I’m writing in response to the article “Study on orphans disputed” (December 18).
The multi-country study undertaken by Whetten et al into institutional care compared 1,357 “institution living” and 1,480 “community living” orphans and vulnerable children. The study found that “... the overall differences between communities and institutions was small”.
The study title claims to compare
“institutions” and “community-based care settings”. In actual fact, the study compares orphaned and abandoned children in communities with orphaned and abandoned children in institutions. The most striking finding from the study for me is that, despite the fact that institutions benefit from external donor support, the overall differences between these two groups of children was small.
The sampling methodology has compared apples with oranges. Perhaps it was too difficult to truly compare community-based care with institutional care on account of not being able to find a large enough sample of children in community-based placements supported by the government and NGOs? Of greater interest to practitioners would be a cost-benefit analysis of investing money in institutions versus investing money in supporting people to care for children in families and communities.
While there is a lack of donor support for community-based care, shelters are comparably a boom industry. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, since 2005 the number of children in residential care has increased by 65 percent – in line with a 47 percent increase in the number of facilities (153 in 2005, up to 225 in 2008). The lesson here is perhaps that if you build the shelters, the poor children will come. A 2009 study by Save the Children states that within orphanages, “Most are there because their parents can’t afford to feed, clothe and educate them”. In order to strengthen the regulation of shelters, the ministry has developed National Minimum Standards of Care that outline benchmarks for providers of care. The NMS affirm the importance of seeking to return children to communities, in alignment with Article 20 sub-article 3 in the Convention of the Rights of the Child that emphasises community-based forms of care.
Without doubt, there remains a need for residential care under some circumstances. Typically, this should be seen, however, as a short-term measure aimed to prepare children for a return to communities. It is time for increased investment in the quality of care provided in existing shelters, in transitioning children out of institutions, and into forms of care that more closely resemble normal Cambodian communities.
Children in Crisis Coordinator
Asia Pacific Regional Office