Why this study is important
There is widespread evidence of intra-household discrimination against orphaned children – they are less likely to be enrolled in school, less likely to have basic material possessions, and generally have worse health outcomes than children living in the same households who are not orphaned. As a result, many children are living with family who either cannot, or do not want to, care for them.
To fill the gap, alternative care environments have sprung up – orphanages, rescue centers, community-based organizations, and both formal and informal fostering and adoption. In North America and Australia, Residential Schools did an unquantifiable amount of damage to the indigenous children who were forced to live there over many years. In Eastern Europe, state-run orphanages chained toddlers to cribs, essentially starved the children living there of food, love, and stimulation.
The question we pose through this research is whether institutions are inherently bad for children. Is it possible that there could be contexts and situations in which institutions could be a safety net for vulnerable children? What are the alternatives for children whose families are unwilling or unable to care for them? These are the questions we are seeking answers to.
Our goal is to deliver evidence-based information about optimal and cost-effective environments for orphaned and separated children, in a context of a high HIV burden, and in the face of widespread extreme poverty. Through this we hope to inform policy about how to reduce vulnerability among, and improve support, the many children especially in sub-Saharan Africa, who are in urgent need.