Skip to main content

Plight of the eight million institutionalised children


A stark insight into the lives of the eight million children living in institutions globally was given by Lumos, a charity founded by Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

Pauline Hyde, Head of Professional and Technical Support at Lumos, described her experience of visiting an institution where children were being looked after during a talk at the Compass Jobs Fair Sharing Excellence in Social Work and Social Care Practice in Birmingham on World Social Work day.

She said: “I went round a room of about 13 children, all little, dressed in the same way, with the same hairstyle. They were aged around two and they had been there since birth.

“If you walk into a nursery here in UK with children that age you would expect, laughing and crying, noise and activity, but there was absolute silence.

“I was shown another room where there were about 30 babies as I walked down the room all I could see were eyes moving but again no noise.”

Ms Hyde said unlike children in family environments, the children had been denied an opportunity to develop attachments and had quickly learned crying did not gain them attention.

The charity is committed to ending the “systematic institutionalisation of children” by 2040. It claims the vast majority of children living in institutions – 90% – are not there because they are orphans but as a result of poverty, disability and discrimination.Ms Hyde went onto to explain the complexities of the ‘deinstitutionalisation’ process which involves seven levels, from working with international decision-makers such as the World Health Organisation and European Union, to national governments, local municipalities, individual institutions and individual assessments and planning for individual children.  She described the challenges for social workers working in countries where childcare practices are still at a developmental stage and compared the work with the evolution of social work, as we know it today in the UK.

“It is not simply a matter of closing a place down – without an infra-structure of community-based services the children and their families would be left unsupported and the cycle of institutionalised care perpetuated”.

Lumos works to change systems and ensure sustainable care services for children in their country of origin.

Ms Hyde said: “Health care in many countries is expensive. Parents who have a child that is ill are reluctant to seek medical help because they have no money. Their children become sick and the state intervenes and accuses the parents of neglect. The child is removed from parental care and placed in an institution as the only option, then emergency care becomes a long-term solution.”

For more information about the work of Lumos