The plight of vulnerable children in the developing world is challenging and moving and stirs many good-hearted people to seek opportunities to volunteer within programs that assist children such as orphanages and shelters. Without careful consideration and awareness of the broader issues, our good intentions could contribute to the exploitation and vulnerability of the children we seek to help. For this reason ACCI has developed this info sheet on ethical volunteering in orphanages (residential care centres).
Before you decide to visit or volunteer in an orphanage we suggest you consider the following questions:
It is critical that children form a strong attachment with a primary caregiver for their cognitive, social and emotional development. Children in orphanages have been separated from their parents and often experience attachment disorders, which cause them to develop unnaturally close bonds with people they have just met. When volunteers take the role of caregivers in an orphanage the children quickly form these bonds. Each time a volunteer leaves, this bond is broken and the child once again experiences rejection. This is extremely detrimental to children and therefore only long-term staff should assume caregiver roles for children in orphanages.
Many orphanages rely on donations from visitors and volunteers. They often keep the children undernourished and in poor conditions to illicit donations from tourists who feel sorry for the children. There are cases of orphanages recruiting and trafficking children to fill their orphanages for fundraising purposes. This is a system that exploits children and is unfortunately perpetuated by volunteers who are genuinely trying to help.
When orphanages open their doors to well meaning volunteers, they also make a way for predators to gain access to the children. Predators are known for seeking opportunities to volunteer and work within orphanages to access children. Whilst good screening can reduce the risk, it is not always possible to identify a child abuser and therefore volunteering does expose children to risk.
Children in residential care have undergone multiple traumas, including being separated from their families. They need the assistance of trained, qualified and committed staff who are equipped to deal with their special needs. Most volunteers do not come with these skills or the local language to use these skills. They can therefore inadvertently compound the children's trauma out of a lack of awareness of how to appropriately deal with their behaviour.
In most of our own countries our government's child protection systems would not allow us to visit any kind of shelter or residential care home and most of us wouldn't consider asking. It would be considered a violation of the child's right to privacy and a risk to the children. In developing countries, children have the same rights but often child protection laws are weak or unregulated exposing children to risk. In the absence of strong local laws we should apply the same standards we would expect for our own children to children everywhere.
The Child Protection in Short-Term Missions Manual + Toolkit is a resource which is essential to any church, team and individual planning to go on a short-term missions trip. Sometimes good intentions are not enough to prevent children from being harmed, and this manual serves to fill this gap and inform best practice. It includes the Biblical framework for protecting children, how teams can run child-first STM trips, as well as practical case studies and toolkits to make your next missions trip a child safe one. If you're passionate about missions and engaging people in short-term teams, then this is for you!
ACCI runs numerous child protection and child welfare programs that have short-term residential care facilities in different countries. We ensure that all of our programs are run to a high standard with good child protection policies in place to ensure children are safe and well cared for.
All of our projects are run by qualified staff who seek to prevent family breakdown and reunify children with their families as soon as possible. Out of our commitment to safeguarding children and family preservation, we do not accept 'non-stakeholder' visitors and volunteers to work within our residential programs. We believe that there are other ways that volunteers can add value and recommend a range of ethical alternatives.
1. Volunteer in a program that seeks to preserve families and prevent family separation. Volunteers could work with whole families or parents to strengthen their capacity to look after their own children.
2. Volunteer within family reunification programs. Help a family prepare for their child's return by helping them renovate their house, get access to a water source or set up a small business or a veggie patch.
3. Volunteer in programs run in the community that everyone can access. Examples might be English programs, sports programs, creative workshops or educational support programs.
4. Use your skills to build the capacity of staff working with children. This might be in areas of promotions, websites, English, management, accounting or games and activities.
5. Focus on learning so that you are better equipped to advocate for a project or the needs of children when you return to your own country.
When done with thought and consideration, volunteering can positively contribute towards good outcomes for vulnerable children and their families as well as be a life changing experience for volunteers.
THINK ABOUT THE IMPACT
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
ACT IN A WAY THAT PROTECTS CHILDREN AND PROMOTES FAMILIES.
For More Information about Orphanage Tourism and ChildSafe Tourism:
When Children Become Tourist Attractions - Think Child Safe.