By Mounika Pogula, senior biology and global health major
The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protections) of Children Act of 2000 in India affirms a child's right to survival, protection and family development. It includes sections discussing funding for institutional services for children, such as orphanages and residential-care programs, as well as other alternatives, including adoption, sponsorship and foster care.1
In India, a country with around 31 million orphans,2 50,000 are considered adoptable;3 yet in the past seven years, fewer than 6,500 children have been adopted each year, with only 3,788 children adopted from April 2016 to March 2017.4
Adoption rates are declining as a result of long wait times, families wanting specific choices in babies and even the rise of surrogacy and fertility treatments.5 As a result, residential care programs have stepped up to fill in the gaps of caring for and educating abandoned and orphaned children until they reach a legal age.
This summer, three other students and I volunteered with Udayan Care, an organization in India, through DGHI's Student Research Training Program. Udayan Care is a residential care facility and public charitable trust that operates thirteen "ghars," or group homes, for children. These single-gender homes are run by caregivers who feed, clothe and care for the children; social workers who look after the legal issues; and mentor parents who visit the homes often and provide guidance and a parental figure to look up to.
Once a child reaches age 18, Udayan Care provides an aftercare program, in which some of the children can transition to adult life while still in school. Started in 1996, Udayan Care has helped hundreds of children have a stable place to grow up and helped them pursue a myriad of careers such as chef, artist, teacher, and beyond. Many of the alumni from the group homes have shared how grateful they were to have had the support of an organization like Udayan Care, and how the staff motivated them to pursue their dreams.
However, currently, there is a push internationally for non-institutional alternative care solutions for children, with the idea that it's every child's right to grow up in a traditional family-based setting.6 This approach can be seen in the revamped Indian Juvenile Justice Act, passed in 2015. The act favors foster care and adoption, while viewing institutionalized care options as a last resort,7 with institutions being targeted and underfunded in favor of streamlining adoption procedures.8
When visiting the Udayan Care homes, while I didn't see the traditional family model promoted by this law, I did see family. Three caregivers live in each home, and they cooked, cleaned, did laundry and got the children ready for school, like a typical parent would. They disciplined the children when they misbehaved, they stopped fights, kept the kids on a timetable and set a bedtime, just as one would expect in a family.
Many of the children also viewed themselves as part of a family. As a residential care program, Udayan Care offers a sense of permanence and stability that foster care cannot, since children who enter the home live there until they turn 18.
They're surrounded by peers with similar experiences of abandonment, loss and upheaval, which help them develop bonds that foster a sense of family. They don't feel like the "odd one out," as they might in a foster family, and they connect with their peers for love and affection.
In several of the homes, I noticed the children referring to the caregivers or mentor parents as "mom" and "dad," showing that even though the children are not in a traditional family setting, they consider Udayan Care their family. They also treat each other like friends and siblings, stopping each other from fighting, sharing their things, playing and laughing. I also saw the children helping each other with homework, playing outside with a ball and watching out for the younger kids.
Many alumni look back at their time in the homes with appreciation and a longing to go back. They develop close ties with the peers they grew up with, and many of them maintain these relationships even after graduating from Udayan Care, considering them to be family, or at least close friends.
Their positive experiences also help them stay connected to Udayan Care, even years after graduating. Many of them visit the homes, donate and volunteer their time, showing that not having a traditional family setting does not mean that children won't grow up in a positive environment that can help them grow, succeed and move towards being well-adjusted adults—no small feat given their challenging past histories.
Some experts believe foster care and adoption may be optimal in creating a traditional family setting for children. But in many low- and middle-income countries, there are far more abandoned children than there are adoptions every year. In India, for example, more than 50,000 children currently live in institutionalized care.7 Given these staggering numbers, it's important to recognize the exceptional commitment of residential programs to care for children and the resources they provide that help them become well-rounded adults.
A poem written by a child in Udayan Care, as part of a collection
of art by the children presented to us as a parting gift.
- Niketan, Nirmala (n.d.). India Country Report. Mumbai, Maharastra, India: College of Social Work.
- “India.” Orphan Outreach.
- Kalra, Aparna (2016). Why Only 3.2% of India’s 50,000 Orphans Will Find Parents. India Spend.
- Adoption Statistics. Central Adoption Resource Authority, Government of India.
- Doval, Nikita (2015). Why Is the Number of Adoptions in India Declining? LiveMINT.
- Devpura, Kripa (2014). Foster care takes root in India. How does it differ from adoption? The Christian Science Monitor.
- Meethal, Amiya (2016). Who Is Afraid of Juvenile justice Act? Deccan Chronicle.
- “Cabinet not for trial of juveniles as adults for rape, murder.” (2015). Daiji World.