How can we make orphanages better for children?

Today is day six of ‪#‎AskBetterQuestions‬. In less than a week, Amanda and I will be at CAFO2015. As we prepare for this gathering, we want to engage the families, churches, leaders and influencers who are passionate about adoption and orphan care to stop and ask better questions. We would love for you to join in the conversation!

from orphan to daughter

In a perfect world, mothers and fathers would be able to provide for their children. Families would not be torn apart by violence or injustice. Women would not die in childbirth. Little girls would be able to go to school. In a perfect world, there would be no need for orphanages.

The world we live in is far from perfect.

We know millions of children have been orphaned. Millions more have been abandoned by their parents or separated from their families by everything from poverty and violence to abuse and addiction. Experts estimate that 8 million children are growing up in orphanages. Even as we strive for a world where there are alternatives, we must work to improve institutions for children who have no choice. Simply closing the world’s orphanages is not realistic.

So how do we make orphanages better for children?

When my husband and I travelled to Uganda to adopt, we had the opportunity to visit more than a dozen orphanages.

At one of the worst, I picked up a small girl wearing clothes soaked with urine. She was filthy and desperate for attention. Most of the staff were busy with other tasks, indifferent to the children’s needs. At another institution, we fed newborn babies. My husband tried to feed a tiny baby boy who had been born prematurely. The baby was weak and not able to get more than a few drops of formula – but the orphanage staff did not seem to care.

Both of these orphanages were as dark and broken as any place we could imagine. Institutions that abuse, neglect or exploit children should be closed.

We also visited orphanages where the caregivers clearly loved the children they were responsible for. While every institution we visited had room to improve, a few were implementing best practices in caring for children – and responding holistically to the needs in their community. While making orphanages better for children is not easy, it’s not complicated. Children need families and communities – and the best orphanages try to create or restore these connections.

Here are three simple ideas to make institutions better for children.

    1. Create a family like environment. Children are designed to grow up in families where they are loved and cherished. The more the environment can provide children with consistent caregivers who meet their needs, the more children will thrive.
    2. Build a connection to the community. When children grow up, they need to find jobs and build social connections. Orphanages need to prepare children for the transition to living independently in their community.
    3. Make sure every child has an exit strategy. Orphanages should very rarely be a permanent solution for a child. Good orphanages are not focused on raising the next generation of leaders for a country. Rather, they are focused on reuniting children with their families or finding adoptive or foster families in the child’s community.

Ready to #AskBetterQuestions?

What other steps can we take to make orphanages better for children? We would love for you to join in the conversation by leaving a comment or by tagging your posts with #AskBetterQuestions on Instagram or Twitter. You can discover more of the questions we’re asking here!

In Defense of the Fatherless is the conversation I would love to have with a friend who is learning about the orphan crisis or considering supporting an orphanage. In the book, Amanda and I share the stories of institutions that are doing a remarkable job caring for children and families.

In Defense of the Fatherless is designed to take you on a journey through the Bible to understand God’s heart for orphans and widows – and how you are called to respond. Learn more about In Defense of the Fatherless or read what experts have to say. If you are ready for a deeper conversation, In Defense of the Fatherless is now available on Amazon or at a bookstore near you.

Sara Brinton

SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

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