Boys playing football

There are an estimated 8 million children living in residential care institutions globally.

4 out of 5 of these children have one or both parents, or a family member who could care for them.

Many residential care institutions rely on ‘orphanage and volunteer tourism’ or short-term volunteer teams for funding, which allows tourists and volunteers unchecked access to children. In the worst cases, children are required to actively solicit funds from tourists through performance and begging. 

Countries such as the USA, UK and Australia are a major contributor to the supply chain of people, money and resources that drive the global orphanage industry.

The practice of visiting and volunteering in residential care institutions in the development world has become so popular that it is creating a demand of ‘orphans’ and ‘orphanages’.

The rights of a child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD, 2006) make clear that all children should grow up in a family environment and that priority should be given to support the child’s parents and extended family to enable them to care adequately and to prevent unnecessary separation. International guidelines and standards provide clear guidance on the process for providing appropriate care for children who cannot be cared for by their own families. 

Research has consistently demonstrated the positive impact family care has on children’s growth and development. It has also illustrated the harmful effects that living outside family care can have on children. 

When children are separated from their parents due to death or other causes, priority can still be placed on ensuring they are cared for within families. Family based interventions include reunification and - when this is no longer possible or in the child’s best interests -placement in extended family care (kinship care),  foster care, or adoption. 

Read our fact sheet about children in residential care.

Preventing family separation


There is now a global care reform effort, to which most governments worldwide are signed up.

The purpose is to move away from the use of residential care institutions as a response to poverty, towards supporting and strengthening families and communities. ‘Family strengthening’ is the provision of local services to meet the economic, educational, psychological and special needs of families to prevent family separation. This can include employment skills and job training, day care and after-school programmes for children and healthcare services. 

Research and resources

For decades, scientists have been researching the effects of institutional care on children, and how this impacts on their lives into adulthood. For more information please visit our research page.

There are some excellent short videos which have been produced about the harmful effects of orphanage volunteering. You can watch them here.