TIME Parenting

It’s Time for the U.S. to Ban Spanking

Spanking Corporal Punishment
Dario Egidi—Getty Images

Studies show that spanking is harmful — and unnecessary

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I know very little about the case of an NFL player hitting his child, I have seen the photos in articles and it disgusts me that a grown person thinks it is ever okay to do that to a child, especially when you are the size of an NFL player. Not that ones size makes abuse any different, but to know you are a massive, strong person, and then unleash that strength upon a child, you are a vile human being.

But leaving the NFL behind, and looking only at the action of spanking, what is one to do? It is not uncommon in the US to hear of parents spanking their children, I was spanked, I know friends who spank, and I fully disagree with their decision to do so.

If my friend does something wrong, even terrible, it is illegal for me to hit them, it is assault and I can be jailed for it. Yet if my child eats a cookie when I tell them not to, I am legally permitted to hit them, or spank them as we call it because hitting sounds to violent. Yet there is no difference between hitting and spanking a child.

The defense in spanking is that by doing so you teach your child to stop an action you no longer want them to do. Spankers believe that the pain of being hit will remind them to listen and obey. But is this true?

No, it does not work, according to research done by Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, Dr. Alan Kazdin.

You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want,” says Kazdin, speaking to the American Psychological Association. “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.”

Even more so, there is evidence that spanking actually causes harm. Even cause the The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a directive in 2006 to call physical punishment “legalized violence against children,” and urging the practice be eliminated through legal and educational process.

Thirty countries around the world have banned spanking in all settings. These countries do not use the bans as threats against parents, but as tools to educate parents about better ways to discipline a child. Often, parents use physical punishment as a way to train a child, but if it doesn’t work, the parent then escalates the punishment and can cause even more severe physical and psychological damage.

In his book The Primordial Violence, Murray Straus says that spanking does correct behavior, but further explains:

“Research shows that spanking corrects misbehavior. But it also shows that spanking does not work better than other modes of correction, such as time out, explaining, and depriving a child of privileges. Moreover, the research clearly shows that the gains from spanking come at a big cost. These include weakening the tie between children and parents and increasing the probability that the child will hit other children and their parents, and as adults, hit a dating or marital partner. Spanking also slows down mental development and lowers the probability of a child doing well in school.”

The author continues:

“More than 100 studies have detailed these side effects of spanking, with more than 90 percent agreement among them. There is probably no other aspect of parenting and child behavior where the results are so consistent.”

With such research and a huge understanding of spanking why is it still condoned in the US as a valuable practice?

Religion has a lot to do with it. Many religious groups condone and endorse corporal punishment techniques, with books like To Train Up a Child that is responsible in teaching physical punishment techniques that have been responsible for multiple deaths as a result of their endorsed methods.

While most religious parents do not go as far as To Train Up a Child suggests, the practice is highest among born-again Christians, according to research shown by FiveThirthyEight. (See article for graphics.)

They also show that spanking is associated with your political beliefs and demographic location in the US, and it is most likely no coincidence that Christian beliefs align much the same in these areas:

So really, is it any surprise the practice is still condoned in the US where the religious majority endorses the practice? Would it be going too far to speculate that a campaign in congress to end physical punishment would be met with cries of religious persecution?

We have a duty to protect children, and knowing that physical abuse is not only painful and unnecessary, but also psychologically damaging, we must act and bring this practice to an end.

Dan Arel is an author, journalist, speaker and secular activist. He writes on secular and humanist values on subjects such as secular parenting, church and state separation, education reform and secularism in public policy.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Minecraft

Dear Microsoft: Please Don’t Screw Up Minecraft. Sincerely, Parents

Microsoft To Acquire Maker Of Popular Minecraft Game For 2.5 Billion
MIAMI, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 15: Daniel Llevara checks out the XBox 360 Minecraft game at a GameStop store on Sept. 15, 2014 in Miami. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Children of all ages love it, parents love it, and Microsoft should leave it well enough alone. But will they?

Yesterday, news broke that Microsoft was acquiring Mojang, the creator of the “sandbox” game Minecraft for $2.5 billion. The move will bolster Microsoft’s gaming ambitions and further integrate Microsoft’s gaming system, Xbox, with the incredibly popular game.

While the business world was ogling the massive deal for the open-world game, which has an estimated 100 million downloads on PCs alone and brought in $100 million in profit last year, parents were wondering what this means for their Minecraft-addicted children.

