The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We should transition away from orphanages

The former Dow Family Children’s Home in Boito, Kenya, last November.
The former Dow Family Children’s Home in Boito, Kenya, last November. (Sarah Waiswa/FTWP)

The Feb. 7 front-page article “She’s a nurse, but fate made her a detective” lauded Margaret Ruto as the hero she is for uncovering child abuse at the Dow Family Children’s Home. Unfortunately, the institutionalization of children has negatively affected millions of children around the world, and abuse is not uncommon. What would shed additional attention on this issue is an explanation of the work being done in Kenya — and globally — to transition children out of orphanages to safe and nurturing families.

Though abuse can also occur at home, a family environment has proved to create the best outcomes for children, with the right support and resources. Many national governments, including the one in Kenya, are reforming national child protection and care systems. One of the reform efforts includes expanding family-strengthening services to prevent children from going to orphanages in the first place.

In Kenya and elsewhere, the effects of the coronavirus on families are creating additional pressure to provide family-based alternatives to orphanages. Governments, donors and civil society must act quickly to ensure that our failure to protect the most vulnerable children never happens again. 

Anne Smith, Baltimore

The writer works for Catholic Relief Services as the global director for the Changing the Way We Care initiative.

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