Across the world, poverty is one of the biggest factors leading to children being separated from their families and entering orphanages. It also indirectly exacerbates the impact of all other factors associated with institutionalisation.
As is well documented, poverty can place families in a situation where they are not able to meet the basic needs of their children. It can lead to families being unable to provide adequate housing, living in poor sanitation conditions or having difficulty providing daily meals. This can result in authorities taking children away from their families, or parents feeling that they have no choice but to place their child in an institution.
Without an adequate social protection safety net to support families on the margins of poverty, they are incredibly vulnerable to changes in circumstances, such as unemployment, which can very quickly lead to financial difficulties, and increase the risk of family separation.
Children who grow up in institutions are more likely to experience poverty in later life.
Children who have been in institutions can suffer multiple disadvantages in adult life which all affect the likelihood of them experiencing poverty. They suffer from reduced economic opportunities and educational attainment, social exclusion, as well as increased risk of substance abuse, mental health problems, suicide, and exposure to crime. Care leavers around the world consistently report that their biggest concerns when leaving institutions are employment, housing, finances and developing social networks.
Historically, some attempts to end poverty have focussed on the material needs of children, without consideration for their social or emotional needs. The child is forced to follow the resources – rather than the other way around. Such an approach leads to perverse situations where the only way a child can find a meal is by being placed in an institution. This is detrimental to families, communities and, ultimately, societies.
Eliminating orphanages plays a role in reducing poverty
Small investments in the family so they can meet their children’s material needs are far more effective, and cost effective, than placing resources in institutions.
An important part of the care reform process, therefore, is to strengthen services and support for families. This can be achieved by redirecting resources away from institutions towards families and community services to build the capabilities, resilience and support needed. This can be a catalyst for wider societal change and help promote more equality (in line with achieving Goal 10 of the SDGs – reducing inequality).