J.K. Rowling’s Growing Crusade to Fight Use of Orphanages, Institutions

J.K. Rowling is pictured on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building after lighting the iconic building to mark the launch of her children's non-profit organization, Lumos USA, which works to end the institutionalization of 8 million children around the world living in orphanages despite most having parents and families that could care for them with some support, New York, Thursday, April 9, 2015. (Photo/ Lumos)

J.K. Rowling, pictured on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building,  New York. Thursday, April 9, 2015. (Photo/ Lumos)

J.K. Rowling’s charity, Lumos, has been going through a dramatic expansion and recently set up shop in the United States. Now, Lumos has released a new short film narrated by Rowling that seeks to draw attention to the disservice done to children by long-term institutional care.

In the three-minute film, Children Need Families Not Orphanages, Rowling speaks passionately about why children need families to grow and thrive, and how institutional settings cannot meet the biological and developmental needs of children for individual love and care.

The goal of Lumos is to redirect the care of disadvantaged children away from group homes and orphanages, and find more ways to support them and their families in the community. To address the problem, Lumos advocates retraining institutional employees as community-based health and social workers and repurposing institutional buildings to house community services.

The foundation’s target clients: the eight million children worldwide who are cared for in institutions.

Named for the light-giving spell featured in the Harry Potter books, Lumos has been working over the last decade in Central and Eastern Europe to end institutionalization of children, and is now expanding to Latin America and the Caribbean. The organization will focus particularly on Haiti, where it is estimated that 80 percent of the 30,000 children in orphanages and institutions actually have parents who are unable to care for them due to financial and social constraints.

Rowling was in New York in April to announce the start of Lumos USA, the American outpost of the nonprofit she founded in 2005. Rowling said the organization is hoping to tap into America’s generous charitable giving and its global impact on children’s issues.

“America gives a phenomenal amount of money,” Rowling recently said. “We would love to see that aid and that philanthropy channeled toward systems that support children within their families rather than the separation of families.”

The staff of Lumos USA will direct its efforts toward building relationships with American policymakers, donors both within the U.S. and internationally, and foundations, encouraging them to invest in strengthening families and preventing unnecessary family-child separation.

The new Lumos video narrated by Rowling is also part of its advocacy agenda to persuade the United Nations that children living in orphanages is a social problem worthy of more attention. Lumos wants the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to count children living outside of families as a critical indicator of success. Those goals are very important to international development plans and will be targeted for implementation from 2015-2030.

Lumos has published a number of papers on the the problem of child institutionalization, and Rowling recently wrote to the United Nations to propose that it incorporate the value of family and maintaining family ties into its Sustainable Development Goals, which are being discussed and established in September 2015. The nonprofit is currently leading a campaign advocating that the United Nations make ending childhood institutionalization a global priority.

Last month, Lumos joined other advocates for children in heralding the final draft of new SDGs, which included “families” within the goals document, and recognized the importance of “cohesive communities and families” in enabling children and young people to succeed. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals that make it on the agenda will be put to a vote by the UN General Assembly later this month.

The release of the animated film is accompanied by the relaunch of Let’s Talk Lumos, an interactive digital platform helping supporters get involved online with the Lumos mission to end the institutional care of children.

J.K. Rowling writes passionately about why the Lumos mission is so important to her and to the future of children everywhere. She talks about the visits she made to orphanages, and how the memories still haunt her: “I was shown into a room full of totally silent babies. They had learned that crying brought no comfort and their lack of interest in eye contact was eerie. The photographer wanted me to smile. I wanted to cry.”

As a former social worker, I know the feeling. The damage done to children in institutions is hard for most people to fathom, and is palpable when spending time with children who have suffered abuse or neglect in institutional care. But Rowling’s goal is to end institutional care of children by 2050.

“The good news is that this is an entirely solvable problem.”

Lumos has been doing complex work on ending orphanages for the past 10 years, particularly in former Soviet bloc countries like the Czech Republic, Moldova, and the Ukraine. Rowling believes a “tipping point” has been reached, as most countries in that region now have a plan to end the institutionalization of children.

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