status moderates many aspects of psychopathology, and that the socio-emotional effect is more profound than the cognitive effect. When you place these children in good foster homes, you get attachment recovery and some – but not all – recovery from psychopathology. The research group strongly recommends intervening in abusive and neglectful caregiving situations as early as possible.  More specifically, they propose removing children from institutions and placing them in foster homes.

I noted that this was a beautiful presentation of a study of monumental importance in child development and child psychiatry. The study demonstrates the power of the caregiving relationship to influence development. I pointed out, though, that the Romanian orphanages represent – as Dr. Zeanah explained – a rather unique and extreme caregiving situation, and that there is a problem in that is that this study of Romanian orphanages is being used by some international agencies to promote a one size fits all approach to the problem and laws such as LEPINA in El Salvador that require immediate reunification of institutionalized children with their biological families, with little or no support for their severely disadvantaged and dysfunctional families in the community.

Ed Tronick quoted the “old literature “– the first edition of Jerome Kagan’s book on child development that included accounts of children raised in institutions after WWII. These children did relatively well. How can we explain that? One possible reason is that there was a commitment to these children because of something terrible, morally bad that had been done, enhancing the caregivers’ desire to do something for them. Dr. Zeanah talked about the meaning of the children to the caregivers. In the case of Romanian orphanages, the society’s negative attitudes towards the Roma, who make up of 30% of children in orphanages, though they comprise only 6-9% of the population, may affect the caregivers’ commitment to the children.

Dr. Zeahah said that their group is interested in individual differences in response to institutionalization among the children. He noted that there may be a relationship between certain genotypes and indiscriminate behavior. They are looking at alleles that are very sensitive to experience and those that seem impervious. In that case, if you have the impervious alleles you fare well no matter what the environment and if you have the sensitive alleles you may struggle in an average expectable environment. Readers of the blog will recognize the “orchids versus dandelions” metaphor.

Apropos these last comments, I had a number of thoughts. First, I would underscore the importance of the meaning of the child to the caregivers. For example, a religious or spiritual mission to minister to children in need may allow caregivers to see the child as deserving of loving care and to recognize the unique value of each child, while also sustaining the caregiver through the frustrations and disappointments involved in their tasks. For example, the message that each child is precious to Jesus – no matter what he looks like or how much he achieves – is a powerful message indeed.  It is also important to remember the orchids and dandelions story. This story emphasizes the individual characteristics of each child, including the ability – innate or acquired – to take in the good in their environment and make it part of themselves. These thoughts remind us of the complexity of development and of how important it is to continue to search for a repertoire of solutions so that we can find a unique approach to each unique challenge.


Kagan, J. (1962). From Birth to Maturity, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Nelson, C.A., Zeanah, C.H., Fox, N.A., Marshall, P.J., Smyke, A.T., Guthrie, D. (2007). Cognitive recovery in socially deprived young children: The Bucharest early intervention project. Science, 318:1937-1940.

Nelson, C.A., Furtado, E.A., Fox, N.A., Zeanah, C.H., The deprived human brain: Developmental deficits among institutionalized Romanian children – and later improvements – strengthen the case for individualized care (2009). American Scientist, 97:222-229.

Whetten, K., J. Ostermann, R.A. Whetten, B.W. Pence, K. O’Donnell, L.C. Messer, N.M. Thielman, The Positive Outcomes for Orphans (POFO) Research Team. “A Comparison of the Wellbeing of Orphans and Abandoned Children Ages 6-12 in Institutional and Community-Based Care Settings in 5 Less Wealthy Nations.” PLoS ONE. 4(12):e8169. 2009.
About the author
Alexandra Murray Harrison, M.D. is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute in Adult and Child and Adolescent Psychoanalysis, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, at the Cambridge Health Alliance, and on the Core Faculty of the Infant-Parent Mental Health Post Graduate Certificate Program at University of Massachusetts Boston.

Click here to view the FAO’s policy brief, “Protecting Africa’s future: Livelihood-based social protection for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in east and southern Africa”

Here is a summary from the brief:

Despite the existence of noteworthy policy and investment in programmes aimed at responding to these children’s needs, too many programmes remain ill-equipped to cater for their needs in a sustainable and cost-effective way. This is partly as a result of gaps in OVC social protection policy and legislation.

Here are four recommendations offered by the FAO’s brief:

  • “Drafting stand alone social protection policies to fill these gaps.”
  • “Strengthening existing policy frameworks.”
  • “Livelihoods based social protection which refers to initiatives aimed at reducing vulnerability and providing social transfers to the poor.”
  • “Protecting the vulnerable against livelihood risks and enhancing the social status of the marginalised.”