Minecraft is the go-to game for parents and children alike, because it’s incredibly easy to learn and fun to play, involving nothing more than clicking and building anything from roller coasters to castles to tree forts. It’s impossible to win or lose and no one dies — it’s just building. There are no rules and no instructions, it’s intuitive and straightforward. Younger children, say, 6 and up, may prefer to play in “creative mode,” which let’s users simply wander the landscape and build whatever they can imagine and the game’s blocky graphics can allow. For older players, there’s the more challenging “survival mode,” filled with zombies, pigs, zombie pig men and a dragon lurking somewhere in the distance. Still, you can’t die in survival mode, you simply “respawn” and go back to what you were doing. It’s gaming lite, which is where the appeal lies for the next generation of gaming fans (just ask my 7-year-old son) and their parents who don’t want to hear cries of frustration over levels and character deaths.

Minecraft’s simplicity is the key to its inter-generational success and for any parent who has done battle with a Microsoft operating system — and with the specters of Windows Vista and Windows 8 and all their software and hardware compatibility issues floating in the air— it’s hard for parents whose children love Minecraft not to be slightly wary about news of the acquisition. Some parents (me) may have groaned loudly thinking about trying to explain the sudden addition of Microsoft Bob to the ranks of Minecraft characters like Herobrine and Steve. Then other questions started percolating: Would Minecraft only be accessible via a Zune? Would you need a Hotmail account to sign up? Would you have to download Internet Explorer? Would Microsoft Word’s ever-present helper Clippy become a creeper? (That’s a local Minecraft hostile, if you don’t play the game.)

The main concern for parents though, is that Microsoft will somehow change the game, making it more complex, allow in-app purchases, or require parental supervision (the horror!). While the game has only been around since 2009, it has grown to become one of the most popular computer games of all time, with over 16 million copies sold for computer use. Parents trust it to be safe, fun and ostensibly educational, operating both as a gateway to the world of computer science and helping to develop spatial recognition skills. Children of all ages love it, parents love it, and Microsoft should leave it well enough alone. But will they?

One likely possibility is that Microsoft may push more unique features towards its own Xbox platform. Currently, Minecraft can be played on several platforms, including desktop computers, tablets and smartphones, with PCs having the most functionality and advanced controls. Xbox has long been a popular way for kids to access the cubist landscape of Minecraft and it has the same functions as playing on a desktop. According to a Microsoft press release, Minecraft is the top online game on Xbox Live, with over two billion hours played on Xbox 360 in the last two years. Minecraft on Xbox also gained popularity thanks in no small part to YouTube users like Stampy Longhead, whose wildly popular videos feature the player touring through Minecraft worlds, narrating his findings in his excited British accent and feeding bones to digital dogs. (While parents may find the allure of these videos elusive, calling Stampy “wildly popular” is perhaps an understatement. Stampy was the fourth biggest YouTube channel in July with 199.6 million video views, the majority of which were undoubtedly racked up by my kid watching during lulls in summer activities while I tried to work.)

Stampy plays exclusively on Xbox and only visits worlds connected to the Xbox network, at least according to my son. The kid has been making a hard sell for weeks trying to convince me that he needs an Xbox for Minecraft use. If Microsoft expands its Xbox Minecraft network to its tablets or smartphones, it could transform millions of children around the world into walking, whining Microsoft acolytes (which may be part of Microsoft’s business plan), begging mom, dad and Santa to fill their stocking with Microsoft products. It’s probably not something that happens very often aside from the Xbox, as the company is still best-known for making corporate hardware and software bundles.

While parents may have fears of Microsoft corrupting Minecraft — or at least being bullied into buying Microsoft products for their clamoring underage Minecraft fans — some young players are concerned, as well. “I am worried that they might change Minecraft in a bad way,” said tech savvy 11-year old Zoel Boublil, who is an expert in all things Minecraft. “For example, what if they fire Notch, the CEO of Mojang? Notch, Jeb [Bergensten, the lead developer of Minecraft] and Dinnerbone [a game developer on Minecraft] all put in a lot of creativity and I hope Microsoft doesn’t just make it into some ‘normal’ game and what if they put Microsoft advertising on everything? That would not be cool.” This fear of rendering something once cool, corporate, is often fans’ biggest fear; adults who used to use MySpace or Flickr are familiar with this kind of thing. That said, Yahoo! hasn’t managed to change Tumblr culture too much yet, and it probably doesn’t want to.

The reality is that no one knows what will happen in the deal that Microsoft claims will close by the end of the year. Hopefully, Microsoft is business savvy enough to know not to mess with something that has universal, inter-generational appeal. And if they do? Well, there’s a zombie pigman that could take out Clippy, if necessary.

