Why we don't list volunteering in orphanages

It sounds like the perfect solution, travellers willing to give their time to give something back to the community they are visiting, providing care to children that need it most, whilst orphanages receive essential support. Unfortunately though, volunteering in orphanages can have many unintended consequences which can have long term, adverse effects:

  • It can cause long term emotional damage to the child – Vulnerable children form emotional attachments very quickly so having a constant stream of people coming in and out of their lives is not only very unsettling but also has an impact on their emotional development, creating a cycle of rejection and loss and an inability to trust and form healthy relationships later in life
  • Untrained workers can cause more harm than good – No matter how well intentioned a volunteer is, working with very vulnerable children requires a level of safeguarding training.  Would a volunteer know what to do if faced with very challenging behaviours or witnessed inappropriate treatment of a child? Are they aware of the potential impact their own behaviour and attitudes may have on an emotionally fragile child? There are many scenarios which could potentially put both volunteers, and the children they are working with, in difficult situations
  • It can encourage profit driven organisations – whilst we know that there are many well run, reputable orphanages that do fantastic work we can’t ignore that there are also a number of “orphanages” that take in non-orphaned children and put profit before well-being.  Most often an orphaned child could, and should, be placed with a member of the wider family however the rising number of orphanages and residential care homes can prevent financial and practical support being used to keep families together. Figures show that the increasing numbers orphanage volunteering programmes has a direct correlation to the rise in residential care homes and orphanages which in turn can contribute to the unnecessary separation of children from their families 
  • A lack of regulation puts children at risk – In the UK we have strict regulations to safeguard children however this isn’t the case worldwide. With little to no regulation on safe and appropriate contact with children abroad we cannot be absolutely certain in all cases that children are not at risk of being abused. 

The above points highlight the very worst case scenarios and we appreciate that the vast majority of residential care homes and orphanages provide a huge benefit, working tirelessly to improve lives in some of the poorest countries in a safe and responsible way. We also are hugely grateful for the kindness of people wishing to volunteer and the very valuable work they carry out.  Our decision not to list Orphanage Volunteering is by no means a reflection on the wonderful work being carried out in such organisations, but as an ethical business, we put safety and well-being before anything else, so our position will always be: If we’re in any doubt we’ll leave it out. 

If you’re passionate about helping to improve lives and prevent the need for residential care homes or orphanages why not consider one of our Community Development or Educational Volunteer placements instead?

Interested to learn more about this subject? Read this paper, produced by Save the Children and the Better Care Network, which offers more information about the impact of volunteering in orphanages and residential care homes abroad