Orphanages have traditionally played a key role in meeting the needs of abandoned and displaced children. This is still the case in many countries like Nigeria where they provide shelter for children of all ages presenting a variety of needs. For those defined as orphaned and vulnerable, there are few alternatives and no budgetary allocations for residential provision. In this situation, the management of orphanages has become a salient issue and the dearth of research is serious as social and family systems are under increasing pressures and more children from Africa are entering care in developed countries. This article provides an ethnographic and cross-sectional study of the current situation in one Nigerian city. It shows that residential institutions provide a comprehensive service for children requiring substitute care, fulfilling many different functions and meeting all needs. The homes are run by a mixture of state, voluntary and private organisations, leading to considerable variation in the resources available and the quality of care. Some of the reasons why children are admitted are now rare in developed countries and reflect the prevailing legislation, cultural values and poverty in the region. Given the rising number of children with African heritage entering care in the UK and the arrival of others via intercountry adoption, the article alerts social workers to information that might aid their understanding of these children's histories and the nature of the services they have received.