There are a number of questions to address when we open the conversation about Care Reform. Firstly, the terminology can be tricky in this area, so let’s start there, shall we?
- Care reform is the process of changing the entire child protection or care system.
- De-Institutionalisation is one form of care reform – it is the implementation of the care reform process.
- Alternative Care refers to any out of home care service – it does not include family re-integration or prevention of separation in the first place.
Care reform, therefore, is the systematic reorientation of the whole system; it is not about simply closing orphanages and sending children home to vulnerable settings. We’re never talking about just returning a child back to the same situation they left. When family re-integration is possible, we find a way to support the parents and remove the risks to the child.
When children are reintegrated back into their families, resources are sent home with children, and specific support services are provided to the family. The child is fully supported by care services. The vast majority of children can return to their families when supports are put in place for families living in poverty.
A helpful way of thinking about it is to realise that we are in the business of removing the problem from the child’s circumstances, instead of simply removing the child from the problem, which creates a whole host of unforeseen problems.
What are those unforeseen problems, then?
Well, firstly, the impacts of disordered attachment cannot be underestimated. Many of the justifications for orphanages or institutional care do not take into account the negative impact of growing up without a close community or a family. For a more detailed look into this, read the Comhlámh Report, "Children First" here.
But what about… Trafficking?
Orphanages are often seen as a way to prevent child trafficking. However, in reality, children who are surrounded by family and community are less at risk of being trafficked than children who are living in an institution without that support system.
In some cases, institutionalisation may delay a child’s risk of trafficking, but it actually increases the chances that they will be trafficked when they leave the care home, as they are vulnerable without the protective relationships of community. They also tend to have a lack of street smarts and life skills, which leaves children extremely vulnerable when they are coming out of institutional care.
But what about… Education?
While children may receive an education in an institution, an education alone is not enough. Children need other skills to equip them to use their education. Again, the impacts of disordered attachment cannot be underestimated. For a more detailed look into this, read the Comhlámh report, "Children First" here.
For those of us who have supported orphanages or volunteered in orphanages in the past, it can be difficult and painful to hear about the harm institutional care can cause. But we must remember that we can re-direct our support and efforts. Many of us have a vision of vulnerable children thriving in an environment in which they are safe and cared for. The issue is that orphanages are not the most effective way to achieve this vision. The good news is that experts working in this area have extremely effective alternative ways to support children, by supporting families and communities to create a thriving environment for children to grow up in.
We are pouring resources, time and energy into institutions. Why not re-direct our interventions into something more effective and supportive?
We long ago decided orphanages were not a good place to grow up if you were born in a wealthy country. Let’s make the same changes for children in other parts of the world.
We have experienced speakers in the field of care reform that will give a more in-depth look at this issue at the "Beyond Institutional Care: Rethinking How We Care for Vulnerable Children" conference we are hosting on 14th May. Book your spot below!
Cover Photo: Annie Spratt