The end of orphanages starts with family strengthening programs
Around the world, over 80 percent of children in orphanages have at least one living parent. So how do these children end up in orphanages rather than with their families? Unfortunately, there are countless families across the globe who face circumstances like the death of a parent, the loss of a job, or conflict that that threaten to separate them.
People like Gladys know that firsthand. When Gladys suddenly lost both her husband and brother in a short period of time, she found herself caring for seven children; alone, with no income.
Many parents who find themselves without support from family or friends are faced with a series of impossible choices. Out of desperation, some families believe they have no alternative but to place their children in the care of an orphanage where they will have food and shelter. But institutions like orphanages are not equipped to provide the individual love, care, and sense of belonging that only a family can offer. The parents and children experience significant loss from family separation in addition to the grief and trauma they have already experienced.
At a time when her children and her brother’s children were already suffering the loss of their fathers, Gladys did not want them to suffer again or risk losing them forever by placing them in the care of an orphanage. A local district government referred her to the family preservation and empowerment program run by Bethany Christian Services in Ghana, aimed at helping families stay together and keeping children out of institutions.
Through the program, social workers walked alongside Gladys and the children, offering connections to direct services as well as mental health support while they continued to cope with the death of their loved ones. Gladys initially received financial support and access to services to meet the family’s immediate, critical needs including food, medical care, and payment of school fees. Next, the program helped her become financially self-sufficient through business training opportunities that she could access while caring for the children.
Gladys began selling homemade ice cream and eventually expanded to selling pies and other baked goods at the local market. She plans to grow her business even more over the next year to provide more security for her family.
Family strengthening programs prevent families experiencing a crisis from being separated. A growing number of international nonprofits, including faith-based organizations like Bethany, are committing to empowering the family unit already in place, changing the way the world approaches global child welfare.
The United States government is uniquely positioned to lead these efforts around the world with the expertise and resources to be a source for support and technical expertise for foreign child welfare systems interested in transitioning from institutional orphanage care to family-based care.
The bipartisan Children in Family Security Act, introduced earlier this month, by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is a strong step in the right direction.
This legislation would codify the continuum of care for children should they experience the loss of one or both parents and creates a new standard within the global child welfare system, helping children stay with extended family members, or in other safe, loving homes in their own local communities. It also directs the State Department to be a source of encouragement for countries looking to end the practice of placing children in orphanages.
This bill ensures that local, family-based care for vulnerable children remains a fixture in international diplomacy and improves the federal government’s level of engagement in international child welfare system reform that is long overdue.
Supporting sustainable family-focused child welfare systems is critical for global stability, especially after the devastating impact of Covid-19 on children around the world. The U.S. can be a global leader through efforts like the Children in Family Security Act that recognize the best place for children to thrive is within a family.
Leena Hill is vice president of Global Services at Bethany Christian Services.
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