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An orphanage (historically an orphan's asylum before the latter word took on its modern insane asylum connotation) is an institution dedicated to caring for orphans (children who have lost their parents) and abused, abandoned, and neglected children. Largely seen as an inferior alternative to foster care and adoption, orphanages may be privately or publicly funded, and many are run by religious organizations.

History Edit

The first orphanages, called "orphanotrophia," were founded in the 1st century amid various alternative means of orphan support. (Jewish law, for instance, prescribed care for the widow and orphan, and Athenian law supported all orphans of those killed in military service until the age of eighteen.) The care of orphans was particularly commended to bishops and, during the Middle Ages, to monasteries. Many orphanages practiced some form of "binding-out" in which children, as soon as they were old enough, were given as apprentices to households. This would ensure their support and their learning an occupation.

Historically, certain birth parents were often pressured or forced to give up their children to orphanages: those of children born out of wedlock or into poor families; those with disabilities or of children born with disabilities; and those with girls born into patriarchial societies. Such practices are assumed to be quite rare in the modern Western world, thanks to improved social security and changed social attitudes, but remain in force in many other countries.

Since the 1950s, after a series of scandals involving the coercion of birth parents and abuse of orphans (notably at Georgia Tann's Tennessee Children's Home Society), the United States and other countries have moved to deinstitutionalize the care of vulnerable children—that is, close down orphanages in favor of foster care and accelerated adoption. Moreover, as it is no longer common for birth parents in Western countries to give up their children, and as far fewer people die of diseases or violence while their children are still young, the need to operate large orphanages has decreased. These factors have also resulted in a dramatic reduction of local orphans available for adoption in first-world countries, necessitating journeys by many would-be adoptive parents to orphanages in the Third World.

Current usage Edit

Today, the orphanage remains common and necessary in most parts of the world, even if the term has given way to such softer language as "group home," "children's home," or "rehabilitation center." They are not common in the European community, and Romania in particular has struggled to reduce the visibility of its children's institutions to meet conditions of its entry into the European Union. In the United States, the largest remaining orphanage is the Bethesda Orphanage, founded in 1740 by George Whitefield. Another famous American orphanage is Girls and Boys Town, located outside Omaha, Nebraska.

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