11:44pm Wednesday 16 August 2017

New research project brings hope to eight million children unnecessarily placed in the world’s orphanages

An estimated eight million children worldwide live in institutions and so-called orphanages, though at least 80% have living parents, most of who could look after them with some support. Research by the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland Galway, with Lumos, will aim to increase global understanding of why so many children are separated from families and placed in orphanages in different regions of the world, evaluate methods of deinstitutionalisation, and investigate the best ways to support families to stay together.

Eighty years of scientific research has shown that children are best raised in families and that growing up in institutional care – deprived of the close, sustained adult engagement they receive in a family – has a negative impact on children’s physical, intellectual and emotional development. The European Union, the US Government and a number of international aid donors are committed to ending institutionalisation.

While the science is consistent, further research is needed to gain a fuller understanding of the causes of institutionalisation and long-term solutions. Lumos and National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) share common goals including finding practical, cost-effective and sustainable ways to support families and children – particularly those who are very poor, disabled or from minorities – to stay together in the community; and empowering children and families to play a meaningful role in changing attitudes and practices.

Lumos – which was recently selected as the winner of the 2015 UK Charity Awards – is dedicated to ending the institutionalisation of children worldwide by 2050. The non-profit organisation has a track record in demonstrating that most children can be reunited with families given the right support. Lumos is helping Moldova, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic to replace models of care based on institutions with education, health and social services to support vulnerable families to stay together in the community. It is also working in Ukraine, Serbia and Haiti. Meanwhile, the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway is at the forefront of research, education and training in family support and youth development. It is the hub of an international network of universities, centres of excellence and agencies in the children and youth field.

The research partnership will:

  • Monitor the impact of moving from institutions to family based care on children and young people as they grow up in terms of health, quality to life and future chances;
  • Evaluate ten years of Lumos’ work in its programme countries;
  • Identify best practice for achieving the deinstitutionalisation of children across different regions of the world;
  • Explore the cost-benefit in different regions of the world of replacing institutions with community based services;
  • Develop models for advancing the work of Lumos in new regions around the world such as South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Thanks to a generous grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies, the partnership will start its activities by establishing links and learning opportunities between Irish examples of best practice, much of it also supported by Atlantic, and governments and practitioners in countries in the process of reforming systems of care and protection of children.

Lumos CEO Georgette Mulheir – a pioneer over 20 years of a deinstitutionalisation model adopted by many governments, and named last year as one of the world’s most influential social workers – said: “Our mission is to help eight million children in institutions by promoting large-scale reform through our influence on governments and major international aid donors. We need compelling evidence to achieve the greatest impact. We are delighted to work with NUI Galway, which will bring world-leading independent academic rigour to our programmes – as well as an understanding of what works in practice to gain the best outcomes for children.”

The UNESCO Chair Professor Pat Dolan, NUI Galway, will work with UNESCO Chair Professor Mark Brennan at Pennsylvania State University in the US on the Lumos project.

Professor Dolan said: “The prospect of completing usable real-world research that helps to end the institutionalisation of children and youth globally, will be particularly fitting not only for UNESCO, and our research centre in NUI Galway, but for Ireland as a country given its sad and horrific past track record in relation to children in large orphanages.” 

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Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway


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