 

TIME Family

World’s Coolest Playgrounds

MonstroCity in St. Louis, Mo. Mike DeFilippo

These will make you wish you were a kid again

For families on vacation, a playground provides a welcome break from sightseeing, a chance for little ones to burn off some energy. It can also provide a glimpse into the local culture, from the setup of the park to the ways families interact.

“The world is a truly fantastic, colorful, and thrilling place for kids to grow up,” says Monstrum designer Monique Engelund. “Playgrounds need to be equally inspiring.”

Here are the designs from San Francisco to Santiago to Sydney that live up to that challenge.

MonstroCity, St. Louis

Built from reclaimed materials—including two airplanes and a fire engine—MonstroCity is a four-story interactive sculpture and play space designed to thrill both children and adults. Feel your heart race as you climb through sky-high tunnels, dive down slides, and leap into oversize ball pits. Then head inside the adjacent City Museum to explore enchanted caves, ride in a human-size hamster wheel, and venture into the World Aquarium’s shark tunnel.

Fruit and Scent Park, Stockholm

Have a picky eater on a steady diet of chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese? Perhaps a trip to Sweden’s Fruit and Scent Park will change his or her culinary tune. This produce-themed playground just south of downtown Stockholm features a banana slide, an orange seesaw, pear huts, a watermelon jungle gym, and a pair of cherry swings, all designed by public artist Johan Ferner Ström. Now, who said you can’t play with your food?

Nishi Rokugo Park, Tokyo

Located between central Tokyo and the city of Kawasaki, Nishi Rokugo combines recycled rubber tires with traditional playground equipment (jungle gyms, steep slides). In total, more than 3,000 tires of varying sizes are used to create tunnels, bridges, towering sculptures for climbing—a giant robot and Godzilla are local favorites—and, of course, tire swings. There’s little shade, so stop by in the early morning or late afternoon for the most comfortable weather, and be sure to wear your play clothes; it’s known to get quite dusty.

Bicentennial Children’s Park, Santiago, Chile

Set atop San Cristóbal Hill, the Bicentennial Children’s playground in Metropolitan Park was built to both celebrate 200 years of Chilean independence and improve the lives of Santiago citizens. Dozens of slides are built into the slope, creating a design completely complementary of the surrounding landscape; spherical fountains offer some relief from the sun, and ample seating gives parents a place to relax. Plan to spend a summer afternoon in the park, exploring the play space’s custom jungle gym and the nearby National Zoo.

Jungle Gym, Nashville

Come “swing like a gibbon” at Jungle Gym, a 35-foot-tall tree house, cargo-net climbing area, slide, and giant snake tunnel at the Nashville Zoo. It’s the largest community-built playground in America (perhaps there’s something to that Volunteer State nickname), and a perfect stopover between the African Savannah exhibit—teeming with giraffes, elephants, river hogs—and the Jungle Loop, where leopards, lemurs, and antelopes run wild.

Read the full list HERE.

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TIME Crime

Father of 5 Dead Children Faces Murder Charges

Timothy Ray Jones, Jr. is pictured at the Lexington County Detention Center in Lexington, South Carolina in this handout photo
Timothy Ray Jones, Jr. is pictured at the Lexington County Detention Center in Lexington, South Carolina in this September 11, 2014 handout photo. Handout —Reuters

Authorities allege Timothy Ray Jones killed his children "willfully and maliciously"

A South Carolina man has been extradited to his home state, and booked in connection with the deaths of his five children, after being arrested in Mississippi on Sept. 6.

Timothy Ray Jones, 32, was transported back to South Carolina on Thursday and booked into a jail in Lexington County, the Los Angeles Times reported. Jones was stopped at a checkpoint in Raleigh, Miss., six days ago on suspicion of drunk driving. The strong smell of chemicals from his car led police to investigate further, which led to the discovery of his children’s clothes along with blood.

On Tuesday, Jones led law-enforcement officers to a spot just off the Alabama highway where they found the bodies of his five children, aged 1 to 8, in plastic bags. Authorities told the Times they believe he drove almost 700 miles through four states before finally dumping the bodies in Alabama.

According to warrants, Jones will face five murder charges for allegedly “willfully and maliciously” killing his children in his Lexington home. He had primary custody of the children from his ex-wife, who reported them missing on Sept. 3.

Jones is expected to appear in court on Friday.

