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How Does Institutionalizing Impact Children?

Categories: ChildrenOrphanage


This chapter introduces the study by presenting a brief overview of the study. Key highlights of this chapter encompass the background information to the study, the problem that the study seeks to investigate and provide answers for, justification for undertaking the study, aim and specific objectives of the study. Definitions of key terms used in the study also forms part of this chapter.

Background to the study

Traditionally, child care in Zimbabwe has been the prerogative of the nuclear family, extended family, clan and communities (Malugetta, 2003).

However, during the late 90s, Zimbabwe and many sub-Saharan countries were devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic which brought about pronounced changes to the longstanding and historic family institution. During the early days of the pandemic, HIV/AIDS resulted in widespread deaths of the infected which resulted in a burgeoning orphan crisis in Southern Africa. The HIV/AIDS pandemic coupled with declining economic performance brought about by the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAPs) of the early 90s and subsequent retrenchments resulted in the breaking down of the family institution as well as the community fabric to take care of orphans and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe who were on the rise.

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In the face of the orphan and vulnerable children crisis, the initial response of many well wishers in Africa focused on the construction of orphanages to take of the children. However, it became apparent to child welfare practitioners that the institutionalization of children was an economically unsustainable and culturally inappropriate response (Sachiti, 2011). More importantly, historical studies had conclusively demonstrated that long term institutionalisation could cause permanent psychological damage to children and this form of care had long been abandoned in the developed world (Powel et al, 2004).

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The approach adopted by international agencies and governments of affected countries was to strongly discourage the construction of orphanages and direct their efforts at re-enforcing the traditional family system and improving the capacity of local communities to provide care. The traditional welfare provision for orphans outside families and the kinship system has been containment in institutions, largely financed through charitable donations (Ennew, 2005). The level and quality of care provided in institutions differs from one institution to another depending on the type of internal organization, the size of the family or other internal unit, internal equipment, the number of qualified staff, the working hours of caregivers and the type of relationship they have with the children, management style, the overall atmosphere within the institution and financial resources (Cahajic et al, 2003).

Although the Zimbabwean Government has a clearly enunciated policy declaring institutional care a last resort, the number of residential care facilities in Zimbabwe has doubled in the last 10 years. Faith

based organisations and in particular non-conformist churches, have been almost exclusively responsible for this expansion (Powell, et al, 2004). A majority of these new institutions continue to utilise a dormitory model despite clear evidence that this type of institution deprives children of a family life and may result in permanent psychological damage. The Department of Social Services failed to regulate the development of new institutions, largely because of weaknesses in the current registration process. It was further reported that a lack of understanding of the undesirable effects of institutional care on the part of social welfare officers in the DSS was a contributing factor towards the expansion of residential care institutions in Zimbabwe.

Information from Save The Children indicates that eight million children live in institutions worldwide (Mulugeta, 2003). Mulugeta (2003) further notes that in Liberia for instance, the number of orphanages grew from four in 1989 to one hundred and seventeen by 2001. According to the International Services and UNICEF (2004), children in residential care increased by 66% between 1998 and 2001 worldwide. In Zimbabwe institutions such as Matthew Rusike and Save Our Souls (SOS) Waterfalls in Harare, Mother of Peace in Mutoko and Manhinga children’s home in Rusape house children who are orphaned or abandoned.

A complex web of factors drive orphans and vulnerable children into institutional care. For instance, the UNAIDS (2008) states that there are a number of factors that pushes children into institutions and in the Zimbabwean situation poverty and mass orphan hood as a result of HIV and AIDS were cited as

the major causes of institutionalisation. Liu and Zhu (2009) noted that orphanhood is a generic categorization used mainly to describe a parental status as well as the socio-economic condition of children who have lost one or both parents due to various causes. According to UNICEF (2004) over 145 million children worldwide have lost one or both parents due to various causes. These orphans then continue to fall in vicious cycles despite the fact that the extended family has been incorporating them within their families. The extended family and communities are having a challenge of being weakened by the impact of HIV/AIDS hence children being forced to live under undesirable conditions. Children’s homes have therefore been put in place so as to accommodate orphans and vulnerable children so that they grew up in a loving family environment. Many people presume that most institutionalized children are orphans this is often not the case as some have their parents alive and most having some extended families, however their level of vulnerability qualifies them to live in institutions for safety purposes for as long as they can be categorised as in need of care as espoused in section 2 of the Children’s Protection Act (Chapter 5:06).

