Core Message

The following messaging was developed by Faith to Action to help promote family care for orphaned and vulnerable children and to educate and empower Christians who support orphanages. 

Orphanages can’t meet a child’s long-term needs.

While residential care facilities, like orphanages and children’s homes, can provide for physical needs like food, water and shelter, they can’t provide all of the developmental, social and emotional support a child requires to thrive long-term.

  • Children raised in orphanages struggle into adulthood.
  • Even the “best” orphanages can’t meet a child’s long-term needs.
  • Adults who grew up in residential care commonly say what they really wanted was a family.
  • Family is for a lifetime. You never “age out” of a family like you can age out of an orphanage.

The cost of supporting a child in an orphanage is 5-10x higher than supporting a child in a family.

Decades of research have proven that institutional care negatively affects kids’ developing brains, while family care positively affects kids’ development.

  • A groundbreaking study of kids who grew up in Romanian orphanages, published in 2015, found that these children suffered “compromises in brain development and associated behavioral functioning.” The neglect that often happens in orphanages physically changes the structure of kids’ brains.
  • The negative effects are more severe the longer a child remains in residential care, and are most critical in younger children.
  • Studies in Britain that showed despite small ratios of caregiver to children, children were found to have negative effects on their social development, and that meeting material needs is not as important of child-caregiver interactions- especially in the early years.
  • A 2004 study based on survey results from 32 European countries concluded that “no child under three years should be placed in a residential care institution without a parent/primary caregiver.”

  • Children raised in biological, foster and adoptive families demonstrate better physical, intellectual and developmental outcomes compared to children living within poor quality residential care.
  • Without the consistent and loving care of a parent or primary caregiver, infants have difficulty forming the bonds and attachments that are the cornerstone of building trusting and sustainable relationships. [Harvard]
  • “The custodial setting itself, no matter how humanely or responsibly run, causes lasting psychological and physical damage. For every three months a baby or toddler is institutionalized, that child loses one month of development.” [Wash Post]
  • Children raised in institutions demonstrated marked delays in cognitive development and poorer physical growth.

It’s important to recognize that high quality residential care may be needed for some children under special circumstances, such as rehabilitation for children coming out of situations of trafficking or living on the streets.

  • In these cases, every effort should be made to keep placement temporary and to support the transition to family care through reunification, kinship care (care with relatives or close family friends), foster care, or adoption.

Arguments against: “Our family-style home environment provides dedicated care to [country’s] abandoned children.”

  • While quality residential care may be needed in very limited situations, the vast majority of children in orphanages can be placed in a family; orphanages or abandonment are not the only options.
  • Living in a facility “like a family” isn’t the same as having a family.

There’s a better way:

Supporting families is the best way to support orphaned and vulnerable children.

An orphanage should never be the only option for a child’s care.

The best way to meet the needs of vulnerable children is to strengthen the capacity of their families and communities to care for their well-being.

  • This means identifying vulnerable families and making sure they are equipped to care well for their children at the community level.
  • Direct resources including funding, [missional] volunteering, and government services to support vulnerable families.
  • Support alternative family-based options for children who are unable to live with their biological family, like kinship care, foster care and adoption.

UN Resolution on the Rights of the Child 2019: All of the 193 member states of the United Nations committed to ending institutionalization of children and prioritizing family care.

Reunification, kinship care, foster care, and adoption are all alternatives to orphanages. The solutions:

  • Help children return to their biological family whenever possible.
  • Help children without a safe family find a new, loving family in their community.
  • Support families at risk of separation (family preservation).

Poverty, natural disaster, illness and disability are leading causes of children entering residential care facilities. This means that financial and other forms of support that respond to these challenges could keep children out of residential care.

Christians can lead the movement to keep children in families.

Christians have been at the forefront of caring for the world’s most vulnerable children, and they have an important role to play.

  • Christians want to respond to the biblical mandate to care for orphans and vulnerable children.
  • Around the world, churches are ministering with great generosity, compassion and courage to the increasing numbers of vulnerable children.

U.S. Christians are major supporters of orphanages and other forms of residential care for vulnerable children around the world.

  • While the U.S. has moved away from orphanages, we are still supporting them abroad.
  • Most U.S. Christians aren’t aware that there are family-based alternatives to orphanages.

We need to change the focus from visiting and funding orphanages to providing support to vulnerable families.

  • According to the 2021 Barna study “Residential Care: U.S. Christian Giving and Missions,” 21% of Christians who have gone on a mission trip have visited an orphanage.
  • 19% of U.S. Christians have donated to residential care facilities.
  • $2.5 billion is the projected amount of donations from Christian individuals, annually, to support residential care.

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