Institutional Care: Impacts on ChildrenNivedita Das Gupta, India Country Head, Miracle Foundation
Life without a family is hard to imagine for next to everyone who has been brought up amidst such an environment of love and care. But for millions of children around the world, this is an unfortunate reality. According to United Nations, there are approximately 8 million children living in institutional care across the globe presently, and the actual number goes even higher. Surprisingly, every 4 out of 5 of these children have at least one living parent or kin. This is a more common sight in rural and semi-urban areas owing to a scarcity of resources and more prevalent poverty.
The concept of institutional care came into existence to provide love, care and necessities to the abandoned and orphaned children. But it has been observed that the standard of such facilities vary from being very ideal to not enough. In most of these institutions, the underprivileged children are confined to an environment that hinders their growth and development. Moreover, due to inadequate child protection measures cases of child abuse are often reported. Several organizations that have worked with vulnerable children advocate that there is no substitute to a family, however well-managed, well-equipped and caring a certain institution is. Children who are raised under institutional care away from or in absence of their families are more likely to have limited positive impacts which often remain for the rest of their lives.
Psychological ailments and attachment issues
Being away from the love, care and attention of a family, children who grow up in institution suffer from depression and related disorders. Living in a state of trauma, hinders children to concentrate on their studies and other recreational activities. Also, since these institutionalized children witness their caregivers being changed constantly, they find it extremely difficult to foster strong attachments, a sense of security, and subsequently stable and long-lasting relationships. This also impacts their attachment with their own birth parents as the bond gets hampered overtime.
Postponed physical growth
There have been cases of slowed physical growth among children living in institutions across the world. Lack of proper nutrition, unhygienic conditions, limited resources for proper healthcare very often results in issues such as stunted body growth which often results in delayed or early puberty.
Lowered brain activity and cognition
Apart from delayed physical development, children living in institutional care are also prone to major developmental issues like poor cognitive development which further results in subpar intellectual performance. A difference of almost 20 points has been observed, according to a research titled ‘The Science of Early Adversity: Is there a role for large institutions in the care of vulnerable children?’ compiled by Anne Berens and Prof Charles Nelson, with 84 for institutionalized children and 104 among those who have been living in the stimulating environment of a family. Therefore, among children who were brought up in institutions, lower IQ, impaired cognition and a lack of brain activity has been observed.
Diminished Opportunities in Life
Growing up in a children’s home, constraints a child from all the opportunities life has to offer; education or career. The children’s home staff often have a limited educational horizon, lack resources and knowledge in order to guide and counsel children for their education and career. And that is why it is important for children to be a part of families and grow up in communities where they not only get the education of their choice but also have the awareness and freedom to make decisions towards their career.
Most of the above-mentioned impacts of institutional care often result in what is termed as ‘generations gone’, wherein young adults are find it challenging to function and participate well in the society. Be it social discrimination and isolation, scarce employment opportunities, inability to lead a physically and financially independent life, or even seeking a shelter after turning 18 years, growing up in an institution has long and irreversible impacts on the lives of children. This often leads to them being unable to safeguard and live up to the expectations, once they grow up and start their own families. Therefore, institutional care may result in a long-lasting and often irreversible impact not just on these young minds, but also on their future families and communities.
Innovative Potential for Change
The first alternative for children’s secure and favorable future is to provide them with family-based care. Institutions should be the last resort. For instance, immediate family or kin could provide care, support, attention and resources in case of an abandonment or becoming an orphan, immediate family members or kin could provide care, support and resources whenever possible. In short every child should be in a safe family
Government consideration and engagement is also gradually emerging as one of the major driving forces through proactive measures and initiatives to promote alternative care. Through schemes supporting causes against institutional care, additional support and capacity-building, the government aims to provide every child with the minimum standard quality of care, and is extensively trying to monitor and determine the steps being taken towards the noble cause.
Through an efficient ecosystem of government, institutional care, individual and corporate donors, social workers and all other stakeholders, childcare and protection structures may undergo a paradigm shift. This may result into an environment of love, care and attention that every child around the world truly needs and deserves to be a part of. The world can be changed, when everyone comes together!