What is an Orphanage?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 20 December 2019
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An orphanage is a place where children who do not have guardians who are capable of caring for them live. Some orphanages employ professionals like nurses, teachers, and other people involved in raising children in order to care for the children entirely within the orphanage. Others merely offer the children basic necessities like food and shelter and take care of education and other issues elsewhere. A child might be sent to an orphanage due to the death of the child's parents, or the parents may be alive but unwilling or unable to care for the child. Most orphanages work to place children in more traditional family environments, as these are seen as more secure and desirable than living in an orphanage.

Some orphanages are separated by gender, but many care for children of both genders. Typically, the orphanage building will include many aspects that might be found in a house, as well as several others. Rooms where the children sleep, a kitchen, and other related rooms are all likely to be found in an orphanage. If the orphanage also functions as a school, then a schoolroom is important as well.

The structure and population of orphanages differs by area, but it is common for children with disabilities to end up in orphanages in many areas. As such, many orphanages employ medical professionals to care for these children. Some orphanages do not keep children past a certain age and may transfer them to foster care or other institutions.


Orphanages are often associated with volunteer groups or religious organizations. Many religions see care of orphans as a duty, so religious orphanages of many different denominations are common. Some countries prefer to have all orphans in the care of state-sponsored homes, even if those homes are not as nice as the care provided by religious or volunteer orphanages. In many areas, there is a fear that allowing foreigners or religious people to take care of orphans gives those orphans the wrong upbringing.

In many areas, orphanages are viewed as acceptable residential care facilities for children without parents or guardians. It is also, however, relatively common to find orphanages in which children are very poorly cared for. While many orphanages are well regulated, those that are not are considered dangerous to children.

While orphanages have the care of children as their primary responsibility, getting those children adopted is also a major function of these institutions. Working to get children placed in homes not only gives the children a chance at a better life, but also frees up room in orphanages for other orphans. For this reason and for the child's own good, it is important for orphanages to try to keep children healthy, happy, and well-socialized, because a child who exhibits these features is much more likely to be adopted than one who does not.


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