Global Head of Pro Bono and Community InvestmentA&O: 2014-present
Associate, BankingA&O: 2013-present
Associate Director, Business ServicesA&O: 2009-present
Allen & Overy’s global partnership with Hope and Homes for Children appears on track to smashing its fundraising target and – equally important – to changing perceptions about institutional care of children.
In September 2018 A&O began a two-year global partnership with Hope and Homes for Children, a charity chosen by staff whose mission is to close all orphanages around the world.
Just over one year in, we’ve raised GBP665,000 – well on the way to our GBP1 million target – and embarked on a significant programme of pro bono support.
But the mission to end the institutional care of children is proving to be as much about the challenge of educating people as it is about fundraising and pro bono support.
Kate Cavelle, A&O’s Head of Pro Bono and Community Investment, says people often react with shock to the suggestion of ending support for orphanages. “There’s a very understandable perception that orphanages are a force for good, that they provide care for children who have no one else in the world,” she says.
“So many times, myself, I’ve seen vulnerable children on the streets. The urge is to sweep them up and take them somewhere safe, with food and a roof over their heads.”
But, as A&O is learning, the answer is not that simple. “Orphanages and institutions don’t achieve the best outcomes for children,” Kate says. “In fact, in most cases long-term confinement causes emotional and physical damage.”
A&O’s own education started in 2015 when the A&O Foundation, which is funded by partners, gave a grant of GBP75,000 to Hope and Homes for Children – then just a small charity – to support its programme of deinstitutionalisation in Rwanda.
“What we learned from Hope and Homes for Children back then transformed our thinking about how we support vulnerable young people,” Kate says.
“One of the most staggering facts we learned is that more than 80% of the eight million children in orphanages globally have a living parent.”
“Orphanages and institutions don’t achieve the best outcomes for children – in fact, in most cases long-term confinement causes emotional and physical damage.”
Businesses set up for profit
Closing orphanages is an emotive issue so it’s important, Kate says, to focus on the facts.
Research has found that orphanages are often profit-making businesses set up to solicit donations from well-meaning international visitors and organisations. Many aren’t properly accredited and have high levels of child neglect and abuse. In the worst cases, they take children from families living in poverty, with promises of an education and a better life, and then traffic them through orphanages into modern slavery.
“We believe that even those orphanages that do not exploit or intentionally harm children very often do not achieve the best outcomes for them,” Kate says. “Often these children have very complex needs – psychological trauma, mental and physical disabilities – as well the educational and social needs all children have growing up.
“Most orphanages don’t have the resources to deal with anything beyond the most basic needs, so the children are all treated the same and often kept in confinement.”
In addition to safeguarding issues, orphanages are expensive. Estimates suggest it costs ten times more to care for a child in an institution than in a family. “It’s far easier and more effective to train a family, rather than a whole institution, to care for a child with complex needs,” she adds.
In the case of Uganda, for example, an estimated USD250m flows into the orphanage economy each year from faith-based communities in Europe and the U.S. Orphanage tourism and ‘voluntourism’ are two other substantial economic contributors. “Imagine how far that would go in creating sustainable change across healthcare, education, employment and family support within communities,” Kate says.
One of the strongest examples of sustainable change comes from Rwanda, which is on course to becoming the first African country to close all children’s institutions. Hope and Homes for Children says the country adopted a community-based approach which helps authorities prevent separation by identifying vulnerable children and families and supporting parents by addressing poverty, healthcare and mental health issues. The rate of child abandonment in Rwanda has fallen from five children a month to just one every three months and only a handful of orphanages remain, with children being transitioned back into family and community care.
Other countries are now following Rwanda’s approach. In South Africa, where A&O’s Johannesburg office has supported Hope and Homes for Children locally since 2016, the rate of admission into institutions in Gauteng Province dropped from 217 to just 28 children in 2019 – a clear indication that early intervention programmes are working. Over the same three-year period, 231 children from three institutions were moved into family care.
Preventing child trafficking
Of the money raised by A&O, GBP500,000 is supporting a specific programme of work in Nepal and India to tackle networks of traffickers who target the children of vulnerable families suffering extreme poverty.
“The success of A&O’s fundraising means we’ve already started to establish solid foundations across India and Nepal for the overhaul of child protection and care systems,” says Delia Pop, Director of Programmes and Advocacy at Hope and Homes for Children.
In Nepal, the civil war from 1996 to 2006, followed by the earthquakes in 2015, accelerated the displacement of children. International donations poured into the country and thousands more children were separated from their families, boosting the orphanage industry. Hope and Homes for Children says more than 70% of orphanages in Nepal are located in tourist destinations to attract donations, but inside the institutions it has found that children are at high risk of being forced into modern slavery or trafficked for physical or sexual exploitation.
“We’re setting up two major programmes to bring about local government commitments to end exploitation through orphanages,” says Delia. “We estimate that we’ll move 400 children out of institutions and into family care across both countries, and through community-based interventions prevent a further 4,400 children and their families from being separated.”
Edward Mackaness, Associate Director in London, and Catherine Husted, A&O’s Head of Pro Bono and Community Investment in Hong Kong, both travelled to Nepal in November 2018 and met one of Hope and Homes for Children’s charity partners, Forget Me Not, which had worked with the Government to close 13 orphanages by the end of 2019.
