In the last of our four-part series, Home for Good founder Krish Kandiah chats to Hope and Homes for Children’s Steve Coffey, and suggests how the Church can start to rethink its care for vulnerable children.
SC: Most people are aware that the Church has historically been involved in orphanages. What point are we at now—if there is a shift in thinking, how do we make sense of the changes?
KK: Things are changing in this area, and I don’t know if any of the large Christian NGOs that work in development around the world are running orphanages. Orphanages tend to be run by individuals who are passionate and concerned; those who have visited a poorer country in the world and been very moved, then get involved and start their own orphanage. But these people are going against the flow of the development sector. Not just secular development, but Christian development too. That change is happening. I think some of our churches have been supporting orphanages for decades and, again, out of good intentions, but gradually I think we’re finding people changing their minds and doing the maths.
Not good enough for our children shouldn’t be good enough for anyone’s children. The mindset is beginning to shift, but still what we would say is if your church has been supporting an orphanage, don’t just turn the money off immediately because that will mean children are put in more danger of unplanned transition. Maybe use your influence as a donor to encourage orphanages towards family unification, and family-based care. That’s one of the great things that Hope and Homes for Children bring to the table: technical expertise on the ground. There may be an opportunity for a connection between an orphanage that you know about and a deinstitutionalisation charity like Hope and Homes for Children.
“Not good enough for our children shouldn’t be good enough for anyone’s children.”
SC: Some people who aren’t part of a church community might potentially see Christians as fundamentally being part of the problem. How can the Church be more a force for good?
KK: To be clear, it isn’t just Christians that are running orphanages around the world. There are secular charities running all sorts of institutions around the world, not driven by a Christian conviction. That’s just an old model of development. Christians are over-represented in this space because they often seem to be very generous.
I think things are changing and some Christians have been at the leading edge of this change. The ReThink Orphanage movement in Australia, for example, is connected to a large Christian denomination and they’ve led the charge. The Australian Government’s Modern Day Slavery Act now recognises orphan trafficking as a damaging outcome of orphanage support.
Christians are also well-placed on the ground, in a lot of the countries where these orphanages are, to be part of the solution. I’ve seen situations where Christian families in places like Romania or Ukraine have adopted many children out of those orphanages because they want them to have a loving stable family to grow up in. I think problematising the Church is not going to be the solution, and actually may exasperate the problematic opinion that “other people’s orphanages are bad, but Christian orphanages are okay.” We’re trying to say that everybody needs to change, let’s join this journey together, let’s see how the Church can be part of the solution—not just part of the problem.
“We’re trying to say that everybody needs to change, let’s join this journey together, let’s see how the Church can be part of the solution—not just part of the problem.”
SC: What are the sort of things individual Christians, churches and organisations could do—prayerfully, practically, and financially?
KK: I’d say still keep the passion to help vulnerable people. When you hear news like this, that orphanages are not a good idea, it can dissuade you from wanting to get involved at all. Sometimes people give that message—that it’s better you do nothing than you help. I don’t think that’s helpful. So keep the passion, but let’s be smart in our giving, let’s be wise in our philanthropy, and just think through the consequences of what we’re doing.
That could mean reading up on the subject. It’s not hard to find a lot of good resources out there around deinstitutionalisation. There’s a great group in America called Faith to Action, who have a toolkit for churches. Home for Good have launched the Homecoming project, where you can become more educated about this issue. There’s an excellent book on development called When Helping Hurts (Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Moody Publishers, 2014), written by Christians who are trying to help other Christians think through the implications of what they’re supporting.
I think it’s also time to reconsider visiting orphanages. We feel great about going to an orphanage and playing with children; but would you allow a stranger to come into your house, and play with your children, and leave again—without knowing who they were, or where they were from, or doing any checks? More and more studies are telling us the attachment theory, the way children relate to a consistent caregiver, can be blown up a little bit when you have random strangers and visitors coming through an orphanage.
So I think we should reconsider volunteering in that way, and look for ways that we can support these kinds of deinstitutionalisation charities, maybe on the ground, here in the UK. There’s lobbying that needs to be done, there’s education that needs to be done.
When it comes to financial support, I think use the power that you’ve got as a giver, so that you’re bringing good outcomes for children—encouraging orphanages, where possible, to change their model. Some people might be bold enough to put a window on that, to say, “Look, I’m going to continue funding you but I need to see some evidence that you’re moving towards this, otherwise after a certain period of time I’m not going to fund you anymore.” That can help motivate an orphanage to change its policies.
Read part III of this conversation: Time to move on
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.