I received an email from a Washington D.C. based organization called Disability Rights International last week, asking us to reconsider our mission at the World Orphan Fund. I found it quite odd they would contact us given we’re a fairly small outfit. Most likely it was a reaction to our tweet to J.K. Rowling praising her efforts at the Lumos Foundation (Rowling is an advocate for the immediate elimination of orphanages and has 4.7 million followers on twitter.)
I’d never heard of the group, and while their message was a bit cryptic it was consistent with a sometimes militant attitude toward closing down orphanages at any cost. As many of you know there are many underlying reasons for the “orphan” population in places like Central America – poverty and violence against children topping the list. There is no social safety net in many cases and often an orphanage is the safest and only option for those children.
Some advocate outright elimination orphanages without a clear path to placement or a system that accomplishes that goal with the necessary accountability. While the movement toward family preservation, extended families, foster care, adoption and other means of creating or maintaining a family environment is always desirable, ignoring the existing reality is irresponsible.
Simply put, we must have well thought out alternatives in place before disassembling the current means of caring for millions of children. Honduras recently shut down it’s government run orphanages causing a population boom at many privately run orphanages. Without those orphanages children would be living on the street much as they did in earlier decades. More often than not survival in that environment involves crime, the sex trade and gangs. The fate of many special needs children is even worse.
Changing the current system requires cooperation, commitment, and in many countries literally creating a foster care system from the ground up. Sometimes there are steps that can be taken along the way. For example, earlier this year we provided funding for a program at Casita Copan where three families have been created for 13 orphaned children. But there are 153,000,000 orphans worldwide and it’s going to take time and resources to shift the paradigm on a global scale.
Organizations like Lumos are working on orphan prevention, but we have a different role. Our primary focus is on emergency, transformational and essential funding that addresses the here and now – providing critical funding for needs such as housing, medical care, skills training, transition and psychological support for children with no other options. We continue to pray for the day where what we do is no longer necessary. Then, and only then, will we reconsider our mission.