Every child has the right to enjoy all the privileges in the society in which he or she resides. Children living in orphanages and homes can also live happier and productive lives when raised under the right environment.
However, conditions under which some orphans are kept are very horrible. This has led to the closure of 83 orphanages in Ghana within five years as reported in The Ghanaian Times of May 5, 2015. Apart from operating in poor facilities, there is also the issue of poor nutrition and health as well as high number of children allotted per care giver.
Recent media reports about the ill-treatment some caregivers mete out to children living in these orphanages or children’s homes in the country have caused public uproar and displeasure. We are then tempted to ask whether such institutions are really homes or hell.
Social welfare authorities distinguish between orphanages and children’s homes.
Whereas orphanages are for orphans, they say, children’s homes are for children in need of care and protection. This means that, a children’s home can be used as an orphanage, but an orphanage is not a children’s home.
Yet in Ghana today, what started as orphanages have now been turned into children’s homes in order to take in more children who need care and protection. So both terms are now synonymous.
Many childcare experts believe that orphanages are not very good for children. They think young children in orphanages fail to develop as they should socially and psychologically.
The prospective harm, they argue, is even more certain if children are admitted as infants and remain there many for years.
For instance, the regimented and ritual nature of life in orphanages, they say, does not provide children with the varied experiences they need to become healthy, happy and fully functioning adults. The quality of a caregiver-child interactions, they add, is minimal as they often tend to be limited to the routine chores of the day, which are often done perfunctorily.
Caregivers, the experts say, tend not to respond to a crying child, or play with them. One-on-one interactions are rare and non-reciprocal. Little warmth and sensitivity are, thus, afforded the children.
Yet the studies suggest that the more comprehensive and intensive children’s interactions are with caregivers, the greater their development.
Indeed, children should normally be brought up by their families. The family is the principal institution for their enculturation and socialisation. Our family system cares for the aged, young and orphans. It comes to the defense of any of its members who are threatened.
A case in point is the broadcaster, Mr Kwasi Kyei Darkwa’s father accompanying him to court for a sitting, which is refreshing. The family system avenges a wronged member, chastises the recalcitrant and settles disputes among members.
The Director of the Department of Social Welfare, Mrs. Comfort Asare has said that, Ghana is currently moving from institutionalisation to family based care, where the children would be trained in family life.
But orphanages are important. Over the years, they have contributed to the well- being of children who otherwise would have been rejected, or died but who are now contributing their bit to society and national development. We all feel dignified to belong to a family, yet some find themselves in orphanages not as a result of their own doing.
Babies abandoned by mothers at refuse dumps, toilets, and in the bushes after birth are taken to orphanages. Mothers, who cannot pay medical bills after delivery, flee clinics and hospitals, leaving their babies behind.
The Department of Social Welfare then comes to the rescue and places these babies in orphanages. Children neglected or ill-treated by guardians get succour in homes.
Those with destitute single mothers, who live without proper shelter, and those who lose both parents to HIV/AIDS find hope in orphanages.
These are some of the circumstances that have necessitated the establishment of homes by the state, organisations and individuals.
It is true that some people set up orphanages for financial gain. But it is also true that others do it out of veritable compassion for the vulnerable. Both groups need help.
Perhaps, what they need most is useful and practical ideas from research and open debates on their work, so that they can avoid situations and practices that can endanger the lives of the children we put in their care. They need support in facilities too.
By DorisYaa Yamoah