By Nivedita Das Gupta
In a world striving to achieve global peace, the rights of children comprise an integral component of the journey. Although most countries allocate a significant budget to support children living in childcare institutions, the actual state of care is disappointing to say the least.
According to UNICEF 2015, there are more than eight million children living in institutional care around the world. While a majority of these children are considered orphans, hence earning institutions the popular moniker ‘orphanages’, the term is not appropriate. It has been found that almost 80 per cent of these children have a living parent or relative who can care for them. Then why are children put in institutions? Families often put their children in institutions because they can’t provide the basic resources that their child needs, such as food, clothing, school or healthcare.
Even though the very essence of these institutions is to provide utmost care and development to deprived children, there are copious amounts of evidence from both India and across the globe that suggest otherwise. Reports curated by the United Nations and many psychiatrists and researchers have demonstrated the severity of developmental issues in institutional care. These include delayed physical and hormonal growth, lower IQs and brain activity, poor cognitive abilities, behavioural issues, an impending sense of detachment, depression, autism, and other psychological disorders. Institutional care has thus been observed to mostly have a negative impact on young and impressionable minds, the effects of which last throughout their lives. Furthermore, many of these abused or neglected children often end up creating a ‘vicious cycle of harm’ in their adulthood by subjecting their offspring to the same, owing to their ill experiences from the past.
While psychiatrists and researchers have outlined several disadvantages associated with institutional care, there is no denying that there are many well-managed institutions in the country and around the world. These may function efficiently and with an ideal vision, intending and proactively striving to do the best for the children living there. However, change is needed. They too need to re-evaluate how to care for kids in the most loving, productive and liberating way possible. And that can only be done by working towards reuniting children back with their families. Actively.
The goal shouldn’t be to run a great childcare institution. It should be to help every child live with a loving family. And the best way to get children back to their families is to help the families themselves.
There may be certain families that aren’t able not provide an ideal growing environment and may have deep-rooted neglect or abuse issues despite being completely capable, too. But an inherently nurturing environment with love, care, attention, commitment, attachment and an overall development has been observed to be better fulfilled under family-based care. Therefore, for the best interests of the child, based on the principle of suitability and necessity, it is advisable to make a gradual yet transformational shift from child care institutions to family-based and alternative forms of care. Individuals, organisations and the government should therefore invest in empowering and supporting families with the right kind of resources to provide for, take care of and to support their children, instead of strengthening the institutional system.
According to a recent finding by the Central Adoption Resource Authority, there are around 20,000 prospective parents who desire to adopt in India, but a mere 1991 children are available for adoption. The gap is huge. There are several opportunities that exist today in this area – people who have the desire to help change the care system should be empowered to do so. They are real-life heroes. They want to help children get the love they deserve, and reach their full potential.
It is necessary to go beyond the existing framework of institutional care and establish an efficient ecosystem comprising of active government intervention, institutions, alternate or family-based care providers, donors, NGOs, corporate collaborators, social workers and child protection bodies. While the transition from child care institutions to family-based and alternate care is a long road, there are endless opportunities of growth and empowerment for young children ahead, provided they are nurtured in the caring environment of a loving family.
With a focus on a loving family for every child, we can definitively say that we’re on our way to having a world that doesn’t need childcare institutions. This model works. It’s changing children’s lives for the better. And it’s creating a better foundation for these little miracles every single day.
(The writer is India Country Head, Miracle Foundation.)