Written by: Amanda McGinley and Whitney Runyon Photos by: Whitney Runyon

Written by: Amanda McGinley and Whitney Runyon
Photos by: Whitney Runyon

There is an old quote that says, “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.” While we may not fully embrace this quote, there is a lot of truth here. So often we see a problem in our world and, with good hearts, rush immediately to solve it.  We admire the passion, but this has a tendency to lead us down paths we never intended.  Before we can solve a problem as big and complicated as the orphan crisis, we believe we all need a better understanding of it (ourselves included). So before we save the world, let’s define a few things.

140 million orphans in the world. I’m sure you’ve heard this number before.  Many have been led to believe that all 140 million children have lost both parents to death, are living in orphanages, and are in need of a new family.  By classic definition, an orphan is a child whose parents have both died.  However, with the rise of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1990’s, the term orphan was redefined as a child who has lost one or both parents.  Each country is different, but on average, most children living in orphanages, institutions, or group homes have one or both parents who are still alive.  In Eastern Europe alone, 94% of children living in orphanages, institutions, or group homes have one or both living parents.

“It is a myth that children in orphanages have no parents. Most are there because their parents can’t afford to feed, clothe and educate them…  Mothers and fathers are forced to make the agonising decision to put their child in an institution in the hope that they will have a better future.” Corinna Csaky, a Save the Children’s child protection adviser.

The application of the term ‘orphan’ to children living in orphanages, institutions, or group homes, coupled with its misconceived definition, has led to mass confusion and misdirected action. But just because there has been misunderstanding does not mean less help is needed.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  More help is needed because now we must care for children and their families.  For so long, the conversation has been just about orphans, but if so many of these children living in different orphanages have living parents then we must care for them too.

In order to end the global orphan crisis, we must move past the label ‘orphan’ and understand who these children are, where the crisis came from, and how we can best act and advocate for their right to live in a healthy and safe family.  We must understand the root causes, and what actions have been taken in the past, to avoid repeating our mistakes and ensure that all future actions are informed.

At The Archibald Project, one thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the orphan crisis is complicated. That is why we want to explore the movements of today, by sharing stories and advocating for ethical organizations working towards empowering vulnerable children and families. We want to spend time defining the problem so collectively we can all work toward an educated solution. Please join us on this journey and let’s change the world together.

So that we can all be on the same page check out important terms defined below.

1. Orphan: A child under 18 years of age who has lost both parents to any cause of death.

Single Orphan: A child under 18 years of age who has lost one parent to death.

Double Orphan (or just orphan): A child under 18 years of age who has lost both parents to death. *

2. Vulnerable Child: A child under the age of 18 years and who is currently at high risk of lacking adequate care and protection. A child who has lost one parent, both parents, or their primary caregiver, has been abandoned, has been abused by parents or caregivers, is living in a household where someone is chronically ill, is living in extreme poverty, is living in a war or conflict zone, is marginalized, stigmatized or discriminated against. **

3. Orphanage: A residential institution for the care and education of orphans ***

4. Institution/Institutional Care: Large group home with a large ratio of children to caregiver. Often 30-70 children per one adult. Caregivers work on shifts and interaction with children is treated like a business exchange.  Institutions teach caregivers not to bond with children. ****

5. Group Home: Any care facility that houses six or more children is considered a group home. Unrelated children living in a home-like setting with either a set of house parents or a rotating staff of trained caregivers. *****

6. Babies or Baby Home: A Group Home with an age restriction placed by the government. Often times children above the age of 5 are moved into an older Group Home or Adult Institution.

7. Kinship Care: Full-time care of foster children by relatives, godparents, stepparents, or any adult who has a similar bond with a child. *******

Sources: *, **,  **, ***, ****,*****, *****,  *******

Thank you for taking this journey with us.