What Can Donors Do? The Role of Donors in Advocating for Family and Community-Based Care in South Asia

Flows of Philanthropic Funding: Funding for Orphanages is Harming the Children It Aims to Help

Years of research have shown that orphanages often expose children to serious abuse, harm and neglect, can impact a child’s physical and psychological development and is often much more expensive than family or community-based care (Csáky, 2009Pinheiro, 2006). This growing body of evidence, culminated in the UN welcoming the landmark document, Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, which calls upon states to ensure that every child should live in a supportive family environment that promotes his/her full potential.

An unfortunate paradox is that during much of this progress, the number of residential care institutions has been steadily or even exponentially increasing. In Cambodia, for example, the number of institutions has increased by more than 75 per cent between 2005 and 2010 (The Royal Government of Cambodia, Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, 2011) despite rapid economic development and the fact that as many as 80 per cent of affected children have at least one living parent (The National Institute of Statistics of the Royal Government of Cambodia and Columbia University, 2016).

Put simply, these children in Cambodian orphanages and so many others like them elsewhere around the world are unnecessarily separated from their families and communities. There are excellent programmes worldwide, particularly in Asia, focused on supporting families, with proven results even in the poorest and most remote places. Local organisations and governments across the region, however, report that their efforts are hampered by the inflow of resources (often foreign) to residential care. Funding to residential care is in many countries also in direct contradiction to local legislation and policy, emphasizing that family-based options should be prioritized. This has been confirmed by ECFG’s research in Nepal, which has shown that private philanthropic support for vulnerable children often has a strong focus on funding of orphanages. The philanthropic giving is made up of foundations as well as individual donations. Despite the global evidence and best practice, donors in Nepal continue to invest in orphanages via donations, volunteer tourism, mission trips, etc.—drawing more children into institutions and away from families [Elevate Children Funders Group (ECFG), 2018].

The ECFG commissioned study found that $9.1 million of funding goes to the orphanage business in Nepal as compared to $3.7 million to family-based care. An additional $4.1 million in funding was recorded for alternative care projects, but it was not possible to identify how much of the funding had gone to family care and how much to residential care. Funding for other projects, such as education, health and children’s rights, reached $6.3 million (ECFG, 2018).

When investment goes into supporting institutional care, this results in lack of funding for supporting families and communities to thrive, preventing unnecessary family separation as well as family and community-based alternative forms of care. Research has shown that the cost of orphanages can be eleven times the cost of social services provided to vulnerable families and three times the cost of professional foster care, thereby undermining efforts to develop more sustainable alternatives (Browne, 2009).

. Much more work needs to be done to shift investments away from orphanages and towards opportunities that build strong families and communities. By building upon the existing body of evidence and promising donor practices, we can begin to make these shifts to help deinstitutionalisation efforts in Asia and around the world.



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