Miracle Mountain: A Hidden Sanctuary for Children is a poignant, beautiful, and powerful video portrait of The Crossnore School, a self-proclaimed “modern-day orphanage” in a remote corner of the North Carolina mountains. The school takes in children from preschool to high school with numerous disadvantages caused by their dysfunctional biological families and by their multiple placements in the dysfunctional foster-care system. The school has one overriding goal, “to give children their childhoods back.” It seeks to produce miracles through the restoration of hope and healing by a staff with a sense of mission and unrivaled grounds and facilities.

The film (which lasts only a little more than seven minutes) is necessarily focused on one self-proclaimed “modern-day orphanage,” revealing the heart and soul of the school’s guiding childcare philosophy founded on common sense, as laid out by its head Phyllis Crain who succumbed to her eleven-year battle with cancer this past summer.  However, the film has a larger message that extends beyond the Crossnore campus.  To critics of orphanages who say, “well, children’s homes might might have worked in bygone eras, but they can’t work today,” the documentary short on Crossnore says loud and clear, “It can be done today, and is being done  in grand style.”

The video portrait was filmed and directed by James Pham (independent of The Crossnore School).

For more information, go to

Click here to watch Miracle Mountain.

This blog post was written by Richard McKenzie, the Walter B. Gerken Professor Emeritus of Enterprise and Society at The Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. Dr. McKenzie is also a member of the OVC Wellbeing Advisory Board and an alumnus of Barium Springs Home for Children where he grew up in the 1950s.

The U.S. President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, more commonly refereed to as PEPFAR, released its new Guidance for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Programming on its website on Wednesday, July 26, 2012.

PEPFAR hosted a session entitled PEPFAR’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program: Taking Programming to the Next Level for an AIDS-Free Generationat the International AIDS Conference on Wednesday, July 25th. An array of policy makers and representatives from USAID, the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, and other groups spoke at this session about PEPFAR and OVC programming.

PEPFAR highlights a number of self-identified “key points” amongst the new guidelines:

  • “There is no ‘minimum package of services.’ Program planners and implementers should ensure prioritized  and focused interventions that address children’s most critical care needs through family strengthening. While programs must continue to improve child outcomes, the primary strategy for achieving this is strengthening parents and caregivers so they can provide for their children’s basic needs. The seven core areas have been reinterpreted to better reflect this shift.
  •  Child‐focused, family‐centered interventions at the household level take precedence over handing out materials only to children identified as ‘OVC.’
  •  Sustainability through capacity building and transfer of program responsibility to promote country ownership are imperative and must be balanced with careful planning and monitoring to ensure children’s immediate needs are also met.
  •  A young person who turns 18 while receiving OVC services should not automatically be terminated from receiving assistance. Programs should plan for appropriate transition strategies and be prepared to cover a buffer period for a seamless transition to adulthood.
  •  There is a growing evidence base for OVC programming reflected in this document . Programs should build interventions on evidence‐based practice. This guidance includes summaries of the evidence for the efficacy of a range of child and family support interventions.
  •  Programs should allocate at least 10 percent of project funding to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to ensure that the evidence base continues  to grow and to inform better practice.
  •  Experienced and specialized technical expertise is required for many types of interventions included in this guidance. Country teams and implementing partners should call upon individuals and resources with this expertise when designing programs and country strategies.”



Nearly 25,000 activists, medical professionals, policy makers, researchers, politicians, dignitaries, students, leaders, and HIV-positive individuals from around the world are gathered in Washington D.C. for AIDS 2012. The theme of the XIX International AIDS Conference, organized by the International AIDS Society, is “turning the tide together.”

In the first several days of the conference, a diverse and influential group of global leaders have spoken to the conference and the world. This distinguished group includes: President Bill Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, HRH Mette-Marit, Crown Princess of Norway, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, Philanthropist Bill Gates, and many others.

However, amongst these “prominent voices” music legend and dedicated AIDS activist Sir Elton John stands out. In his keynote address to the conference, Sir Elton argues that a “sentiment” can “beat a virus.”

[box] “…No matter who you are or who you love, no matter where you live or how you live, no matter what you have or haven’t done, everyone deserves compassion. Everyone deserves dignity. Everyone, everyone, everyone deserves love.

Why am I telling you this? Because the AIDS disease is caused by a virus, but the AIDS epidemic is not. The AIDS epidemic is fueled by stigma, by hate, by misinformation, by ignorance, by indifference…

…Cynical people will say: how could a sentiment possibly beat a virus? If you show compassion, no one will be forced into the shadows. If you show compassion, no one will be afraid to seek treatment…”[/box]

This powerful call for compassion resonates with AIDS activists and with those committed to supporting orphans and vulnerable children. Millions of children around the globe have been orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS. Like Sir Elton John, we need to encourage compassion in order to support OVC and to combat the debilitating stigma and suffering that HIV/AIDS leaves in its wake.