TIME Love and Money

Wealthy Kids Are More Affected by Divorce Than Poor Kids

wealth family divorce
Getty Images

And study says it's not just because they suddenly have less money

Children of wealthy families that come apart have a bigger spike in behavior problems than children of poor families who experience the same thing. But wealthier children benefit more from being incorporated into stepfamilies than poorer children do. So says a new study in the latest issue of Child Development, which also noted the kids’ age when parents separate plays a key role, with the most vulnerable stage being from 3 to 5 years old.

The study was conducted by researchers at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., and the University of Chicago, using a national sample of nearly 4,000 children from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Researchers divided the kids into three groups by income and studied the effect of a change in family structure on each group.

“Our findings suggest that family changes affect children’s behavior in higher-income families more than children’s behavior in lower-income families — for better and for worse,” says Rebecca Ryan, assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University, the study’s lead author.

Why do children of high-income parents act out more after separation than children from low-income parents? Ryan isn’t sure. “To be honest, our study finds most conclusively that they do act up more, but says less about why that might be.”

But she has some guesses. The first is that dads, who are usually the breadwinners, often move out of the home so there’s a big dip in household income. Or it could be that the kids have to move to a new neighborhood/school/friend group and the instability takes a toll. Or maybe less-wealthy families don’t take it so hard. “Parental separation is more common among lower-income families,” says Ryan. “Parents and children may perceive family changes as more normative, more predictable, and, thus, less stressful.”

However Ryan says, it’s not just about the money. “Changes in income itself did not seem to explain the increase in behavior problems, which surprised us.” Moreover the changes in behavior were only noticeable if the kids were younger than 5 years old. “We found no effect of parental separation on children ages 6 to 12,” says Ryan.

Another surprise was that wealthier kids older than 6, who were blended into stepfamilies had improvements in their behavior. Ryan and her crew first noticed this when she did a prior study back in 2012, but was still surprised to have those findings confirmed. That study also suggested that parental separation affects kids whose parents were actually married more than those who were cohabiting.

Ryan cautions that the differences between kids whose parents were separated and those who were together was not as strong as the differences among low-, middle- and higher-income families. “These results suggest that many factors other than family structure influence children’s behavior, particularly for children in low-income families. For them, the quality of the home environment, regardless of family structure, mattered most to social and emotional well-being.”

She even wades a little into the debate on whether fixing marriage will help fix poverty or whether you need to fix the poverty to have a shot at saving marriage. She’s on the side of the latter. Programs designed to save marriage, she says, will not be as effective as programs that “enhance the quality of the socio-emotional or educational environments in the home.”

TIME United Nations

1 in 10 Girls Gets Raped or Sexually Abused Before Age 20, U.N. Report Says

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Getty Images

Report details widespread sexual and physical violence against children and teens

A UNICEF report released Thursday reveals that 1 in every 10 girls around the world — or about 120 million in total — gets forced into intercourse or other sexual acts before the age of 20.

The report, data for which was collected from 190 countries, provides a comprehensive view of the sexual and physical violence perpetrated against children and youths.

Other findings show that 6 out of every 10 children worldwide between the ages of 2 and 14 are subjected to physical punishment by their parents or guardians, and that around 70 million girls ages 15 to 19 — almost a quarter of the global total — report being victims of some form of physical violence.

UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said violence against children “cuts across boundaries of age, geography, religion, ethnicity and income brackets,” according to the BBC.

The report said boys also experience similar kinds of violence on a regular basis but not to the same extent. Data on violence against boys is not as widely available.

The report’s conclusions about social attitudes appear just as problematic, with 3 in 10 adults expressing the belief that physical punishment is necessary to raise children properly. Moreover, almost half of all girls ages 15 to 19 think a husband is sometimes justified in beating his wife.

TIME Australia

A Check-in Error Caused Takeoff Problems for Qantas Flight

Airline employees incorrectly registered 87 children as adult passengers, creating an imbalance in the aircraft’s weight distribution

A Perth-bound Qantas flight from Canberra had a close call earlier this year, with the pilot having to make a risky last-minute adjustment to get the aircraft off the ground.

A report released Wednesday by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said that a problem was caused because a group of school children on the Boeing 737 had been checked in as adults and assigned the standard adult weight of 87 kg.

The children — comprising more than half of the flight’s 150 passengers — were all seated in the back of the aircraft, resulting in it becoming nose-heavy. This meant that the captain had to apply a significant amount of back pressure at takeoff, running the risk of the aircraft’s tail hitting the runway. The report states that he was also forced to exceed the calculated takeoff safety speed.

The rest of the flight went off without a hitch, but it was a tense few moments for the pilots. The ATSB later found that the final load sheet overstated the aircraft weight by 3.5 to 5 tons.

