All Children Count: A Baseline Study of Children in Institutional Care in Malawi

The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Community Development of Malawi; Centre for Social Research (CSR) of the University of Malawi; UNICEF Malawi

This study commissioned by the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Community Development and financially and technically supported by UNICEF and the Better Care Network, aimed at describing the situation of children in institutional care and creating a database containing all institutions in Malawi catering for children requiring alternative care. Some of the scope of work the study covers including mapping out the institutions and counting the number of children being cared for, determining the registration status of institutions, documenting different types of services offered in institutions, finding out the number of children living with HIV in institutions, and counting the number of staff and indicating their training status.

Using snowballing method, a total of 104 institutions were identified nationwide, including five types of care facilities- orphanages, special needs centers, church homes, transit care centers, and reformatory centers. In each institution, a questionnaire was administered to management personnel and in-depth interviews and focus group discussions were held. Interviews were also conducted with guardians, parents of children in care, and children who left their institutions.

Orphanages were the most common type of institutions, representing 61% of all institutions in Malawi, but with clear regional variations in distribution. Of note, the study found that the number of institutions had almost tripled between 2000 and 2010, and although government regulations require the registration of these institutions, about 40% were not registered. A total of 6,039 children in institutions were identified, 66% in orphanages. There were more boys (55%) in care than girls (45%) in all regions. 71% of children in institutions had lost one or both parents. Poverty, exacerbated by the death of one or both parents was given as one of the major reasons for children being placed in institutions, resulting in the surviving parent or other members of the family being unable to adequately care for the child.

The study reviews findings on major care indicators, including admission, care planning, food and accommodation, staff ratio and training, sanctions and use of punishment, access to health care and funding. Most children reported being happy because they had access to services not available at home, despite expressing a sense of loss for family and community. Nonetheless, frequent problems such as limited contact with families, a lack of management committees as required under government regulations, poorly trained staff and a lack of regular complaint systems, as well as specific children’s rights violations were identified as needing to be addressed. Disturbingly, the institutions reported a total of 57 deaths of children in the institutions over the previous 12 months periods, although no information as to causes was available.

©UNICEF, Better Care Network