Edward says: “It was distressing to hear the stories of neglect and abuse from the young people we met. In some cases families had paid for a child to be placed in an orphanage under the promise of a better life, but in reality, food, care and education are lacking. The children are just commodities.
“I want our partnership to raise awareness about what happens in these institutions. It’s a nuanced issue that not many people are fully aware of.”
A global movement for change
Hope and Homes for Children has put itself at the forefront of a growing global movement to end the institutionalisation of children. It’s a huge programme of change that requires charitable organisations and civil society to focus efforts on moving children into stable, family-based care and to tackle the root causes of family separation.
“There are so many layers to this,” Kate says. “Family and community support, healthcare, education, employment – and also cultural change so that, for example, disabled children, who make up a large portion of those in orphanages, are not stigmatised when back in communities.”
It also requires a commitment from governments and policy-makers. The EU has pledged to stop funding organisations that support children’s institutions; so has the UK’s Department for International Development, with which A&O and other businesses have signed a private sector pact against institutionalising children.
“It’s an enormously complex task and it will take time, but that’s why we have to start now.”
Hope and Homes for Children’s objective is to educate governments about how to transition from institutional to family-based care, and to help provide financial support to achieve this. Being able to leverage funding is crucial so, as well as supporting the programme in Nepal and India, A&O is providing unrestricted funding for the charity to use wherever it’s needed most.
One of the best examples of influencing governments is in Romania, where one of Hope and Homes for Children’s longest-running programmes has helped bring about reform of the child protection system. An A&O team – including managing partner Andrew Ballheimer and partners Costin Taracila (Bucharest), Kyle Nevin (Dubai) and Hippolyte Marquetty (Paris) – travelled to Romania in July 2019 to see its impact.
Working with the Romanian Government to strengthen families and support children at risk of institutionalisation, the organisation has seen the number of children in orphanages fall from more than 100,000 in 1998 to fewer than 6,500 now. Thirty-two orphanages have been closed and work continues to close the remaining orphanages by 2026. For children unable to return to biological families, alternatives such as foster care, small group homes, young adult support and specialist emergency services are in place.
Critical pro bono support
Kate is convinced A&O can make a real impact with this partnership. “As well as funding, we can provide much-needed pro bono support and, through understanding this issue better ourselves, help to educate people, organisations and governments,” she says.
In April 2019, Helen Rogers and Aditi Kapoor from A&O’s pro bono team, plus London partner Matt Townsend, New York associate Kate Chapman and media relations executive Raj Pattni travelled to Delhi and Jharkhand to continue scoping the programme of pro bono support across four key areas:
- Building evidence to help Hope and Homes for Children influence national legislators. Two key global milestones are the UN General Assembly Resolution on deinstitutionalisation and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda in 2020. These provide an opportunity to influence states’ laws and policies, which could have a huge impact on child protection and deinstitutionalisation around the world.
- Developing an app that allows easy access to India’s child protection laws, policies and guidelines. This will assist people in India’s administrative system to support children in families and prevent unnecessary separation.
- Helping to stop the cycle of overseas volunteering in orphanages by looking into policy, laws and regulation around travel and ‘voluntourism’, and exploring how emerging best practice from Australia can be replicated in other countries.
- Contributing to Hope and Homes for Children’s child protection and care reform conference in Nepal in 2020. This will bring together policy and decision-makers in Asia in learning about family strengthening and alternative care.
Kate Chapman says: “The trip to India not only provided an opportunity for us to see first-hand the incredible life-changing work Hope and Homes for Children is carrying out on the ground, but it also helped to clarify where we should focus our pro bono efforts, which will be a crucial element of the partnership.”
Ending the cycle now
The global movement to restore children to families is gaining momentum but it’s a journey and many governments, charities and businesses around the world are still in the early stages.
It helps that Hope and Homes for Children is very clear about its goal. It isn’t trying to close a few bad orphanages – it’s determined to close all institutions that confine children, anywhere in the world. That is the only way to break the cycle: of desperate mothers who abandon their babies; of profit-making institutions exploiting children for donations; and of human traffickers targeting the most vulnerable families.
“Unless we work to completely end institutionalisation, new orphanages will spring up and these cycles will continue,” says Kate Cavelle. “It’s an enormously complex task and will take time, but that’s why we have to start now.
“Every day a child spends in an institution is damaging that child’s emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing – and with it, that child’s chance of ever leading a happy life.”
Fundraising successes for Hope and Homes for Children
A&O’s largest fundraising effort so far has been the ‘First Hour, First Day’ campaign, in which 950 people across nearly every A&O office donated the first hour or day of their salary in 2019, raising GBP423,000.
Another major fundraising event saw more than 60 A&O staff, partners and alumni bring the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls to an audience of 500 people in the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, in March 2019, raising more than GBP20,000.
In September 2019, 17 people from A&O and our Alumni Network trekked along the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, taking in forests, Transylvanian castles and medieval villages en route to Omu Peak, the highest point in the region. The team also visited Hope and Homes for Children to see the success of its work in Romania.
Read more about A&O’s Pro Bono and Community Investment work in our bi-annual magazine, Increasing Access at allenovery.com/corporate-responsibility.