The Three Biggest Lies About the Orphan Crisis

*What you must understand before you make your next donation

If you’ve done much charitable giving over the last 20 years, you’ve probably heard a lot about the growing orphan crisis around the globe – maybe you’ve even supported orphan care ministries and organizations yourself. Chances are, while the overall cause is undeniably noble and worthy, you may have funded an answer to a misstated, misunderstood and poorly defined problem.

At The BLESS Foundation, we care about the Orphan Crisis, and we desperately want to see it ended. That’s why when we started BLESS, our Board selected Orphan Care as one of our five primary pillars in our overall effort to reach the hardest to reach people around the world. Over the last 24 months, we’ve funded over $153,000 to orphan care work through the shared generosity of our partners and ambassadors.

When you start working in the Orphan Care space, you become exposed to some heartbreaking stories and statistics. There’s probably not another problem on earth that most people agree just shouldn’t exist. It’s heartbreaking and tragic to learn about the stories of children growing up without parents and without the love and security of a safe family structure.

As we’ve gotten more involved in Orphan Care advocacy, through partnerships with our beneficiaries and thorough due-diligence, we’ve entered a rapid learning curve about the real work that is happening internationally to serve these vulnerable children.

While we’ve been greatly inspired by some select groups, much of what we’ve learned has been shocking.

“We’ve been exposed to some of the common misconceptions about the Orphan Care crisis that not only keep donors from achieving the highest impact possible with their dollars, but also keep the Orphan Crisis itself from actually being ended.”

Here are the top three lies about The Orphan Crisis that we’ve learned that may be keeping you from getting the highest impact from your donations in this space:

Lie #1: There are 153 Million orphans in the world.

You’ve probably heard this stat, or something close to it, which paints a massive picture of how big of a problem the Orphan Care Crisis really is. In reality there are approximately 3 million identified orphans in the world who have lost both parents…not 153 million. Now, any amount of orphans is tragic, and we care deeply about serving these children. But unless we understand the reality of the problem, it will be extremely difficult to build strategic solutions that effect long term change for the true orphans who are suffering.

In 2001, UNICEF changed how they classify the term “Orphan” to mean a child who has lost either their father OR mother. With this simple change in definition, the number of orphans shot up drastically in order to paint a certain picture and motivate people and organizations to pay more attention to the crisis, and also to initiate more funding to address the issue. While the exposure may have initially been helpful, the mis-categorization of the situation has in effect developed an ecosystem where the wrong problems are now being solved.

Lie #2: Placing “Orphans” in Orphanages is the best solution for the children

While on the surface this seems to makes perfect sense, it’s statistically been proven to be bad for the children. How can this be?

To start with, the orphanages that exist end up taking in a large majority of children who are not actually orphans. Many children who are in orphanages actually have family, although their family is typically poor and has chosen to “give” the child to the orphanage because they feel the child may be better off in a facility and not with the family.

It has been proven over and over that the best scenario for a child is to grow up in a family unit. Even for the low percentage of “true” orphans who have lost both parents, they usually have some other family members that could possibly take them in, but often this isn’t even explored.

Many of the developing countries that have the largest “Orphan” populations don’t have the resources and budget in place to care for children at the state level. Even basic foster care systems, which have been proven to create much better long-term outcomes for orphans, don’t typically exist in a lot of developing countries.

While on the surface it would appear that building orphanages is a noble cause, what if these actual orphanages often create worse long-term outcomes for the children we really want to serve in the first place?

Lie # 3: Orphan-Care Organizations act in the best interest of the orphans

It seems like this statement would be obviously true, but in reality it’s not. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t any good organizations out there doing great work for the children, but even many of these good organizations may not act in the best interest of the orphans because the simply don’t know how to serve the children any differently than they already are.

An over-seer has taken their job to watch over the children, and if that job goes away they can’t provide for their family. While many good-hearted people want to legitimately help, they lack a better model to address the real issues.

The large majority of funding models that have been implemented in the space all revolve around the basic model of building orphanages to raise the children in a house environment with some adult over-seers. It feels very good for donors to believe they are making a great impact, but often no one really understands the long-term negative consequences of what is happening. Beyond that, they often don’t know any other way to approach the problem.

For the small percentage of kids that actually get adopted from orphanages, their chances of success in life may increase, but the majority of children would be better off with their family members instead of being in a facility.

Not to mention the corruption and less scrupulous operators who actually prey on the children and use them to serve their own purposes, often by selling children through high-priced adoptions, or even more sinister plans which lead the children onto the path of human-trafficking.

With all these challenges, how can we really make any dent in this massive problem?

Despite the systemic problems and dire situations, we do believe there is hope and you can be part of the solution.

Here are some practical next steps for how you can get in the fight for these vulnerable children in a constructive way:

1. Become an Advocate. First, get to know some of the organizations that are doing the right kind of work in this space. If you are local to Austin, then you should get to know our previous 2 beneficiaries, The Archibald Project, and Global Child Advocates. Both of these groups understand the real problems in the space and are fighting the good fight to make real systemic changes. We have partnered with both groups to put together a Premier of “The Advocates” at the Austin Film Society on May 11th. If you’re not already committed, then buy your tickets here (click here) and join us for a night to learn more about the amazing work these two groups are engaged in!

2. Create Awareness. Chances are you are already donating to organizations who are doing great work with great intentions, but that may be unknowingly contributing to the systemic problems instead of the solutions that can make a real difference over time. If so, we want to help you and your contacts grow in their awareness! We have set up awareness and training programs with Global Child Advocates to help local churches and charities that are engaged in Orphan Care work to understand the reality of the problems and possible ways to address their work more effectively moving forward. Let us know and we would love to connect you to this great resource!

3. Change how you Fund Orphan Care work. The reality is that your funding as a donor does matter. If enough donors get exposed to the truth around these problems and begin to focus on better solutions, then we can make a difference and change how orphans are cared for. With great resources comes great responsibility, and it is up to us ensure our support is making a difference. We would love to connect with you individually to educate you more specifically on how we make grants in the orphan care space and also help you navigate any possible ways to help your own charities who operate in this space.

-Jonathan Patton

BLESS Founding Board Member

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