Examine the marketing materials for most aid and development organizations, and you’ll notice that children are prominently featured in everything from clean water to refugee resettlement. Sometimes they’re depicted as desperate, wide-eyed, malnourished, and alone. Other times, images portray children flashing wide grins, full of energy and unbridled hope for the future. The innocence of youth is compelling.
Children are incredibly precious, significant, and special. It’s impossible to blame them for their current situation – and we are motivated to do something to help children achieve a brighter future. But for their good, I believe we need to stop making children the exclusive focus of our programs and shift away from an exclusively child-centered approach.
Why in the world would I be encouraging us to consider decreasing our emphasis on children?
Before you call me a Grinch and accuse me of possessing a “heart that’s two sizes too small,” here’s why I think it would actually be in the best interest of children if we stopped exclusively focusing on them:
Not all children in poverty are orphans.
Overly simplistic images of children by themselves and out of the context of their surroundings perpetuate a pervasive, damaging picture that all children in poverty are orphans. Orphans are particularly vulnerable and need special care, but to paint all children as orphans just isn’t true. The Better Care Network points to studies in Cambodia, for example, revealing that 75% of children living in orphanages are not actually orphans but have one or more biological parents still living. And even more have living extended family members. We need to recognize that most children have families and are best supported within the context of the family.
The picture above is a cropped version of this image. It’s time to stop cropping out parents, literally and figuratively.
For deep, lasting change to occur, transformation must be experienced not only by children, but by their whole families. I’ve witnessed the gut-wrenching reality that when children are returned to families who have not received the support and care that they need as caregivers, children can end up in the same cyclical, heartbreaking situation.
Might it be that by focusing on children, we are undermining the role of families? Why are parents invisible and often forgotten? Perhaps it’s because paying school fees is far easier than walking alongside a parent who wants to start and grow a small business or become free from addiction.
Whatever the reason, loving children demands an equal measure of love for the family around them, no matter how difficult it might be.
Please understand, I am all for helping children! I simply believe that focusing exclusively on children to the exclusion of their families often proves to be less helpful, and possibly even damaging, in the long run.
Let’s seek out organizations and strategic approaches that focus on empowering men and women to provide for themselves and their families. When the family flourishes, children grow up with strength and hope for the future.
This post originally appeared on the PovertyCure blog.