Residential Child and Youth Care in Saudi Arabia: a Case Study of Abandoned Children and Young People

Ahmed A. Albar - Global Perspectives

This chapter discusses the popular approaches used in the care of abandoned children and young people born without parents.  Per this chapter, residential care is still quite a popular means for caring for children without parents.  Children either reside in government run or voluntarily run facilities.  Foster care is considered as an alternative approach, as well.

Within Saudi Arabia there are about 20 government-run and 15 voluntary non-profit institutions providing residential care for orphans and abandoned children and young people.  This chapter points out that there are are approximately 2238 children and young people in residential care. Single-sex residential institutions are common in other Arab societies once the children reach a mature age.

Abandoned children and young people are more likely to stay a long time in residential care.  The length of stay is associated with emotional instability.  This could be associated with moving from place to place.  This chapter notes that young people in institutions are less likely to lack opportunities to participate in social activities or are less likely to gain new social knowledge or skills as children who grow up with families.

Abandoned children struggle immensely with their identity.  Growing up with unknown parents is a source of stigma and shame.  The chapter notes that women have a more challenging time than men and tend to stay in care longer because they have limited choices.  Young people who leave care with lower qualifications in education have reduced opportunities for getting suitable jobs. 

To address these issues, Saudi Arabia enacted several policies, which are covered within this chapter.  They include formal state welfare, care provided for children by alternative families and children’s homes, social security, and citizenship to any abandoned child born in Saudi Arabia.

While residential care is more a problem than a solution, for many children it is the only option.  The chapter proposes that residential care facilities need to provide more secure and enjoyable environments for abandoned children and young people.  The chapter also points out that young people need to be linked with local and agencies and communities through membership and voluntary work.  This should help them get social and practical work skills. 

The chapter also recommends smaller homes with more personal attention.  There should also be a system in place to prepare these children for independence.  Any effort should concentrate on staffing.