The traditional orphanage is important as a place of last resort for children with no other available living situation, writes Fr Father Brian Lucas in Crux.
As National Director of Catholic Mission, I take very seriously the responsibility not to support or encourage institutions that do more harm than good to children.
It is an issue that is recognised in the 2016 Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) Resolution on Residential Care.
ACFID noted with concern that there are an estimated eight million children worldwide living in residential care, despite 80 per cent of these children having one or both living parents. It called for ACFID members to ensure they are not contributing towards the unnecessary institutionalisation of children through programming, funding or volunteering activities, and for the Australian government to address issues contributing to the overuse of residential care overseas within Australia’s aid program, charities sector and volunteering and tourism sectors.
There is, however, a problem about terminology and categorisation. We have to look at exactly what we classify as an orphanage.
Our Director of Programs travels extensively, mostly in Southeast Asia. He has reported that many institutions described as an orphanage are really just a boarding school, where the students come to stay and receive an education before travelling back home for holidays.
He agrees that there are "true" orphanages run by the Church, and one example is children suffering from HIV/AIDS who have nowhere else to go. They face stigma attached to them because of their condition, with relatives unwilling to accept them into their homes and sending them out on the streets. In this instance the Church is one of the only places these children can go, and it would be classified as an orphanage in the traditional sense.
The right approach is to understand the traditional orphanage as the last resort, as a place for children with no other available living situation. It should only exist where it is necessary and not merely because it is expedient. Certainly, one should not establish or promote an orphanage because of its capacity to attract sympathy and donations from visitors.