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The prognosis of orphans

Once a child looses his parental care he or she usually comes under the guardianship of extended family, charitable organisations or the state. These organisations care for these children by placing them in orphanages, foster care, children's homes, care centres, or through adoption.

Looking after one's 'unwanted' and abandoned children is a problem that countries have been trying to resolve since the first century.  

Wars have usually being responsible for creating large amounts of children who are parentless and to cater for these children the orphanage was created.  The first orphanages, called 'orphanotrophia', were established in Greece to protect and care for orphans created through those killed in military service. Athenian law stated that 'Orphans should be placed under the care of public guardians.'

Religious orders cared for orphans in monasteries during the Middle Ages and then after the 1700's the institutions that we know were created. Once it was recognised that the state could look after children, those who found themselves in difficulty and could not bring up their children found there was a safe alternative.

In Russia, during the reign of Catherine the Great  (1780's)  the Imperial Foundings Homes in Moscow and St Petersburg were built. These were enormous institutions that absorbed 5-10 000 children a year and had as many as 30 000 children on their books at any time .  Ninety percent of the inmates were children born out of wedlock.

By 1850, New York state had 27 orphanages run by both public and private funds and yet there was still an estimated 10,000 street kids with no home or guardian. 

Zimbabwe's first children's home was built because the First World War created 12 orphans. 

And here in the UK, The Foundling Hospital establish by Thomas Corum,  looked after 27 000 children over 200 years, from 1739 to its closure in 1954. There was a facility at the gate of the grounds where desperate women could anonymously deposit their babies.


To get an idea and for a full and comprehensive list of orphanages in the world, look at the website


Orphanages cannot look after children forever and they usually have a cut off period usually 15 or 16 when the children 'age out' of the system. They are given, if they are lucky, a half way house and some funds and hopefully an educational future. For others, not so fortunate, will find that the doors are opened and they are expected to fend for themselves.  In Russia orphans are considered 'defective', a stigma that they will carry throughout their life as their documents are marked and they are often refused the opportunity to find gainful employment. Gangs, prostitution and theft become their new life as they try to survive on the streets.  A sad and horrific future for those who survive. 21% of Russian children who age out of orphanages are dead before they are 21.



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