In this blog post, Stephen Ucembe, Regional Advocacy Manager for Hope and Homes for Children in East and Southern Africa, explores the differences in relationship experiences between children who grew up in orphanages and those who grew up in families. This blog is third in a series written by Ucembe on the impacts of institutionalization on children and the need for care reform. "Significant research shows that for human beings to thrive and develop a sense of belonging and identity they need relationships. And not just any relationships but positive and stable relationships. These relationships are often enhanced at the level of the family unit. However, many children’s institutions have a narrow perspective on the importance of relationships in children’s lives when they intervene to remove them unnecessarily from their families and confine them to spaces that are significantly devoid of relationships; orphanages and children’s homes," writes Ucembe. Further more, says Ucembe, "children need meaningful and enriching relationships with a diverse range of people; orphanages hardly provide an opportunity for this. The interactions with what many of the institutionalized children call the ‘world outside’ are limited."
Ucembe notes that, for children who grow up in institutions, the lack of adults in their lives means a lack of adult role-models which has an impact on their development as they age and become adults themselves. "For this reason, becoming a parent can be challenging for children who have lived in institutions." Ucembe highlights several of the other harmful and lasting impacts that institutionalization has on children as they develop and grow to adulthood, as indicated by decades of research on the topic.
Ucembe urges that "all services should be developed with and around the family and community, working to address issues that lead to child separation. For example by working to alleviate violence and neglect in households with parenting and psycho-social interventions and by working with families and communities to address poverty. If we know poverty is the major driver of institutionalizsation, we should aim to remove the threat of poverty from the family and not at removing the child from the family. And family and community centered approaches should always be explored as alternatives for those children who for different reasons cannot stay with their biological parents."