24 July 2018

Hope and Homes for Children helps deliver a global game changer

Mark Waddington, CEO Hope and Homes for Children

Too often, the institutions in which children living with disability are confined have the same characteristics as prisons – windows with bars on them, metal doors that are padlocked, ranks of sinks and open toilets, regiments of uniformed staff, and schedules that are imposed.

These children live in isolation from their families and communities. They are not there out of choice.

This is a fundamental violation of their universal human right to freedom.

The UK Government statement announced this afternoon by Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary of State for International Development, at the first Global Disability Summit was largely driven by Hope and Homes for Children. We have worked closely with the UK government for almost four years to steer its position from one that was broadly supportive of orphanages, to one that is seeking an end to them globally.

The statement took no prisoners. The UK Government recognises that orphanages harm children, and especially children living with disability. This is the basis for the UK’s commitment to working globally toward eliminating orphanages and promoting family and community based care in their place. It committed the UK to promoting reform, systemic reform, not just a process of one-by-one closures. This is how we will benefit many more children and their families.

Many people are unaware of the harm done by orphanages, so the UK Government’s announcement today is a real game changer, and we welcome it whole heartedly.

It will help to bring the violation of children’s rights perpetrated by confining them in orphanages to the forefront in a way that we hope will lead to a reduction of support – especially funding and volunteering – for orphanages overseas. This well-meaning assistance can then be re-directed to supporting family and community based solutions, which we have proven work.

The children we exist to serve tell us they want families, and the UK Government is listening to them.

In the lead up to the UK Government agreeing the statement, Hope and Homes for Children has worked with some of the top businesses in the UK to secure their commitment to make orphanages an unacceptable way of looking after children. We also won the support of some of the largest international NGOs, including Save the Children, World Vision, and Plan International. This has enabled us to establish a cross sector task force that aims to redirect overseas philanthropy by big UK-based businesses, as well as win the support of other governments, to causes that support families instead of orphanages. It includes politicians such as Lord Paddy Ashdown, and businesses such as banking giant UBS, and Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy – two of the biggest law firms in the world.

 

Mark Waddington visiting Tatiana in Moldova this year. Tatiana has Down’s syndrome and spent the first 4 years of her life confined to a cot in an orphanage unable to walk or feed herself. Last year she started school in the village she lives with her foster family.

But while support for the disabled community at the Global Summit has been widespread, questions have been raised about the UK Government’s commitment when its policies have made disabled people and their carers in the UK poorer, and have reduced both their life chances and life expectancy.

Denying the rights of disabled people in this country is intolerable. But what would be more intolerable is to add insult to injury by diminishing or preventing the opportunity that the Summit presents to improve the life chances of disabled people living in some of the most impoverished communities, especially the hidden masses of disabled children confined in orphanages around the world. The Secretary of State, in her opening remarks, recognised “we are all starting from a low bar” including the UK, and that “we all have more to do”.

Earlier today, I was asked at the Global Summit by a disability activist if allocating UK Aid funding to helping disabled people overseas poured scorn on the neglect of disabled people here in the UK. It’s an important issue, but needs carefully framing, because if we view it from the point of view that you can only have one and not the other, we give our politicians a get out of jail free card.

The tiny proportion of our national budget (approx. 1% of total expenditure) that goes on aid, and the tiny proportion of that that goes to helping disabled people overseas, is not an argument to reduce funding for services for disabled people in the UK. We are actually choosing not to spend what is needed on disabled people at home. The UK remains one of the richest countries in the world and the injustice of disabled people not being able to live a dignified life in this country is derived from the inequality in our society more than anything else, not how much we allocate to aid. Yes, charity does begin at home. But the reasons for the need for charity at home will be left unaddressed if we cloak them with the commitment to the aid budget.

At the end of the day, the aid budget and the proportion of it that is spent on putting services in place for disabled people in developing countries is always badged as a cost. It is in fact an investment. The CEO of the World Bank, Kristalina Georgieva, said this morning that excluding disabled people costs 3% to 7% of total GDP across the developing world. Investment in people with disability generates dividends for communities, and especially when it is directed toward children, not least to support the placement of those children confined in orphanages in to properly supported family care.

Why? Because these children are not defined by their disability. They are defined by the lack of support to engage productively and energetically with their communities. The cost effectiveness of enabling disabled people into education, into the workforce, enabling them to overcome isolation, doesn’t simply reduce the burden on society, it contributes to society and to productivity.

Helping people living with disability to fulfil their true potential is reflected across the various commitments in the Disability Charter for Change which has been widely signed up to at the Summit.

Of particular importance to children confined in institutions are commitments:

  • 8 – leave no one behind
  • 9 – gather and use data better – many of the children Hope and Homes for Children works with are rarely included in census or data collection and so their needs even more rarely appear in conversations about services that could benefit them
  • 10 – holding ourselves and others to account.

The combination of these commitments and the UK Government’s statement to end the institutionalisation of children overseas are like a starting pistol being fired to achieve a wider global commitment to all children having the opportunity to grow up with the love and protection of a family.

Today was a good day

 

Mark Waddington, CEO, Hope and Homes for Children