The Tragedy of Orphanages

More than 8 million children live in orphanages worldwide. An estimated 90% of them are not true orphans. These children are sent to orphanages because a single parent is not adequately able to care for them, because of rampant poverty at home, or because they have a disability or special needs.

This is something that Mulheir’s organization, Lumos (interesting fact: it was founded by JK Rowling), hopes to change, because children who grow up in orphanages do not integrate seamlessly into larger society. As Mulheir shares, children raised in orphanages are 10 times more likely to be involved in prostitution, 40 times more likely to have a criminal record and — shockingly — 500 times more likely to commit suicide.

Mulheir has visited hundreds of orphanages in 18 countries, and notes a similar feedback loop at work in each — children have limited contact with caregivers and don’t get the stimulation they need for optimum development. They develop self-soothing behaviors — like self-harming — that get them labeled as disabled and keep them in institutions long term. This is not necessarily because orphanage personnel are bad people — it’s because they simply have too many kids to care for.

In her talk, Mulheir wonders if there is another way and calls for a radical resource redistribution. She points out that giving support — both financial and otherwise — to desperate parents and foster families would cost governments far less than maintaining large care institutions. With the saved funds, better services could be created for children who need them.

“Children are amazingly resilient,” says Mulheir. “We find that if we get them out of institutions and into loving families early on, they recover their developmental delays and go on to lead normal happy lives.

How bad can orphanages be? Listen to the vivid description in Mulheir’s talk.

This article was copied from TED Blogs: http://blog.ted.com/2012/11/08/are-orphanages-a-necessary-evil-or-is-there-a-better-way/

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