OLR Research Report

September 18, 2006




By: Susan Price, Associate Attorney

You asked about modern orphanages and if states plan to build new facilities.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed using savings from deep cuts in the welfare program to finance constructing and operating modern orphanages as part of his 1994 Contract with America. He suggested that doing so would eliminate many welfare program costs and save children born to unmarried teenagers from their “morally deficient” families and environments. The proposal was extremely controversial and ultimately dropped from the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Act, the 1996 act that overhauled federal welfare laws (P.L. 104-193).

The notion of expanding the capacity of existing orphanages to create a more stable living environment than many children experience in foster care (sometimes referred to as the “new orphanage movement”) continues to have its proponents. As far as we have been able to determine, no state plans to fund new construction nor has any conducted a needs assessment.

Recent efforts to establish new orphanages have had varied success rates. Projects with corporate sponsors, such as Coca-Cola, Target, Gatorade, and BellSouth, appear to be better able to raise start-up costs and leverage other private and public funds than those without them. Orphanage care is expensive. The annual cost per child exceeds $30,000, reports orphanage proponent Robert B. McKenzie in a 1999 report “The Orphanage Option” (copy enclosed). Other common hurdles include community opposition and the absence of scientific studies examining whether children fare better in this more expensive setting than in foster care. Foster and adoptive parent advocacy groups have been vocal opponents and highly publicized reports of abusive or inadequate living conditions in several orphanages have negatively affected public opinion.

We enclose a July 2004 report A Return to Orphanages? issued jointly by the University of Massachusetts Center for Adoption Research and Children's Rights, a non-profit children's advocacy organization. Among other things, it describes residential facility models and the status of several current projects. Appendix A of the report contains a partial listing of new orphanages in the United States. The report can be downloaded at media/orphanage_report.pdf (last visited September 18, 2006).