Re-think Orphanages. The Pledge:

Year Out Group members have stated their support  to stop volunteering in orphanages, which they will sign formally when they renew their membership for 2019.

“Our organisation pledges that if we have not already done so, we will now inform our delivery partners that we will transition away permanently from offering or recommending volunteering roles in residential care settings and orphanages by June 2019. We understand that our membership will be suspended and future renewal refused if we fail to adhere to this pledge”.
Why is Year Out Group asking members to make this pledge?

In short:

There is substantial evidence regarding the detrimental impacts of residential care on the physical and emotional well being of children. This is true regardless of the ‘quality’ of the adult input or the education that is in place. Year Out Group approached campaigners to better understand the issues and members decided that it was important not to fuel demand for more orphanages. They have decided to make a pledge to stop promoting volunteering in orphanages and similar institutions.

In detail:

Historical context

Orphanages were originally created with the intention of giving children without families the opportunity to live and learn in a supported environment. These institutions were used in the so called ‘developed world’ and replicated in the ‘developing world’.  Institutions in countries experiencing high levels of poverty, gradually became places where volunteers could help. This included the education of the children, their care or to build and decorate classrooms.

Our members have been careful in their selection of projects and volunteers. They put in place safeguards and monitoring systems to protect children and their carers. They also measured the progress children were making in their development.  However there are also individuals and organisations who exploit the situation for their own private gain or to do harm to children. Through false promises  and financial incentives to families, they knew they could use the institutions to attract donations or tourists.


As volunteer travel has expanded so too has the number of orphanages. This may be because organisations, institutions and governments alike have decided that this model of child care is worth promoting and developing. We have now reached the point that it has become the default policy solution to addressing issues of poverty and access to education. It has also become a ‘normalised’  feature of volunteer tourism, which itself is largely unregulated.

It has been shown that separation from family, results in increased disadvantage later in life and also harms brain development in young children. Repeated disruptions to their adult attachments is also disturbing for them. This turnover of volunteers supporting orphanages only adds to the risk of them acquiring mental health issues. Mis-managed institutions, without good safeguarding processes and procedures can also lead to physical and mental harm and sexual exploitation of children.

The UN Convention of Rights of Children

It states that the family must be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can assume its responsibilities (of caring for children). Therefore residential care should be the last resort for any child suffering a bereavement or loss of family through economic circumstances. Creating local support services and offering community-based care for those children who do not have family is what now needs addressing. Year Out Group members have therefore decided that it is no longer appropriate to promote volunteering in orphanages and residential care settings.

What happens next?

Year Our Group members have pledged to now inform their delivery partners that they will transition away permanently from offering volunteering roles in residential care settings. Year Out Group will not accept new members who cannot likewise commit to this pledge and deadline of June 2019.

In addition, members are encouraged to discuss this with their delivery partners. They will take steps to cease residential care programmes and the recruitment of volunteers from overseas. It is hoped that in time, there may be opportunities for suitable trained and vetted volunteers to work in new community-based care programmes.

Please note: The residential care volunteering programmes that have been offered by Year Out Group’s members were developed over a number of years. Care and attention was given to safeguarding all those involved. Withdrawing from these programmes involves discussion with local partners, governments and NGOs. It is recognised that this will take time and that the development of alternative appropriate care provision will not be immediate. 

If you feel any of our members are not operating in accordance with the pledge please email [email protected] with details and we will follow up the complaint. Your personal details will not be shared with any of our members.

Children belong in families, not orphanages. #changevolunteering

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