Being a Social Orphan

Social Orphans

Social orphans are children with at least one living parent, but for no fault of their own, have been placed in an institutionalized childcare facility. They are at the bottom of the social scale for children.

The term “Fallen Leaf Syndrome” has been coined to describe their situation:
a mental attitude as a result from feeling unloved, unwanted, without value and blown about by fate.

They feel acutely the rejection by those who should be their security in childhood, their parents. There are mainly two family environments these social orphans come from.

  • Some of them are from dysfunctional homes, and have suffered neglect, abuse and mistreatment. Many of these children do not want to go to their parents even after leaving the orphange
  • Others have come from a home where they experienced warmth and love, but for some reason the authorities have removed them from their family. There are various reasons for this, among them are acute poverty, or a single paren with a mental/emotional health condition like severe depression or anxiety. These children are placed together with socially dysfunctional kids.

Both these groups of children need to experience family life, in an emotionally stable family.

A few of the children in orphanages are true orphan, whose parents have died. They have some form of closure in the longer term. The social orphan, knowing the parent is out there somewhere, but does not care, is hurt daily. The rejection is always in the background.

An interesting observation with these children is that they generally do badly at school and have low motivation, but will do well for somebody who cares.

What is it like to be a Polish Social Orphan

Most of us have albums with family photos through which we reminisce, of the past, family, friends and things that happened. Some elicit warmth and love, while others get us to laugh at some bygone embarrassment. When we grow up we unconsciously draw on the best resources from our childhood. And this is an integral part of who we are, our identity.

There are, however, many people who do not have these memories because their past was spent in an orphanage or children’s home. They therefore do not have good memories from their childhood and no clear identities of themselves. Their photos are group photographs of themselves with other similarly rejected children without a loving family. Children who are raised for a long time in these orphanages or children’s homes, often suffer irreversible emotional damage.

Social orphans are children who have at least one living parent, but are raised in institution like forms and not in a foster home. Their contact with their families is often sporadic and infrequent. The contact when the parent visits the orphanage is not natural, and cannot meet the emotional and psychological needs of these disadvantaged children. It is like visiting an institution.

When they are removed from their family home, some of the children are relieved. About 25% do not wish to return to their parents. For the others, first, it is just crying, sorrow and sadness, this is followed by apathy, and an inability to properly understand the situation they are in and their feelings. Some of them were not told why they were being forcibly removed from their home. Then routine sets in and a monotonous schedule is followed, much like in an open jail. The Polish children’s home system has become an institution and the children institutionalized.

Some of the children are traumatized by being separated from their parents and siblings. A child considered neglected by the child welfare authorities, could have warm and loving parents, or grandparents. That child does not feel “neglected” in the same way the child welfare authorities consider child neglect. On the other hand there are children who feel rejected by their parents. They feel they do not have worth. Some of them spiral down in depression, others become aggressive as a self defense mechanism. Both these types and the variations of behavior in between need the stability of an emotionally warm family home.

Society unfortunately works against the child who is already vulnerable. These children are sidelined and instead of developing self esteem, they accept the role of a loser, as this is how they are treated. They get labeled as “that kid from the orphanage.” They feel rejected, unwanted and a nuisance. There is a certain attitude found among orphanage children where they make a virtue of being a loser.

During their childhood in the orphanage, they often are reluctant to ask for help or emotional support, even when the carers are available and willing to help. The carers work in shifts, so it is not always the same personnel every day when the kids return from school, therefore it is difficult to develop an emotional bonding, which every child needs in order to develop emotionally. A little self esteem is helpful if one wants to ask for help. The children speak negatively about others and perceive people generally as being bad, unsupportive and unhelpful.

The role of a parent is to give the child a stable childhood to become a foundation for an emotionally healthy adult, able to trust and be trusted, to give and receive affection, have positive self esteem and a healthy understanding of God. God manifests through relationships, and an ability to form stable relationships is helpful in being able to have an understanding of and a relationship with God.

Children whose only experience of family life, has been in a dysfunctional home, and have subsequently been raised in an institution, which unfortunately a children’s home is, experience difficulty comprehending God. They have not learned basic concepts which can only be learned through experience, such as trust. Without that base, their emotional and spiritual developments are stunted.

60 % of homeless people in Poland have been raised in children’s homes. Only about 10% of Polish orphanage children have a successful career, but even these successes have mostly disastrous relationships, with divorce and many partners during their life, and so not being able to give a stable home to their children.

There is little sense of security in the Children’s Homes. They are mixed together, from the soft private child who has come from a loving home (maybe due to poverty), to aggressive and hard bullying kids from socially dysfunctional families, with all behavour types in between. Even when they have smaller rooms (e.g. 2 per room) these rooms are unlocked so theft is a problem. There is also jealousy and their things can be destroyed or stolen by a jealous child. There is no respect for privacy for these children.

Disclaimer: What is written above is not a critique of the staff in the Polish Children’s Home system, but with the system itself. The fault lies with politicians who do not give the resources these homes need. Most of the carers are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have available and there are many true heros among them, doing what is in their power to help the children under their care, despite being understaffed.


Agape Trust needs support to be able to help young mothers who were social orphans, but have now left the orphanage system.


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