In this third of our four-part series, Home for Good founder Krish Kandiah chats to Hope and Homes for Children’s Steve Coffey, and addresses the shift in how people are thinking about orphanages.
SC: You say there is a biblical, theological imperative for us to care for ‘orphans’. Should Christians be concerned about any support they have given, or currently give, to orphanages?
KK: I think most people who are giving towards orphanages are doing it out of good intentions. Christians are over-represented in their giving in general. Statistically, Christians are often giving in ways that are generous and out of proportion to the rest of society, and when we [at Home for Good] did some research we found that to be the case. So I don’t want Christians to feel bad and guilty. Our thinking in development, and in child protection, has moved on. As that has moved on, it’s time for us to redirect our giving to help change the circumstances for these children.
It is true that Christians have been running and supporting orphanages for a long time now, but they are not the only ones that have been doing this. Governments have been running orphanages. I think we’re all seeing change, both inside the Church and out. If we align and not stigmatize one group over the other, we can all say that, in the past, this seemed like a good way of doing things. Our understanding of child psychology, attachment, development theory… all of these things have moved on, and so now we need to move on in our thinking.
“I don’t want Christians to feel bad and guilty. Our thinking in development, and in child protection, has moved on. As that has moved on, it’s time for us to redirect our giving to help change the circumstances for these children.”
SC: Some people might respond and say, “No, I get that you should shut down bad orphanages. But my orphanage is different—I support a good orphanage.”
KK: Well, a lot of the news reporting—and sometimes the way that people in this sector talk about orphanages—suggests that they’re all involved in people trafficking, or they’re all places of abuse. Sadly, there are orphanages that are like that; that have been deliberately set up to make money or to exploit children or even to sexually abuse them. But they are a minority of the orphanages I’ve ever come across. Most of the orphanages I know are well-intentioned, run by people who want to make a difference in young children’s lives. As Rebecca Smith from Save the Children often says, there are better and worse orphanages—but there’s no such thing as a good orphanage. And I think even the most well-run, well-intentioned orphanage is not as good as a family for these children.
SC: We’ve seen examples of ‘DIY deinstitutionalisation’, where people have attempted to place children back into families without the appropriate support. How can we avoid doing deinstitutionalisation badly, making sure it’s done in a careful and considerate way instead?
KK: You might hear this message that children staying in orphanages is not good for them, and there might be a rush to get these children home. I think there is a couple of things to think about. Firstly, some of the families that these children have come from were struggling, they were in poverty, and therefore to send children back home into that context without support will not necessarily be helpful.
The other thing to mention is that children in orphanages, if they’ve been there for quite a while, will have developed all sorts of psychological and emotional issues. Again, sending them back to families that are not prepared for that transition, even though they are their birth parents, that’s not in the child’s best interest, either. I think we want to be very wise, and nuanced and careful.
And recognise there is expertise out there, there’s technical wisdom about how that transition can work out, what kind of social work provision might need to be in place in that country. Some families are not right for children to come back to, some kinship care situations are not right for children to go to. Just rushing and being very active about it might not be the best way forward. That’s why we like partnering with organisations like Hope and homes for Children. You’ve got that on-the-ground technical expertise, and we can provide the inspiration and encouragement—and then, together, I think we can deliver better outcomes for children.
“That’s why we like partnering with organisations like Hope and homes for Children. You’ve got that on-the-ground technical expertise, and we can provide the inspiration and encouragement.”
Read part II of this conversation: Rethinking the relationship
Read part IV of this conversation: A force for good
In partnership with Hope and Homes for Children and other global experts, Home for Good have launched the Homecoming project to raise awareness of the global orphanage crisis, and to encourage Christians to transition their support towards family-based alternatives.