Research has demonstrated that institutionalizing children presents far reaching negative consequences for both individual children and the society. For instance, Sachiti (2011) cites a research conducted by a United States based organization which demonstrates that institutional care negatively affects child development and adult productivity. The same study shows that children in orphanages are uniquely vulnerable to the medical and psycho-social hazards of institutional care. Short term effects of institutionalization are that children risk contracting serious illnesses and developing language impairments while long term effects include children developing psychological problems like personality disorders. Sachiti (2011) further quotes Ford and Kroll (1995) who argue that examination of institutionalization reveals that even good institutions can harm children, leaving teens ill-prepared for the outside world. Furthermore, a research by Save The Children (SAVE) established that institutional care often causes serious and negative impacts on the development and rights of children, (Mulungeta, 2003). The second international conference on children and residential care held in Stockholm in May 2003 came up with a declaration (The Stockholm Declaration) indicating that the negative impact of institutional care should be prevented through the minimisation of the the use of institutions and resorting to the strengthening of community based approaches such as re-integration. Due to the unpopularity of children’s homes in Zimbabwe, residential care institutions continue to exists as islands with minimum interaction between institutionalized children and the surrounding communities. As a result, community members have developed mixed attitudes towards children raised in residential care institutions. This study therefore sets out to explore the nature of attitudes held by local communities against institutionalised children.

Statement of the problem

Despite the clarion call from the government and child care practitioners through various policy pronouncements such as the National Orphan Care Policy prohibiting the institutionalisation of OVCs, orphans and vulnerable children continue to be admitted and raised in residential care institutions. This is in direct contradcition with the Zimbabwean culture of ‘ubuntu’ or ‘humwe’ which values the role of the extended family and the community in raising children. It sad to note that residential care institutions continue to exists as islands, without comprehensive interaction between institutionalised children and the surrounding communities. This phenomena has led communities to develop various unjustified attitudes towards institutionalized children. This phenomena is partly attributed to attitudes that are held by local communities towards children’s homes. Such negative attitudes have contributed to the stigmatization of orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) which have created a barrier towards proper integration of institutionalised children into the mainstream society upon their discharge. Over the past years, the Department of Social Services has made frontic efforts by ensuring that institutionalised children are taken out of institutions and placed with foster parents in the wider communities during school holidays. This is meant to demonstrate that institutionalised children are humans too and are entitled to equal treatment like any other children in Zimbabwe. Paradoxically, there has been no change in terms of attitudes towards children living in institutions by the communities. This study is therefore aimed at evaluating the community’s attitudes towards institutionalised children.

Justification of the study

The research findings will contribute to existing literature related to childcare and protection in Zimbabwe, which will in turn be used by various stakeholders in crafting and implementing child care interventions which are sensitive to the needs of institutionalised children in Zimbabwe. The research is also expected to deepen the researcher’s understanding of the nature of relationship that exists between residential care institutions and the surrounding communities. According to Muguwe et al (2011:148), one of the reasons faced during the reintegration of institutionalised into the communities is the negative attitudes of community members towards children from institutions. Muguwe et al (2011) used a mixed methodology approach in which quantitative and qualitative data was triangulated. This study used a qualitative approach in a bid to achieve an in-depth and rigorous exploration of the nature of attitudes held by communities towards institutionalised children as well as successes and challenges of the process of re-integration of institutionalized children in Zimbabwe.

Definition of key terms

Child: UNCRC recognizes a child as any person under the age of eighteen.

Institutionalization: This is whereby an orphan or a vulnerable child is put in an institution. According to the National Orphan Care Policy it is the last resort to place a child after the first five measures fail.

Research aim

The aim of the research is to explore the nature of attitudes of local communities towards institutionalised children in Zimbabwe.


  • To examine attitudes held by local communities towards institutionalised children in Zimbabwe.
  • To assess the impact of such attitudes towards the reintegration of institutionalised children back into the mainstream society.
  • To analyse the copying mechanisms adopted by institutionalised children in the face of negative community attitudes held against them.


