Please stop volunteering in orphanages, Christians told

Children at an orphanage in Malawi.Reuters

An appeal has gone out to Christians to refrain from volunteering in orphanages because of concerns that it "reinforces trauma and abandonment" in institutionalised children. 

The impassioned plea was made by Home for Good founder Krish Kandiah and is repeated in a short film released to coincide with International Volunteer Day today urging Christians to find alternative ways of supporting vulnerable children overseas. 

The short film is part of the Homecoming Project being led by the charity that invites Christians to sign up to an email learning journey exploring the issues with orphanages, the risks associated with volunteering, the links to orphanage trafficking and the ways Christians in the UK can best support children. 

Home for Good launched the Homecoming Project after a ComRes poll of 6,000 British adults found that regular churchgoers were seven times more likely to visit or volunteer at an overseas orphanage.

A joint study by Christian Research and Home for Good revealed that the most popular receiving countries for orphanage volunteering were Romania, Kenya, Uganda, India, South Africa and Thailand.

The charity believes, however, that the Church needs to start thinking about supporting initiatives that help children to grow up in families wherever possible.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office recently updated its travel advice to deter people from volunteering at orphanages.

"A regular turnover of volunteers without relevant training and experience can be harmful to children's development and emotional wellbeing," it said.

"By volunteering in or visiting such organisations, you may unknowingly contribute towards child exploitation and may put yourself at risk of accusations of improper behaviour."

According to Home for Good, anywhere between 40 and 90 per cent of the estimated eight million children living in orphanages worldwide have a living parent who has placed them in the institution because of poverty.

Home for Good echoed the warning of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, saying that orphanage volunteering and visiting has been linked to orphanage trafficking - a practice in which children are trafficked in or out of orphanages for financial gain. 

He went on to warn that children growing up in orphanages could be exploited and used as 'tourist attractions' in order to keep up funding levels.

Home for Good founding director Dr Krish Kandiah said that Westerners could be "unwittingly fuelling the orphanage system".

He called for a shift in focus away from orphanages to initiatives that help families stay together or which promote a family-based care solution, like local fostering or adoption.

The charity has produced a short-term missions and volunteering guide that suggests a good volunteering model for Christians who want to support vulnerable children overseas. 

This model recommends no direct contact or interaction with children but rather a focus on supporting parents, caregivers, staff and the local community.

"Children living in orphanages have suffered the trauma of having been separated from their parents," said Dr Kandiah.

"This often causes attachment difficulties or disorders, where children may be overly affectionate towards complete strangers, forming unnaturally quick and unhealthy bonds."

He continued: "Many orphanages rely on a steady stream of volunteers and the generosity of donors, who are usually well-meaning and genuinely want to help vulnerable children. But unfortunately, good intentions do not automatically result in best practice.

"Christians have long been supporters of pioneering and innovative projects and the Church has been at the forefront of caring for vulnerable children.

"It is time for a new wave of innovation to see children in institutions come home to family. The first step we can take is to ensure we do not exacerbate poor practice in our giving and our going."