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Children, Families And Alternate Care

Children have a right to grow up in a family where they enjoy the consistent care and love of parents. Where this happens children have the best chance of thriving.  This is a biblical idea and also affirmed by the declaration of human rights.


Children in orphanages can miss out on the continuing love and progressive responsibilities that children experience in stable families. Research shows that they may suffer from attachment disorders – being unable to form trusting balanced relationships - , and that they generally find it harder to function as adults outside of an institution. In the worst cases, children in orphanages face exploitation and abuse.

Alternative Care and Family Strengthening

Given the right of children to be part of a family and the potential dangers of orphanages there is a concerted attempt across the world to reintegrate children into families and close orphanages.  This means that residential facilities for children are seen as temporary accommodation whilst every effort is put in to find a safe and supportive permanent family situation for each child. 

In many places children come into residential care facilities not because they are orphans or abandoned, but because of poverty, lack of educational opportunities, or parental incapacity.  Worldwide 8 out of 10 children in orphanages have at least one living parent.  Some parents surrender children to orphanages in the hope that they will receive a better education there.  This means shifting the focus of intervention to tackling poverty and helping families care for their children within the home.

Orphanage Voluntourism

Orphanage Voluntourism is the practice of combining an overseas holiday with some volunteer work in an orphanage or children’s centre. In the worst cases the orphanages are lucrative businesses where children are induced to leave their families to fill the “orphanage”, at least while the tourists are there. They can also create opportunities for paedophiles to access vulnerable children, and be involved in trafficking and exploitation. Even in the genuine orphanages, children may be distressed by a constant stream of strangers who become close then leave.

GMP Responses

GMP seeks the best possible situation for children in the programmes it supports.  This is clearly in a family.  GMP does not facilitate orphanage voluntourism.

KCV in Zimbabwe is our only residential facility that could be labelled an orphanage.  Here GMP is supporting KCV to meet international standards such as staff to resident ratios.  The children live in family homes with consistent, loving carers. Each of the five households has a range of ages, with siblings usually being together.  The initiation of a reconnection programme saw almost half of the children placed with relatives. Today KCV steadily works with each child from the time they are referred from the Department of Social Welfare, identifying relatives, building relationships with them toward the day when their child is reunited with them.  Training and preparation including support in developing a stronger income, is given to caregivers.  The situations that the children are moving into are assessed for safety and support, and families are followed up once the children join them.  There is also a family strengthening programme under development.

Gnyan Sampada Residential School, Baramati Boys Home and Shrigonda Girls Home, all in India, and Bandarban and Rwangchery Hostels in Bangladesh, are residential only during school terms.  Children return to their parents during school breaks.  Emmanuel School in South Sudan is a day school only and serves lunch daily.  From the beginning the community has organised war orphans and displaced children a place to live with relatives or others in the community.

All of these organisations welcome a small number of volunteers from within their own communities who provide the children with tutoring and other enrichment activities. They also welcome foreign volunteers via GMP and other partners to share skills and encourage the staff and children. Each has a code of conduct for visitors, and maintains careful supervision.

Teams sent by GMP are briefed about child protection, including orphanage voluntourism.  Each team member must have a Working With Children clearance , sign a code of conduct, pass an attitude test and provide a referee to ensure that they are safe to work with children.  This process is managed by the Partnership Coordinator in the relevant state.

GMP is also working at the level of improving the livelihoods of families so that they can better provide for their families.

Further Resources

Faith to Action and Kinnected are two faith-based alternative care resources which COCOA has used extensively to inform its approach.

The Introduction to Partner Visits for Churches booklet has the resources for training and vetting Partner Visit Teams.

The Smart Volunteering campaign, launched by the Australian Government Department of Foreign affairs and Trade, is a great resource to help you be an informed volunteer, a child safe volunteer and a prepared volunteer.

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