In the journey of uncovering the landscape of orphanages in Malaysia, we have heard the voices of both caretakers and individuals who were part of the system. Orphanages, welfare homes or institutional care centres are common terms used to describe safe spaces that house children orphaned, neglected, abused and from low-income families giving them another go at life.
Through conversations with the caretakers running these Homes, we learned that it takes immense effort, continuous financial support and dedicated manpower to keep going.
Homes are often fueled by the goodwill of the general public and in times of economic stability, it has been challenging for Homes to sustain with smaller donations received.
The main challenge throughout the pandemic was definitely finance. – Mr Anbu, Rumah K.I.D.S
The Homes are run by a handful of paid workers and an army of volunteers. Yet, they come and go due to the tough nature of the job.
Workers, good qualified workers. We would get a lot of people applying but we need people who would understand the children. People who understand our vision and goals are very difficult to find. That’s our biggest problem. – Mr Anbu, Rumah K.I.D.S
In the plight of ensuring Homes could sustain without relying solely on donations and CSR programmes, some had shifted to a social enterprise model that came with its hiccups.
We’ve worked hard in a variety of ways to become a self-sufficient children’s home that doesn’t rely on donations. However, this method still necessitates a significant amount of time and planning. This is one of our most significant challenges, particularly during a pandemic. – Mr Mitsuhiko Abe, CFFM
Achieving Sustainability Through Entrepreneurship
We have learnt that the nature of welfare homes is reliant on public donations. When the pandemic struck, most homes had difficulty staying afloat with the few and in-between help from the government as well.
A budding social enterprise FoReka aims to address this gap by ensuring welfare homes can stand on their own two feet through social entrepreneurship. The organisation established in July 2021, so far is partnering with Persatuan K.I.D.S. They have successfully run two workshops within the same period to expose children at welfare homes to the concept of entrepreneurship. Within three months, the children from Persatuan K.I.D.S managed to earn RM 960 through their handmade bead bracelets venture.
But the world is an oyster to FoReka, recently placed second-runner up in McKinsey’s Youth Leadership Academy and they received a mini-grant to help continue and develop FoReka. Empowering the orphanages through entrepreneurship is just a start as they aim to run more personal development workshops for institutionalised children in the future.
Success And Struggles Of Former Residents
Despite the difficulties and struggles the Homes’ faces, caretakers find great fulfillment when the children under their care succeed in life. The former residents were grateful for the opportunities the Homes had unlocked for them and had benefited from the second chances.
Amelia and Nathan** who were enrolled in welfare homes due to their parents’ financial struggles have made a living for themselves and have escaped the poverty cycle.
If I were with my parents, they may not fully consider my studies, so I may not be able to go to college. Maybe I would’ve just worked after SPM. At Home, they pushed me to aim higher. I found new potential in myself because of the opportunities that they gave me. I am able to write songs, compose music, create drama or short films. – Nathan
Yet, the former residents could not help but convey an element that may have been overlooked by many Homes out there – that is unconditional love.
Yes, we receive lots of gifts, or are able to attend functions. But the children, including myself, are always seeking love. – Amelia
One of the many weaknesses of institutional care is the system that keeps the children’s interaction with the outside world minimal. Consequently, many former residents of welfare homes struggle to reintegrate back to society or even their biological families once they reach legal age.
Stepping out into the real world after years of strict protection had made it difficult for many former residents of welfare homes to adapt to the world. This aspect was also noted by one of the former residents:
Life at home consisted of just staying at home and school. But the world outside, we would have to learn about people around us. It is likely that children from home can be cheated by others, they aren’t able to differentiate the good and bad touches and what is true love and the meaning of family. – Amelia
Dismantling Institutional Care Through Deinstitutionalisation
Despite the high amount of institutional care in Malaysia safeguarding the children, the system is only a temporary fix. A child undeniably requires a family to grow into their full potential.
Data has shown that institutional care possibly caused multiple irreversible socio-emotional harms to children under their care unintentionally. Youth in institutional care has also stated that they need a supportive and dependable relationship with love and care to grow adequately.
In Malaysia, institutional care is possibly one of the earliest resorts taken when a child is abandoned, neglected or abused to ensure their safety. However, what we are witnessing are also a high number of parents voluntarily sending their children to Homes.
Poverty is one of the main factors why non-orphaned children end up in institutional care facilities. At least 87% of children in welfare homes have one living parent and 37% with both living parents that they could return to.
