Find out More About our Policy on Ethical Volunteering with Children Abroad

Child development in Ecuador

Volunteering abroad in orphanages is not in the best interests of children. Decades of research has shown that orphanages are not conducive to child development. This is the reason that Western countries no longer use this model to care for children, especially under the age of three. One study found that for every month that a child was in an orphanage, they lost one month of development (physical, emotional, social). While orphanages are outdated, people still continue to export them. The presence of volunteers in orphanages can increase the risk of abuse, and cause attachment issues and other developmental problems. Orphanages are often not what you think - 80% of children living in orphanages have one or more living parent.

“The orphanage industry – Did you Know?

... that in some cases, volunteers and tourists are creating a "demand" for orphanages? This is resulting in the growth of what's known as the ‘orphanage industry’.” (Reference:  Better Volunteering Better Care)

In the past decades, unscrupulous operators in developing countries have started orphanage volunteer projects in their countries. However, the children are not actual orphans, but taken from their parent(s) to live at the orphanage for the sole purpose of earning money from well-intentioned volunteers.

WorkingAbroad is working with the “Better Volunteering Better Care” network and have decided to remove all Orphanage Volunteering Projects from our online database.

Child in IndiaThe Working Abroad Projects volunteer database includes more than 2,000 volunteer projects with partner organisations from around the world and all projects with any reference to orphanage volunteering have been banned from our website.

Below is a quote from WorkingAbroad founder Vicky McNeil;

“In early November, we decided to remove all unethical animal welfare volunteer projects from our website. Now, I am pleased that we have removed all orphanage volunteering projects and that we are working alongside the Better Volunteering Better Care Network which was co-founded by the Better Care Network and Save the Children UK.  We will ensure that no orphanage volunteering programmes are listed on our website from now on, and we will also do our utmost to try and get other volunteer organisations to adopt the same stance.  We will continue to focus our community and child development volunteer programmes on educating young people in schools, re-integrating families back into the community and women’s empowerment, in line with BVBC’s guidelines.  It feels very positive to have taken this stance with regards to ethical volunteering for wildlife and orphanages and I sincerely hope that other organisations will follow in our steps.”

We are keenly aware of the ‘industry’ of volunteer programmes at orphanages particularly in Asian and African countries. We regularly turn down offers to start partnerships with organisations offering volunteer opportunities at orphanages. It is unfortunate that in many cases, children are not actually orphans but are being exploited by operators to earn money from well-intentioned volunteers, who want to work with children. This is also the reason why we no longer send volunteers to any orphanage volunteer projects abroad, or list any orphanage projects on our volunteer database. Please also take a look at this short video giving an insight into the issues: