Perhaps time for a return to orphanages???

Removing children from abuse and neglect may well create other problems, but perhaps those problems are being created because we need to rethink how we care for such children.

I suspect the problem, once again well-intentioned, is the attempt to ‘create’ a substitute home for children who need to be removed from their parents, with foster ‘parents.’ The simple reality is that nothing can replace your parents and foster care is hit and miss. No doubt there are some excellent people who opt to become carers but there are also those who are doing it for the wrong reasons and who are less than adequate as substitute parents.

What is worse is that a child can be shunted from pillar to post with moves from one set of carers to another, creating even more trauma and dysfunction perhaps than the original circumstances from which they were removed.

In this less than perfect world with less than perfect human beings, I suspect many kids get far less than perfect foster parents. Instead of trying to replace something which can never be replaced, perhaps reworking an old approach might be the way to go.

Perhaps it is time to rework the old idea of orphanages. What children need when they are at risk is to be removed from risk and placed somewhere they feel safe. Preferably it is somewhere they can stay for however long they want or is needed. Somewhere that they can find stability.

The next thing children need after safety and security is to be fed and educated. With stability of their living environment this is easier to provide.

In addition, in this day and age, creating enlightened, optimal, happy, healthy, constructive orphanage environments is more than possible. The best of orphanages will never be a substitute for the best of foster parents but I would be prepared to bet that it is easier to create and maintain the best of orphanages than it is to create a situation where the majority of foster parents are of optimal quality and function.

The other thing about an orphanage is that there is no pretence. It is not a substitute for your parents and so children do not have to feel conflicted if they prefer to be there or even come to love those who are caring for them, as, no doubt, many might with foster parents.

The other advantage is that a child could be given a number of opportunities to return to their parents without sacrificing a happy foster home, i.e. they can always return to the orphanage. They have stability and they have certainty in a world which is uncertain and unstable on so many other counts.

Children are also sensitive about being different and never more so than when coming from dysfunctional homes. In an orphanage they are all the same. There is no ‘foster sibling’ who they might see as ‘better’ or ‘luckier,’ the children with whom they live are facing the same issues and problems and this offers opportunities for bonding more readily than being in so-called ‘normal’ homes. There is nothing ‘normal’ about a foster home no matter how good it might be.

It would be interesting to balance costs of orphanages compared to foster parenting and I would be surprised if the latter was more expensive. Even if it were, the crucial thing in trying to help children in need is providing them with what they do not have – safety, stability, certainty and the familiar.

Most people reasonably assume there is evidence of good long-term outcomes for children who come into contact with child protection systems. Why else would we…

About rosross

Editor, writer, poet.
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