By Elmer S. Abad
NAGA CITY --- The emergence of ‘community care’ as a more effective and acceptable system in the upkeep of vulnerable children is giving the Philippine government, as well as non-government organizations (NGOs) and religious groups a viable option other than the traditional ‘institutional care’.
The negative impact of orphanages on the developmental outcomes and the well-being of children continue to hound stakeholders who have come to realize the adverse effect that institutional care brings.
The country is facing a challenge on abandoned children. Close to 1.8 million or more than one percent of its 104 million people are under the classification of either neglected, abandoned, or surrendered.
Among the causes for this predicament include extreme poverty, natural disasters (typhoons and destructive volcanic eruptions), man-made calamities (armed conflicts and criminal activities), and the death of parents due to health problems, according to data released by the United Nations Children’s Rights & Emergency Relief Organization.
The armed conflict in Southern Philippines, with the ISIS-inspired Abu Sayaff group, is posing a serious threat and has made orphans many children. The five-month siege of Marawi in 2017 by this terrorist group which reduced the city into rubbles has placed many minors in a situation worth the special attention of government.
About 130,000 children lost their parents in 2009 due to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (aids), based on report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
This development affecting the country pushes government and concerned private groups to face this alarming emerging new challenge.
The Orphanages and vulnerable children
There are 119 orphanages run by government thru the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and those managed by the private sector which are supervised either by NGOs or religious groups.
Philippine laws have defined ‘abandoned children’ as having no proper parental care or those left by parents for three continuous months. On the other hand, children are deemed ‘neglected’ if their basic needs are unattended for 3 continuous months; physically neglected if a child is malnourished, poorly dressed, has no proper shelter, and unattended. He is emotionally neglected if a child is maltreated, raped, seduced, exploited; endures unhealthy labor; forced to beg; exposed to gambling, prostitution and vices.
Most of the children who fall under these categories end up being admitted in institutional care.
The close-knit family culture and community care
Because of the close-knit family ties of Filipinos, the decision to place a loved-one in an institutional care is a highly personal and emotional decision. Only in extreme circumstances that the relatives of orphans would allow a child to be brought to an orphanage. Despite this, thousands of children still find their way in these institutions.
The choice for extended family members to stay together is closer to the notion of community care rather than the traditional way of entrusting a child in an institution.
Potential foster families would opt for children of relatives as their first priority in the adoption of orphans.
“Most prospective foster parents have voiced out that should they be given the chance to select, they prefer to admit orphans in their homes from those who are their kin,” disclosed Annabel Vargas, head of the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) of the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Naga City.
The indispensability of institutional care
Despite the option to shift to community care, the operation of orphanages in the Philippines cannot be changed immediately and entirely as these facilities for abused or abandoned children have
several usages. Among them is the outright transfer of a child from a surrounding that is damaging and hazardous in which an orphan is given the chance to recuperate and live in a more secure living environment.
It is helpful to children that downright care is abounding which they could not have managed to have living independently, and can use additional moments with their fellow orphans.
“These institutions become vital not only for minors who lost their parents, but also for children whose parents were not in the capacity to provide for their basic needs. As of today, orphanages still grow to be transformed as indispensable establishments in the country,” said Social Welfare and Development worker Eden San Andres.
Drawbacks in institutional care
The Philippine Government thru DSWD has realized the importance of developing a system that would provide the children with basic needs, including education and protection. However, information says that due to the increasing number of orphans, government-funded entities have manifested some shortcomings.
A group of local broadcasters who are members the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), or Association of Broadcasters in the Philippines, covering the orphanages in Southern Luzon have seen the deficiencies in these institutions.
“A number of these establishments are understaffed, and neglect appear to be widespread throughout orphanages” observed field correspondent Manny Basa of Radio Mindanao Network based in the province of Camarines Sur.
A finding says that there is the risk of harm to young children in institutional care in the country.
“Children build up new behavior problems due to being institutionalized, as they are not adopted to the daily regimen found in the institution. Orphanages were not able to give the conventional family form of nurturing that orphans look forward to and yearn,” opined Fr. Mark Real, Director of the Social Action Center of the Catholic Archdiocese of Caceres.
“The members of the staff of an orphanage usually do not come up in harmony when it comes to connecting emotionally or physically, in similar manner that a family is able to do with children. Study shows that the age and the length of period a child is admitted in an institution have an effect on children,” Father Real further declared.
Local Government Units in the country as well as International Organizations affirm the negative impact of institutional care on children.
“Many children feel dejected with the lack of freedom and elasticity, even though they would not be able to function outside the institution’s unbending structuring,” said Naga City’s CSWDO head Annabel Vargas.
