Changing Volunteering in Orphanages.

The untold stories of orphanages, a system that’s harming the very children we believe it protects, and how you can choose to be part of the solution.



Over the years many kind and well-intentioned people have volunteered in orphanages. They have done so in order to help some of the world’s most vulnerable children. However increasingly it is being recognised that volunteering in orphanages may cause more harm than good and there is now a global movement working to end the practice. The Love you Give Campaign is part of this movement


Contrary to popular belief, most children who live in orphanages are not actually ‘orphans’ but have at least one living parent and extended family members available to care for them. Yet an estimated 8 million children currently live in institutional care worldwide and the numbers are increasing. Research has shown that both volunteerism and volunteering have contributed to this growth as orphanages are created to meet the demand from well-meaning tourists, volunteers and donors. Parents are being persuaded, and sometimes forced, to place their child into residential care in the hope that they will get adequate food, a good education and proper healthcare.


Living in an orphanage or institution can significantly impair a child’s development and future life chances. Many do not receive the education and health care promised. Many also experience exploitation and abuse. Growing up in an orphanage from an early age can lead to attachment disorders resulting from the lack of a consistent carer and a continued turnover of staff that mean a child learns not to trust or build relationships.


Volunteering itself can significantly increase these harmful effects of institutionalised care. Many children living in orphanages have been separated from their caregivers and can be extremely distressed. Some may be traumatised and require specialised care. The most often-transient nature of volunteering in orphanages can intensify a child’s feeling of abandonment and loss increasing the risk of attachment disorder.  Most volunteers do not have the required skills to meet the needs of very vulnerable children.


Comhlámh has been working to raise awareness of the issues involved in volunteering in orphanages and provide spaces and opportunities for organisations to come together to discuss. We will be working to increase understanding of the complexities involved and how organisations can transition away from sending volunteers safely and responsibly. We will be working to support organisations develop prevention and family re-integration programmes. The best interests of the child is enabled and protected by growing up within a family unit and within their community. However sometimes it is not possible for a child to live with their family and so we will also working to support best practice in alternative care options, including community based care structures.


Volunteering has a powerful role to address the key underlying causes of poverty and discrimination, war and natural disaster which are at the root of family separation and the drivers of institutionalised care.


We believe volunteers have a responsibility to consider how they can contribute meaningfully to bring about positive change. The Love You Give Campaign offers an opportunity to learn more about the issues involved in volunteering in orphanages and consider how you can make sure your time spent volunteering is making a genuine difference.