“Deinstitutionalisation (DI) means taking children out from institutions, and giving them proper homes with the love of a family. This is a much better way to grow for any child. No doubt an institution will provide shelter and food, but in terms of love, upbringing, education, environment and mental health, a home and family is where a child should be.” Datin Paduka Che Asmah Ibrahim, OrphanCare’s Chief Executive Officer 
OrphanCare, a Malaysian NGO together with Lumos, an international NGO is hoping to change the trajectory of children who would otherwise end up in institutional care facilities. They are working with Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat to introduce the idea of community-based care where children in Homes are taught how to reintegrate back into their families, introducing children to foster care and helping families adopt a child.
OrphanCare recognises that it is more beneficial for children to adapt to real-life settings rather than the protected four walls of a care home. At the same time, the cost of deinstitutionalisation is lower than maintaining a care Home. Reportedly family-based care is only 10% of the institutional placement cost when conducted in Sudan and Cambodia.
Even so, at the start of their good cause, they faced backlash from existing institutional care perceiving that this move was drastic and is a method to shut down well-established Homes. Despite the rough start, 48 families have since reintegrated and 23 children adopted by families through their deinstitutionalisation initiative .
The purpose of deinstitutionalization is not to shut down institutions immediately. That is one of the last things you do when everything has been put into place. – Dr Ananthi Al Ramaiah, OrphanCare senior researcher and volunteer
Notably, Rumah K.I.D.S that we interviewed have also shared that they are slowly gearing towards deinstitutionalisation and sought to foster orphans to families.
We would only take in children of poor single mothers for up to 2 years. But at the same time we would talk to them about their needs, help the mothers to steady their lives and we integrate the children back to their mothers. – Mr Anbu, Rumah K.I.D.S
Help is always welcome
When it comes to orphanages or welfare homes, it has been a hush-hush situation rooted in the lack of appropriate data on the number of institutional care in Malaysia and the current breakdown of the number of children placed in institutional care for various reasons. At the same time, lesser emphasis is given to the state of welfare homes children are residing in. Their news would only resurface in cases of abuse or neglect. Usually – bad press.
Highlighted in this series, we have seen that welfare homes have often worked independently propelled by the altruistic intentions of their founders. Their upkeep is due to the generous donations and support by individuals, companies and religious groups. Homes are always finding ways to sustain their cause to ensure each child’s needs either through finance, education or caretaker that could support the children.
OrphanCare and FoReka, to date, are the two organisations that aim to change the reality of institutional care in the future even though there is a long way to go with the current resistance from welfare homes.
We have compiled a running list of institutional care/ welfare homes out there with different needs listed:
The table can be sorted according to location. We welcome any additional information on organisations out there seeking to improve the lives of children in institutional care. If there is any errors to the organisations, do report to firstname.lastname@example.org
This list is non-exhaustive. Any errors are regrettable as this is a community-driven effort. The list will be updated frequently. Donate and give generously, at your own discretion.
List updated by: Wiki Impact Team, Gabby Chong
** Nathan and Amelia are the pseudonyms of two individuals that have spent their childhood and adolescence in institutional care. The opinions of Nathan and Amelia are reflective of their own personal experience and should not be used as a generalisation of other children or Homes.
This article is the final instalment in Wiki Impact’s series uncovering the orphanage landscape in Malaysia. In the earlier part of this series, we have encountered the different safe spaces out there for children and we have heard the difficulties faced by the people manning safe spaces in Malaysia. We have also heard the voices of those who were sheltered by institutional care and also the drawbacks of institutions.
Explore our sources:
1. UNICEF (2020). Understanding the Impact of Covid on Vulnerable Children and Families in Malaysia. Link
2. S.Nair. (2004). Of the 8 million kids in institutions worldwide, more than 90% aren’t orphans. The Star. Link
3. S. Fathallah & S. Sullivan. (2021). Away From Home Youth Experiences of Institutional Placements in Foster Care. Think Of Us. Link.
4. M.Archer (2013). Preliminary Findings of Survey on Children’s Homes: Family disintegration and institutional care of children in Malaysia. Link.
5. M.Kaur. (2021). OrphanCare Foundation reiterates importance of deinstitutionalisation. The Star. Link
6. OrphanCare. Is there evidence that deinstitutionalisation (DI) works? Link
7. OrphanCare. Our Impact. Link
8. S.Nair. (2014). Of the 8 million kids in institutions worldwide, more than 90% aren’t orphans. The Star. Link
9. K.Madihi and S. Brubeck. (2019). Malaysia Alternative Care Case Study. Better Care Network. Link