“We’re outraged that millions of children are still denied proper healthcare, food, education and protection and we’re determined to change this,” observed Kevin Browne, Professor of Forensic Psychology and Child Health, Institute of Work, Health & Organizations, University of Nottingham, UK, upon seeing the situation prevailing in many Southeast Asian countries.
The orphanage itself places children in a precarious position. The regimentation and rituals in institutional life do not deliver the quality of life, or the experiences necessary to be healthy, happy, fully functioning adults.
“Children who are institutionalized at an early age often demonstrate delays in emotional, social, and physical development. Orphans brought up in institutions may suffer from severe behavior and emotional problems, such as aggressive or anti-social behavior, have less knowledge and understanding of the world, and become adults with psychiatric impairments,” observed Dr. Victor Groza, an Associate Professor and the Interim Associate Dean for Reseach and Training at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
“The younger the child when placed and the longer he or she remains in the institution, the more negative the effects on cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development,” Dr. Victor Groza further asserted on what he observed are happening in orphanages in Southeast Asia.
Advantages of community or foster care
Funding being a challenge for Philippine orphanages, a closer look on how the institutions are financed is of utmost concern.
“Orphanages encounter setbacks in funding sustainability. In institutions run by religious congregations of the church, they are dependent on donations. A frugal exercise on financial management is in order to safeguard the provision for the upkeep of the institutions,” Fr. Mark Real of the Archdiocesan Social Action Center of Caceres affirmed.
The growing number of children being admitted also poses budgetary constraint even in institutions run by government.
“The population of orphanages continues to grow. The limited budget allotted by government could reach a point that it might not suffice to operate an institution which can support decently the needs of children,” said CSWD Officer Vargas.
A recent finding appears to favor the community care system especially on matters concerning financial sustainability of the institutions mandated to take charge of the welfare of these vulnerable children.
“Having orphans raised by a family can be ten times less expensive than placing them in an institution. The money used to support the 8 million children placed in orphanages could theoretically sustain 80 million children in family-based care,” claims the Save the Children organization.
Community or Foster Care offers a dimension which cannot be found in Institutional Care.
“Other advantages of Foster Care include reduced instances of separation and abandonment of children, the reuniting of children outside family care with their families wherever possible and appropriate and the increase, strengthen and support family and community-based care options for children,” the Save the Children organization further claimed.
Government’s perspective on institutional vs alternative care
With this new global outlook gaining ground, the issue either to reform the system on how these institutions are operated or to effect a total change in favor of the alternative care is now seriously being considered by government.
A realization on the negative consequences brought by the institutionalization of orphanages in the developmental outcomes and children’s well-being has caught the attention of decision makers in government, both in the national and local levels.
“The Department of Social Services and Development as the government arm in the care of vulnerable children has shown appreciation on the positive points which the community care system brings,” claims Ms. Vargas.
Meanwhile, City Mayor John Bongat of Naga thru City Administrator Florencio Mongoso, Jr. has affirmed the advantages of entrusting orphans to community care.
“As a government entity, the city is concerned with giving what is best for the children. The evaluation and expert opinions on the long-term effect on orphans and seeing what transpires locally have made us to believe that there is more that await the children in community care. The city government supports the move to entrust them to foster care,” said Mongoso.
“A closer scrutiny is in order to findout if reforms can still be made in orphanages in which a system that can effectively provide for the material and psychological needs of a child is present,” Social Welfare and Development worker Eden San Andres said.
In a recent development, DSWD started to give accreditation to willing qualified foster families which can accommodate orphans in their abodes.
“The agency is now in the process of encouraging families capable of adopting orphans in foster care. It has started to process issuance of licenses to qualified foster families,” San Andres further stated.
Government weighs challenge on option presented
Inasmuch as orphaned children are the country’s most vulnerable and susceptible to diseases, violence, or accidents while many have suffered from abuse, neglect or rejection, the government and all stakeholders will do well if principles aligned with the latest global trends in Children Protection (CP) are observed.
The state has taken cognizance of the studies made by international experts who claim that children should be living in their communities with family members, relatives or foster families except in extreme circumstances.
Efforts are being exerted now to reduce the number of children living in institutional care. This is happening as energies are aimed to prevent institutionalization, and to reunite children with their families in line with their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (ACC).
A research initiated by the Save the Children organization found out that institutional care should only be used for children as a ‘last resort and only then if it is of a high standard and in the best interests of the individual child.’
This global trend on community care and the results of related exploration could pertinently apply in the country. Based on the result of intensive studies and evaluation conducted, decision makers in the bureaucracy are now guided on what may be the best for the vulnerable children in the Philippines.