How charities change: The story of Global Care’s move away from orphanages

Global Care has been providing support for vulnerable children around the world for decades. They share how and why they moved from orphanages to family-based care.

Like so many charities, Global Care began around a kitchen table fuelled by one inspiring individual, social worker Ron Newby, who wanted to do something about the injustice he had witnessed on his travels.

In 1983, Ron began a sponsorship scheme for vulnerable children in post-conflict Uganda, providing extra support to children living in large extended families (often orphaned by war or affected by HIV/AIDS), with a focus on helping children access education. Almost 40 years later, this programme has helped thousands of young people in Uganda break the poverty cycle by giving them the tools they need to support themselves.

Global Care’s portfolio of projects grew rapidly and the next two initiatives Ron supported – in India and Bangladesh – were both children’s homes. There was no real concern at this stage that this was anything other than a perfectly appropriate way of caring for vulnerable children.

Over the years, other projects were started as Global Care continued to grow and adapt to meet the needs they saw in each context. Informal schools in Sri Lankan and Indian slums; a community centre in post-Communist Albania; vocational training in post-genocide Rwanda – all aiming to alleviate the struggles of children in a diverse range of communities and contexts. A children’s home was started in Romania, and partnerships with other children’s homes began in Colombia, Honduras, India, Morocco, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. None of them were large institutions, and all attempted to re-create a family setting, but they were still inherently providing institutional rather than family-based care.

Ron sadly died in 2008 and thus Global Care sought to find a new leader for their thriving work. Current CEO John White stepped up, and the arrival of a new Head of Operations, Paul Rowell, in the following year brought new questions about best practice in caring for vulnerable children overseas.

Paul, a father of six adopted and birth children, was more than aware of the importance of attachment and the dangers of institutional care. Over the next few years a gradual shift in practice began to take place. The UK team quickly embraced the change. However, as Paul recalls, helping their international partners rethink orphanage care was a much greater challenge. Many of them had devoted their lives to the care of children, some of whom had been abandoned at their very gates due to their illegitimate status (Morocco), their gender (Bangladesh) or parental imprisonment (Thailand). Others had been caring for ‘economic orphans’ whose sole-surviving parents had begged them to take their children, as they could not feed or care for them adequately. Questioning their life’s work and purpose led to many difficult conversations.

However, Paul was undaunted and over time, thinking began to shift. Convinced that there were better ways of caring for abandoned and destitute children, Paul oversaw a gradual withdrawal by Global Care from residential care before his retirement in 2018. At the same time, Global Care began to resource new initiatives which, like their longstanding sponsorship programme in Uganda, sought to care for vulnerable children without removing them from their family homes or cutting their family ties. For instance, in 2015 Global Care began supporting a pioneering mentoring programme for street children in Guatemala City built on the latest research around adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and attachment theory.

Now, in 2019, Global Care supports residential care in just five of its 22 international projects. Exit strategies are in place for three of these - the charity will have withdrawn from children’s homes in Myanmar and Cambodia by December 2020. The final two each have their own stories to share. In Zimbabwe, the care home has shifted to almost exclusively caring for children who have been sexually abused within their family circle. Children stay until social workers can find an alternative place of safety. The final centre in Bangladesh remains open but is exploring the possibilities of foster care and family support, particularly for the ‘economic orphans’ in their care.

Global Care’s story is consistently one of compassion for the most vulnerable in society – children who need care. It is also a story of adaptation, both to each country and community’s needs, but also to the wisdom they now have of how to best care for these children. Their story provides an example of how change can be managed well, and the hope that all vulnerable children who need care will receive the best that can be provided.

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