The Institutionalization of Children – Effects I Saw Firsthand


Last year I was looking around on Twitter and saw a Tweet about Lumos, a charity started by J.K. Rowling. A quick read of the article informed me that the goal of Lumos is to end the institutionalization of children around the world, and I immediately knew this was a cause I wanted to follow and support in whatever ways I could.

Why A Passion For Orphans?

“…after the illness and death of my father and other loved ones, I understood how easily I too could be orphaned.”

My passion for orphans and children who were removed from their homes began early in my life, I think partially as a result of a deep empathetic spirit and because after the illness and death of my father and other loved ones, I understood how easily I too could be orphaned. Shortly after my dad died, my mom was selected by a judge as a relative caregiver for a cousin of mine. He was a newborn and removed from his parents’ home at around five days old. At twelve years old, I did all I could to help my single mom who had already been struggling to provide for my brother and I but who desperately wanted to take the little one in to avoid losing contact due to the baby entering foster care. This experience helped shape my passion for kids removed from their homes.

The Scary Truth About Institutionalized Children

Years later, as a psychology major in university, I studied the devastating effects of institutionalization on children, which The Replace Campaign discusses on their website: Their site explains that institutionalized children have increased rates of:

  • poor health,
  • physical underdevelopment,
  • deterioration in brain growth,
  • developmental delays,
  • and emotional attachment disorders.

The Replace Campaign states that, “Consequently, [institutionalized children] have lower intellectual, social and behavioral abilities than children growing up in a family environment. They also suffer the social consequences of having no family support structure and being branded as social outcasts, which often lasts a lifetime.”

My Experiences With Orphanages

It wasn’t until 2003 when Darren and I moved to Korea to teach English as a second language that I saw institutionalized children firsthand. Over the course of my two years there, I volunteered in four different orphanages in our city, Daegu, with my friends.

At the first orphanage, volunteers tutored groups of children in English on Saturday mornings. Then we played with the kids and ate lunch with them in their cafeteria. I had a group of kindergarteners that I worked with. At another orphanage, we tutored groups in English on a weekly basis, ran programs on a monthly basis, and collected Christmas presents for all the kids. We mainly worked with a group of middle school and high school boys.

I came to realize that workers rarely gave us girls to tutor. I can only speculate as to why this was, but we often felt it had to do with gender inequality. I saw how grim the hope for all the children’s futures were. I saw rooms full of children who had lost their voice. I saw despair. I saw disabilities. I also saw children eager for attention and love. And most heartbreaking of all, I learned that many of them had family members alive outside the walls of the orphanage. I would watch them leave the grounds to take a subway or bus to go visit family.

Later I would learn that 80% of “orphans” in orphanages worldwide are not truly orphans. They are there because family simply could not care for various reasons including poverty, corrupt people telling them they were going to educate their child only to turn around and sell them to adopters from abroad, trafficking, health problems the birth family could not afford causing them to relinquish the child in hopes they would be cared for, and so on.

As my heart latched on to their hearts, I came to learn more about the hardships they would face in their culture and follow the advocates for change who were slowly trying to introduce foster care and deinstitutionalization in a society where adoption was disdained. As we are working here to create resources to help children heal, my hope is that organizations like Lumos and The Replace Campaign are successful at removing children around the world from orphanages and placing them either in their families of origin or with adoptive families where they can begin to heal and find hope for their futures!




Written by
Margie Fink: Development Director [email protected] Margie received her degree in psychology and has worked in various social work capacities. Margie has been chosen in the past to speak on Capitol Hill about the Refundable Adoption Tax Credit. She is a witty foster/adoptive mom who is able to give kids from hard places loving structure while providing unbelievable homemade cooking. Margie co-founded Community Kids, a resource and networking 501(c)3 created to assist foster, adoptive, and relative caregiver families. Check Out: Thoughts From A Foster-Adoptive Mom

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