J.K. Rowling explains why volunteering at orphanages is often bad for kids.

In 2004, writer J.K. Rowling founded an organization called Lumos to prevent "poor, ethnic minority, or disabled" children from being unfairly placed in orphanages.  

In July 2017, the foundation sent a tweet encouraging followers to think before contributing to institutions that house children en masse.

In response, celebrity chef José Andrés proposed a solution: People should help out in person instead of (or in addition to) donating.


"What donors should do is visit the orphanage and volunteer at them, and if possible adopt," Andrés wrote. "We support one in Haiti and my family volunteers!"

Rowling replied to Andrés from her personal account, explaining how support from wealthy patrons frequently contributes to the abuse suffered by children in orphanages and why, despite good intentions, taking a more active role might not be the answer.

Disability rights advocates praised Rowling's advice.

While not all children are able to live with their family, Rowling says there's a better solution than foisting them on frequently neglectful group homes.

The author believes that working to end the cycles of poverty that force parents into a choice to give their children away rather than supporting the institutions that provide an insufficient (and frequently detrimental) backstop is the best, albeit more complex, solution.

In other words, orphanages address the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself.

An orphanage in Afghanistan. Photo by Noorullah Shirzada/Getty Images.

Several statistics back her up.

A January 2017 study by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that 80% of children in Cambodian orphanages indeed have at least one living parent.

Additionally, a 2012 analysis concluded that children reared from a young age in substandard group living situations are at a higher risk for neurological, cognitive, and behavioral problems. While well-run institutions do exist, examples of gross abuse and neglect are sadly commonplace. (Warning: Link contains graphic, upsetting images.)

Lumos works to reunite children with their families and channel funds away from orphanages and into local community services that support parents, making it easier for them to raise their own children in the first place.

Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images.

For well-intentioned donors, Rowling believes giving money to institutions that provide little support for children beyond simple housing and a baseline education should be the last resort.

Helping prevent children from going there should be the first.

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