Penn State partnering to help orphaned children worldwide stay with families

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An estimated 8 million children worldwide live in orphanages and similar institutions, children of whom an estimated 80 percent have living parents or families who could look after them with the right assistance.

A newly announced research partnership between British author J.K. Rowling's nonprofit children's organization Lumos and the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at National University of Ireland Galway -- and including Penn State's UNESCO Chair in Community, Leadership and Youth Development program -- aims to change that by transforming the lives of children living in orphanages.

UNESCO Chair Professors Mark Brennan, professor of leadership and community development at Penn State, and Pat Dolan, joint founder and director of the center at NUI Galway, will work together on the Lumos project.

The research partnership aims to increase global understanding of why many children are separated from families and placed in orphanages in different regions of the world; evaluate methods of deinstitutionalization; and investigate the best ways to help families stay together. This includes practical, cost-effective and sustainable ways to support families and children -- particularly those who are very poor, disabled, or minorities.

"The vast majority of these children and youth are not orphans -- over 90 percent have at least one parent -- and are mainly in care due to poverty and a lack of community-based supports," said Brennan.

The partnership will:

  • Monitor the impact of moving from institutions to family-based care on children and young people as they grow up, in terms of health, quality of life and future prospects;
  • Evaluate 10 years of Lumos’ work in its program countries;
  • Identify best practices for achieving the deinstitutionalization of children across different regions of the world;
  • Explore the costs and benefits of replacing institutions with community-based services in different regions of the world;
  • Develop models for advancing the work of Lumos in new regions around the world, such as Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

A grant from Atlantic Philanthropies is enabling the partnership to begin its activities by exploring opportunities to compare best practices in Ireland with existing systems of care and protection for children in countries that are in the process of reform.

The UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway is the hub of an international network of universities, centers of excellence, and agencies in the children and youth field. The UNESCO Chair program at Penn State, housed in the College of Agricultural Sciences, is a central part of this hub and is a leader in community-based research and programming on youth and community development.

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Last Updated July 20, 2015