This introductory chapter looked at issues to be covered by thie study. It specifically looked at the background to the study, objectives of the research, statement of the problem, justification of the study, aims and objectives of the study. The definitions of key terms which have been used in the proceeding chapters were also provided.


This chapter presents the theoretical frame work that underpins the study in a bid show the relationship that exists between residential care institutions and the surrounding communities. Intensive global, regional and local literature pertaining to the situation of children raised in institutions is also provided.

Theoratical Framework

The research will use principles and concepts derived from the General Systems Theory (GST). The General Systems theory (GST) was outlined by Ludwig von Bertalanffy in 1968. The general systems theory is a way of elaborating increasingly complex systems across a continuum that encompasses the person-in-environment (Anderson, Carter, & Lowe, 1999). Systems theory also enables us to understand the components and dynamics of client systems in order to interpret problems and develop balanced intervention strategies, with the goal of enhancing the “goodness of fit” between individuals and their environments. In the present research, the systems theory will help in the elaboration of the nature of relationship that exist residential care institutions and their wider surroundings and how this interaction contribute to attitude formation.

Table 1: Components of the General Systems Theory

  • Components
  • Definition
  • Examples
  • Input

The energy &raw material transformed by the system

Information, money, energy, time, individual effort, &raw material of some kind


The processes used by the system to convert raw materials or energy from the environment into products that are usable by either the system itself or the environment.

Thinking, planning, decision-making, constructing, sorting, sharing information, meeting in groups, discussing, melting, shaping, hammering, etc.


The product or service which results from the system’s throughput or processing of technical, social, financial &human input.

Software programs, documents, decisions, laws, rules, money, assistance, cars, clothing, bills, etc.


Information about some aspect of data or energy processing that can be used to evaluate &monitor the system &to guide it to more effective performance.

How many cars were produced? How many had to be recalled to correct errors? How many mistakes were made? Why were mistakes made? is an example of how hospitals are doing with certain diagnoses. Accreditation reports are an example as are patient satisfaction surveys, sales reports, and test results.


A system which is a part of a larger system. They can work parallel to each other or in a series with each other.

The finance department, the information system, the managerial system, the renal system, the political system, the workflow system (such as the conveyor belt), etc.

Static system neither system elements nor the system itself changes much over time in relation to the environment

Dynamic system the system constantly changes the environment &is changed by the environment

A healthy young adult grows more independent, interdependent, &self- sufficient &self-directed in response to stimuli from peers, family, school, work, &recreational activities.

Closed system fixed, automatic relationships among system components &no give or take with the environment

A rock is an example of the most closed system. We may encounter families that are isolated from the community &resistant to any outside influence.

Open system interacts with the environment trading energy &raw materials for goods &services produced by the system. They are self-regulating, &capable of growth, development &adaptation.

Hospitals, families, people, body systems, banks, manufacturing plants, governmental bodies, associations, businesses, etc.

Boundary the line or point where a system or subsystem can be differentiated from its environment or from other subsystems. Can be rigid or permeable or some point in between. Systems or subsystems will engage in boundary tending.

The nursing unit, the occupational therapy department, the elementary school, a person, an agency or business, a fence or wall, roles, ect

Goal the overall purpose for existence or the desired outcomes. The reason for being. Currently, many organizations put their goals into a mission statement.

To educate students, to support people during illness &restore them to health, to make money, to create social order, etc.


The tendency for a system to develop order &energy over time.

Rules are made, policies &protocols are written, approved &communicated to staff; laws are enacted &violators are held accountable; a marathon runner in training gradually is able to run farther.


The tendency of a system to lose energy &dissolve into chaos

The disorganization after a hurricane, a rigid, frightened family produces a child who is unable to think independently or leave home, a new business has no forms or protocols for handling consumer complaints.

Control/cybernation the activities &processes used toevaluate input, throughput &output in order to make corrections

Pilots use instrument panels &devices to constantly evaluate &make course corrections; teachers grade papers &give students grades on exams; parents measure their children’s height &weight &may adjust the child’s diet; health care agencies use TQM or Quality Assurance programs; employee health nurses review records to see who needs immun

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How Does Institutionalizing Impact Children?. (2019, Dec 15). Retrieved from

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