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What Happens with Orphan Children?

Updated March 24, 2017

Being an orphan -- having neither a mother nor a father -- is confronting. Historically in western countries, children without parents or an extended family to look after them were placed in orphanages with the hope of being adopted. In the developing world, orphanages still exist. Natural disasters -- such as Hurricane Katrina -- or pandemics -- such as AIDS orphans in Africa -- make a lot of children orphans. When children are orphaned, individuals and the state step in to help support them.

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Extended Family

Oftentimes the extended family -- aunts, uncles or cousins -- look after an orphaned relative. The acceptance into the family varies from being treated like one of the children to reluctant admittance, depending on the individuals. Agencies view orphans living with relatives as a best practice solution, as there is a biological connection.


Being adopted into a family that is not biologically related is another option for orphaned children. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for instance, over 200 individuals contacted Rainbow Kids to adopt one of the children left without parents after the tragic storm swept through the Gulf Coast Region. Adoption laws in some jurisdictions allow single people to adopt orphans; previously it was an option for couples only.

Foster Care

States pay foster parents to look after orphaned children. Foster care is generally regarded as a short-term option, although it may extend to years in some cases. People who want to act as foster parents are required to attend training courses. Social workers check to see how the orphans are being treated when they are in foster care and they keep a case file of the individual's progress.

Group Homes

In western countries, group homes have replaced the orphanages of yesteryear. Rather than having an institution that might house a couple of hundred children, group homes for a half dozen orphans are designed to better emulate a family setting. Orphans stay at group homes until foster care is found.

Street Kids

In the developing world, children often end up on the street. Hamza Naoume, an orphaned Moroccan now studying at university in Canada, said "I ran away from the orphanage in Meknes when I was 9 years old because it was so oppressive. The street was a harsh teacher, but she taught me how to look after myself. Orphans on the street banded together and we looked after each other."

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About the Author

Jody Hanson began writing professionally in 1992 to help finance her second around-the-world trip. In addition to her academic books, she has written for "International Living," the "Sydney Courier" and the "Australian Woman's Forum." Hanson holds a Ph.D. in adult education from Greenwich University.

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