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Orphanage Care In Developing Countries Is A ‘Viable Option,’ Study Finds

A study, published on Thursday in PLoS One, finds that the “care at orphanages [in developing countries] is often at least as good as that given by families who take in orphaned or abandoned children,” challenging “the widespread belief that orphans in poor countries fare best in family-style homes in the community and should be put into orphanages only as a last resort,” the New York Times reports (Grady, 12/17).

The study “is touted as one of the most comprehensive ever done on orphans. Orphaned and abandoned children ages 6-12 were evaluated over a three-year period in 83 institutions and 311 families in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania,” according to USA Today (Koch, 12/17).

The New York Times reports that “[t]he children living in orphanages generally fared as well as those in the community, or even better, the researchers found.” According to the newspaper, “[t]he question of how best to care for orphans is urgent and becoming more so, because the numbers are huge and growing. … In Africa, about 12 percent of all children are orphans. Many parents have died from AIDS and other infectious diseases, pregnancy complications and natural disasters” (12/17).

Scientific American writes: “With some 143 million orphaned or abandoned children worldwide – and tens of thousands more projected to be orphaned by AIDS and other diseases in the next year – a fresh look at the orphanage issue might be coming in the nick of time for many kids, especially where foster or adoptive families are in short supply” (Harmon, 12/17).

Study leader Kathryn Whetten, director of the Center for Health Policy at the Duke Global Health Institute, said, “Our research is not saying that institutions are better. What we found is that institutions may be a viable option for some kids.” According to Whetten, caregiving is what matters most, USA Today writes (12/17).

She said, “The stereotype that many of us in the U.S. and Europe have of an institution is not what is being set up in less wealthy nations … It’s not like what we’ve seen in Romania or [Little Orphan] Annie or anything like that.” Scientific American writes that “[m]any of the orphanages the researchers visited were grassroots projects, ‘being set up by local pastors or local couples that really loved kids,’ Whetten explains. ‘What people do not realize is that this [institution] is our community response,’ a medical student from Uganda who had been orphaned told the researchers” (12/17).