On 18 October 2019, the UK Government updated its guidance on gap years and volunteering overseas to include an advisory on volunteering at and visiting orphanages abroad. The guide explains some of the harmful impacts of orphanage volunteering and encourages prospective volunteers to consider these risks and safeguarding considerations in their research and planning. The guide also highlights the International Forum for Volunteering in Development's work to establish a Global Standard for Volunteering in Development, which would require organizations adopting the Global Standard to "commit to promoting child-safe volunteering in all environments, which includes not facilitating visits to orphanages or other residential care facilities for children." In this guide, the UK Government also states its recognition of the harms of institutionalization on children and states that the UK "is working towards the long term process of de-institutionalisation."
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Volunteering with children
Many volunteer projects directly or indirectly contribute to improving the lives of children and young people overseas and are often particularly popular among travellers.
In some countries it’s possible to volunteer in or visit orphanages, but to do so can have serious unintended consequences for vulnerable children and communities. A regular turnover of volunteers without relevant training and experience can be harmful to children’s development and emotional wellbeing.
Additionally, some organisations that invite volunteers are profit-oriented rather than charitable, and there is evidence of some unscrupulous organisations deliberately housing children in poor conditions to attract ongoing financial support from visitors. Poor safeguarding practices also increase the risk of abuse. 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.
If you’re considering any volunteering opportunities with children or young people, you should consider these additional risks and safeguarding considerations carefully within your research and planning.
The International Forum for Volunteering in Development is developing a Global Standard for Volunteering in Development that aims to help volunteer organisations deliver responsible and impactful volunteering and ensure that community needs are prioritised. Organisations adopting the Global Standard will commit to promoting child-safe volunteering in all environments, which includes not facilitating visits to orphanages or other residential care facilities for children.
In line with the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children, the UK government recognises that institutionalisation (the housing of children in an orphanage or other residential institution) harms children’s physical, emotional and psychological development and is working towards the long term process of de-institutionalisation.