Thank you Sir Elton John for an inspiring and though provoking start to the AIDS 2012 Conference.

——            ——-              ———              ———-

This is an excerpt from Sir Elton John’s keynote address to the AIDS 2012 conference, which was delivered on July 23, 2012 in Washington D.C.

“…No matter who you are or who you love, no matter where you live or how you live, no matter what you have or haven’t done, everyone deserves compassion. Everyone deserves dignity. Everyone, everyone, everyone deserves love.

Why am I telling you this? Because the AIDS disease is caused by a virus, but the AIDS epidemic is not. The AIDS epidemic is fueled by stigma, by hate, by misinformation, by ignorance, by indifference. There is so much talk now about the end of AIDS and rightly so. We can end AIDS thanks to you out there. You have made it possible because of your research and your advocacy, we have life saving treatment and we have prevention.

Cynical people will say: how could a sentiment possibly beat a virus? If you show compassion, no one will be forced into the shadows. If you show compassion, no one will be afraid to seek treatment. Do you want to stop the epidemic in South Africa? Then show compassion by telling those living with HIV to be proud of knowing their status. That’s what the South African government is beginning to do, and it’s working. We need to put our arms around people who are HIV-positive. Celebrate the actions of individual change, celebrate people who are willing to get tested – that’s the compassion that will help get everyone tested and on treatment.

Do you want to end the epidemic in America? The show compassion to those who can’t afford treatment and are waiting lists to receive it. Show compassion for HIV positive people in Washington DC, most of whom are poor and black and forgotten even though they live in the capital of the richest and most powerful nation on earth. America has shown so much love for people living with HIV in the developing world. If this country wanted to end new infections at home, it could do so in a heartbeat…

…I know I sound idealistic, but if you don’t have a vision and don’t have a plan, then you are nowhere. My vision is for people to be much more tolerant of each other in every way possible. To be much more compassionate. And then we all embrace this idea of getting rid of AIDS, of getting rid of the cost not only of human lives, but also the incredible cost of billions of dollars a year and put it to good use.

We can beat this disease, but we have to do it together. We are doing it together…let’s have an AIDS free world soon.”


At first glance, The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity, seems like something of a scientific thriller. The book jacket goes as far as to describe the “Moral Molecule” and the associated research as “a revolution in the science of good and evil.” However, upon closer examination, neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak’s new book has important implications for child-welfare.

In his early work, Zak tied countries’ prosperity and growth to how “trusting” societies are. He has since found that the release of the reward chemical in the brain, oxytocin, gives rise to people, including children, having greater caring, bonding, empathy – as well as trust and moral behavior.  Zak has also found an array of behaviors that cause a release of oxytocin – including hugs.  In my view he charts an explanation for why children who have deprived childhoods behave the way they do: their oxytocin receptors may have been damaged by the absence of hugs and other vital human contact and affection.  Although further research is needed, Zak’s work provides a possible neuroscience-based explanation for attachment disorders that psychologists and child development experts have long observed in children who have missed human touch, especially in their early years.

In my experience as an alumnus of an orphanage and research on orphanages generally, I have seen that many modern-day children’s homes actively discourage hugging (or forbade hugging altogether). Others teach “appropriate hugging,” which limits physical contact by administering hugs from the side.  These policies were created to protect children from inappropriate behavior and contact, including sexual abuse. However, based on Zak’s long-running work in the burgeoning field of “neuroeconomics,” there is a (potentially) strong argument to be made on how policies restricting hugging and other physical contact in daycare centers, schools, children’s homes, and even sports teams can limit the release of oxytocin, which could in turn limit the potential improved behavior associated with oxytocin. It is imperative that we design policies that both protect children and also recognize the important benefits of hugging and other affectionate contact.  As it is, widely publicized cases of pedophilia, which will likely drive interest in additional restrictive hugging policies, can cause harm for children far removed from pedophiles’ direct victims.

Moving forward, Paul J. Zak’s work has a wide range of implications for child welfare that ought to be considered in upcoming research and future policies.

This blog post was written by Richard McKenzie, the Walter B. Gerken Professor Emeritus of Enterprise and Society at The Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. Dr. McKenzie is also a member of the OVC Wellbeing Advisory Board and an alumnus of Barium Springs Home for Children where he grew up in the 1950s.

Please respond to this article in our discussion forum.