Click here if you don’t see subscription options
A man helps Iraqi children draw in the classroom of an orphanage in Baghdad June 3, 2020. A new Lancet report urges institutionalization of children to be phased out in favor of family-based care. (CNS photo/Maher Nazeh, Reuters)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- A new report calling for the phasing out of institutionalized care for children confirms what Catholic Relief Services and its partners have been saying for many years, said a CRS director.

"Children belong in families, and we work to get this message to everyone," including governments, faith organizations and civil society, Anne Smith, CRS global director for Changing the Way We Care, told Catholic News Service in a June 22 phone interview.

A two-part report by 22 experts on reforming care for children was published late June 23 in The Lancet Psychiatry and The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journals. It said the institutionalization of more than 8 million children worldwide should be phased out in favor of family-based care.

Institutions provide suboptimal care and are associated with many developmental delays, the report said. Children can rapidly recover when they are moved into a family environment, although some effects might last into adulthood, it said.

The report "confirms what we have been saying all along," Smith said, noting that CRS and its partners, Lumos and Maestral International, help support families around the world to keep their children with them and to reunite them with members from institutions.

In Zacapa City, Guatemala, for example, a mother was helped to take home her 10-year-old daughter and four grandchildren after losing them to a public orphanage when it was found that the 10-year-old was caring for the younger children while the mother went out to work.

Ana Maria Martinez wanted the children home with her and received the psychosocial and economic help she needed to be able to support and nurture them, Smith said.

Noting that poverty, illness and disability often influence family decisions, Smith said sometimes "families feel they have no choice but to have their child in institutional care."

The United Nations defines an orphan as a child under 18 who has lost one or both parents.

Because of lack of services and stigma, people often believe that their children with disabilities would be better off in institutions that provide access to schooling such as those run by communities of sisters, Smith said.

But "it's always better for children's development" to be with families, she said.

The new report gives this issue the attention it deserves, Smith said. Well-intentioned people donate to orphanages with their "support coming from the heart," and this report will help with the understanding "that there are other ways to support children that have better outcomes," she said.

In Kenya, CRS and its partners worked to strengthen government and civil society to help them address the needs of families with children in institutions, Smith said.

"We've seen policies change here as well as some children reintegrated with their families," she said, noting that "there is so much potential for positive change."

The report calls for child protection systems to gradually redirect funding away from institutions to community-based and family-based programs. The authors propose ways to ensure child safety, to protect children without parental care by providing high-quality family-based alternatives, and to strengthen systems for the care and protection of children.


We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

A Reflection for the Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time, by Keara Hanlon.
Keara HanlonJuly 04, 2022
A Reflection for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, by Sarah Vincent
Sarah VincentJuly 03, 2022
A Reflection for the Saturday of the Thirteenth week in Ordinary Time, by Doug Girardot
Doug GirardotJuly 02, 2022
I’ve been feeling so down on the state of affairs in this nation that I’ve started to wonder if I can even celebrate the Fourth of July this year without feeling painfully disingenuous. So I looked to my colleagues for hope.
Molly CahillJuly 01, 2022