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Institutional Care of Children: Examining Policies and Practices

By Amanda Mowry

Background:
  Institutional care of children is governing the day-to-day lives of as many as 8 million children worldwide (Pinheiro & Unies, 2006). The trend of institutionalization spans across the globe and has taken root in Thailand with as many as 100 operational centers (UNICEF, 2008). Often erroneously referred to as orphanages, the majority of children residing in their care have at least one parent living (Browne, 2009). Examining Thailands national policies and practices as an example of the adaptation of global policy into institutional practices offers a more in-depth and comprehensive understanding of the systems charged with caring for orphaned and abandoned children. 

Methodology:
 This study was designed as a literature review on institutional care of children employing qualitative approaches. Data sources included online journal publications, international and national policies, evaluation reports, reputable websites, and scholarly books. 

Principal Findings: While institutionalized children are often perceived to be parentless, the leading causes for institutionalization are poverty and disability (Browne, 2009). In Thailand, there remains a paucity of data concerning the institutionalization of children, particularly those in increased vulnerable circumstances, such as those living with HIV and AIDS. Additionally, those charged with caring for children in institutions are woven within a complex and convoluted governmental system leading to desegregated data and knowledge of childrens rights (UNICEF, 2011). The creation of international child protection policies, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as Thai national policies including the Child Protection Act of 2003, have been a step forward in recognizing the need to protect  children in vulnerable circumstances but have yet to enact a mechanism for individual complaints by children making them dependent on their guardians to give voice to their needs and grievances. In the CRC Committees most recent concluding observations on Thailands periodic report, multiple criticisms were noted including the necessity for more clearly defined roles and responsibilities for governmental agencies responsible for protecting children, an increased budget for vulnerable children, and the dissemination of knowledge about child rights to children (UN, 2012). Internationally, policy failings and institutional challenges can be largely linked to States low prioritization and insufficient funding of child institutions.  

Conclusion:
  Often acting in the stead of social services, institutional care of children is largely a dysfunctional system sometimes leading to increased societal exclusion and deprivation of rights. A lack of enforced and child accessible international and national policies leave children dependent on apathetic State assistance to protect their rights. Within Thailand, child protection policies are weakened by an intricate domain of child right guarantors that could be strengthened by more streamlined and clearly defined governmental roles. On a global scale, insufficient financial assistance and authority oversight have left millions of institutionalized children victim or vulnerable to improper physical, psychological, and social support.