Barna: Orphanages essential, but families optimal

Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Michael F. Haverluck (

orphan girls in India

A new study shows that while American Christians continue to demonstrate their generous and sacrificial support of orphanages worldwide, the best environment for children remains intact families.

Using findings from a study conducted by the Barna Group, the Faith to Action Initiative revealed that one in five (19%) of the 3,000 Christians surveyed in the U.S. financially support orphanages, children's homes, and various types of residential care for children. That percentage suggests that upwards of 34 million American believers donate approximately $3.3 billion every year to assist orphan care programs. In addition, an estimated four million U.S. Christians visit orphanages or children's homes during short-term mission trips.

Clearly, these numbers reflect an unmistakable heart for children among American Christians. But are their time and resources going to the right place?

Wait a minute here …

According to the survey, a large majority of American Christians (86%) believe orphanages are a "positive place" for children. But Barna discovered that orphanages don't appear to be perpetuating a model of orphan care that's best for children's nurturing and development. Decades of research indicate that families – not orphanages – help youth to live fuller lives and reach their true potential.

Mark Lorey, who serves as vice president of child development and program effectiveness with World Vision International, emphasizes how important it is for children to be placed in nurturing family environments.

"People across the U.S. and the world agree that all children – including those who are orphaned and vulnerable – grow and thrive best in families," Lorey explains. "This report shows how important it is to build support for family and community care for the most vulnerable children – because it's sustainable, scalable, affordable, and most of all, because it's best for kids."

A need that can be met

According to the Faith to Action Initiative – a project serving as a resource for Christian groups, churches and individuals to meet the needs of orphans globally – most children in orphanages are not truly orphans, as many have a living parent; and those without living parents frequently have extended family members who are able to provide them with care.

Results from the Barna survey divulge that 96% of respondents see family structures for children as ideal, while 81% share the belief that fighting to put an end to the need of orphanages around the world is a worthy endeavor.

Elli Oswald, executive director of Faith to Action Initiative, is encouraged by Christians' resolve to provide better lives for needy children.

"There is a growing movement of people around the world committed to seeing orphaned and vulnerable children cared for in families," Oswald shares. "This study has highlighted the passion and generosity of American Christians toward these children, [and] our hope is that the American Christians will rally behind this movement – sharing the vision we see in Scripture of God's intention of families, and becoming catalysts for change."


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