The Hidden Children: How Lumos is Empowering Social Change for Orphans Worldwide

Ten years into her signature philanthropic endeavor, Lumos, author J.K. Rowling has grown increasingly vocal about her disdain for developing world orphanages that do nothing to address the underlying needs of children and families.

Readers here at The Chronicle of Social Change know about the damage that child welfare systems can do to children, but perhaps even more damaging are money-driven orphanage systems, where children can suffer extreme neglect and lifetime attachment issues. And parents, often because of poverty, are deprived of the opportunity to raise their children.

“Globally, poverty is the no. 1 reason that children are institutionalized. Well-intentioned Westerners supporting orphanages perpetuate this highly damaging system and encourage the creation of more institutions as money magnets,” tweeted Rowling in late August, when expressing her fury at a voluntourism charity that was offering young adults the “CV-distinguishing” opportunity to volunteer in an orphanage in Moldova, where they could “play and interact” with children ”in desperate need of affection.”

“Willingness to cling to strangers is a sign of the profound damage institutions do to children,” said Rowling in the heavily shared and discussed tweetstorm about the problems of voluntourism. “Never forget, 80 percent of institutionalised children worldwide have close family who want them back. They are not orphans.”

J.K Rowling, center, and the cast of Harry Potter. Photo: Lumos Foundation
J.K Rowling, center, and the cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo: Lumos Foundation

Rowling seems to be getting more vocal all the time about the Lumos mission of ending child orphanages worldwide by the year 2050. On Saturday, she gave a live interview on Facebook, to kick off the start of the We Are Lumos Worldwide global campaign to raise awareness about the disservice of orphanages and urge action “to bring the hidden children to light and get them home to families.”

In the interview, conducted live in London and broadcast worldwide to over a million viewers, Rowling called on people everywhere to accept responsibility for the global problem of children in orphanages. “It’s a system that incentivizes family breakup,” she said.

According to Lumos, an estimated 80 percent of children in orphanages have family who want to keep the child, but lack the financial resources to do so. Rowling and Lumos want to help nations around the world restructure their systems for children so that more children can live in the community and in families, rather than in institutions. “We’ve gotten over 17,000 children out of institutions to date,” she said.

By taking on orphanages, Rowling is challenging the established order of many systems, including religious, nonprofit, political, and economic structures that encourage the orphaning of children. Many of the orphanages practicing in developing nations, for example, are supported and/or run by churches or faith-based organizations, who need more education about how they can help to create better options for poor families and children.

Other nonprofit organizations that have supported orphanages, according to Lumos, need to know more about how to use their influence to create healthier economies in developing nations, so that families, and children, can thrive together, not be separated from each other.

“There are solutions,” said Rowling. She spoke about how Lumos has worked, and will continue to work, with large-scale entities for social policy and reform, such as the European Union, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization. “We can help put a package together,” she said, describing how Lumos can help foster worldwide cooperation to end orphanages by 2050.

The agenda of Lumos aligns well with that of child welfare reform in the U.S. where advocates are calling for more trauma-informed and family-focused foster care, in order to create the optimal environment for vulnerable children. For the small percentage of children who will need alternative care, Lumos advocates high quality foster care and adoption, where children are raised with family support for their individual needs.

Watch the full interview here.

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About Kiersten Marek 22 Articles
Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is a clinical social worker in Rhode Island, and a Senior Editor for Los Angeles-based Inside Philanthropy, where she writes about economic and social philanthropy. Kiersten is also the author of Know Thyself: A Kid's Guide to the Archetypes, an identity development workbook.