Let’s Stop Focusing on Children

ChildrenExamine 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.

For more, check out When Helping HurtsThe Poor Will Be Glad, or download the free e-book Stop Helping Us!.

This post originally appeared on the PovertyCure blog.


  1. Brian Deamer
    January 29, 2016

    So true Peter. The thought of helping children makes us feel good so it’s easy to use that in our marketing because it gets people’s attention. However you are right that in the end it distorts the reality of the child’s situation and leaves the public ignorant of the big picture and the real needs. Well said.

  2. mel andricks
    January 30, 2016


    Great article!

    If Jihadist used children to shield in war, children are used for marketing in non-Jihadist movement. It’s the same usage of children in a way that is damaging long term.

    thanks for touching on this issue. It’s a big problem.

    – Mel

  3. Jason Kass
    February 13, 2016

    Brave article – way to go in grabbing attention, risking being misunderstood and making excellent points.

    In addition to making us sensitive to how we use children in trying to get our message out, seeing the families behind the children can indeed open open eyes to the long term solution to kids living in poverty – leveraging their greatest advocates ever – their families!

  4. Mary Hoyt
    February 29, 2016

    Yup. This is the message that I”m giving my life to in advocacy ministry right now. Educating American churches and mission agencies about family based care and the types of work that Hope Int’l and others are doing. Unfortunately, western funded orphanages being built are the number one cause of children been relinquished to orphanages – if that is the only way a parent can access education, etc for a child…we need to give families better options and long-term, it will be better stewardship of our donor funds as well. Empowering a family may be more costly and work-intensive on the front end, but in the long-run, far more productive and cost effective.

    1. Peter Greer
      March 2, 2016

      Thanks for your leadership in this area, Mary! So grateful that you and others are helping to bring greater awareness to this.

  5. Lucas Koach
    March 18, 2016

    Great comments Peter – and eye catching! I have long been concerned about the lack of articulation of the family in broad relief and development platforms. Families – truly the most critical response in relief and development.

    1. Peter Greer
      March 22, 2016

      Thank you, Lucas!


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