Qantas told the ATSB that it has issued a notification to check-in staff, reminding them to ensure that children are registered as children in the airline’s systems.

TIME fashion

Here’s How Much It Costs to Get Your Veil Embroidered Like Angelina’s

People

Lowball is $800, but complex designs like Angelina's could cost $3600

After Angelina Jolie debuted a bridal veil decorated with her children’s drawings during her wedding to Brad Pitt last week, will personalized doodles on bridal wear become the next big thing?

Sara Gabriel, who has been designing bridal veils and headpieces for 14 years from her Colorado studio, thinks a child’s drawing could be a modern twist on other inter-generational design choices. “We see people adding lace from a mother’s wedding dress or a grandmother’s wedding dress, or adding old buttons to a headpiece,” she says, adding that the children’s drawings remind her of the tradition of a bride having her bridesmaids sign the soles of her shoes.

“For people who do have children who are getting married, I expect we’ll see that idea happening more,” she says.

Gabriel says a simple design drawn by a child could cost around $800 to embroider, but a more complex design like Angelina’s could cost as much as $3,600. She also anticipates the idea could go in a more traditional direction if brides don’t like the idea of adding color to the veil.

“If you picture Angelina’s veil all in white or ivory, the designs could even look like lace… it’s really an amazing concept,” she says. “This opens the door for so many different ideas for what you can do with your veil. You can do it in a bold way, or you can take the same concept and do it in a way that’s classic and traditional.”

TIME Thailand

Thousands of Refugee Children Are Suffering in Thai Detention

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Children, part of a group of asylum seekers, sit in a truck as Thai immigration officials escort them to a court in Songkhla, southern Thailand, on March 15, 2014 Tuwaedaniya Meringing—AFP/Getty Images

A prominent watchdog accuses Bangkok of serious rights failings

Significant trauma is being experienced by thousands of refugee children being held in squalid detention centers in Thailand, claims a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The 67-page document, Two Years With No Moon: Immigration Detention of Children in Thailand, was published Tuesday and accuses Thailand of violating children’s rights, impairing their health and imperiling their development.

“Migrant children detained in Thailand are suffering needlessly in filthy, overcrowded cells without adequate nutrition, education or exercise space,” says report author Alice Farmer, children’s-rights researcher at the New York City–based advocacy group. “Detention lockup is no place for migrant children.”

Because there is a lack of legal and other mechanisms by which they can be released, many of the children are detained indefinitely, sometimes for years.

There are approximately 375,000 migrant children in Thailand, say experts, the largest number from Burma, officially known as Myanmar, where thousands have fled the world’s longest running civil war as well as recent pogroms against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Other young refugees hail from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Syria and elsewhere.

Unfortunately for them, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have functioning asylum procedures. If caught, undocumented aliens run the risk of being put in immigration detention, often in harsh conditions.

HRW researchers say that they found children were being crammed into cells so crowded that they had to sleep sitting up, and that the children were being housed with unrelated adults, risking sexual and physical abuse.

“I interviewed children who were terrified of some of the people they met in detention,” Farmer tells TIME. She claimed that that the conditions violated “the U.N. minimum standards for detention centers.”

“The worst part was that you were trapped and stuck,” says Cindy Y., a refugee detained between the ages of 9 and 12, told HRW. “I would look outside and see people walking around the neighborhood, and I would hope that would be me.” She was one of 41 children interviewed for the HRW report.

Thailand has denied that it is failing refugee children in a seven-page written response to the HRW. “Detention of some small number of migrant children in Thailand is not a result of the government’s policies but rather the preference of their migrant parents themselves (family unity) and the logistical difficulties,” it said.

“The Thai government is trying its best to address and accommodate the needs of migrant children, bearing in mind the humanitarian consideration and fundamental human rights. In addition, it is worth to mention [sic] the Thai officers who work tirelessly amidst all constraints to help sheltering these migrants. Their work deserves understanding as well as recognition.”

The only choice for the refugees is to return to their country of origin — a prospect many cannot countenance for fear of violence, persecution, torture or death — or else wait in the slim hope that they will be accepted for resettlement in a third country. It is a soul-destroying limbo.

“These kids have nowhere to go,” says Farmer, “and ultimately stay in detention indefinitely with no understanding of what will happen to them down the line. It puts a very big burden on the shoulders of some very small people.”

TIME Parenting

Maybe Orphanages Aren’t So Bad After All, Study Says

ranplett—Getty Images/Vetta

Author of biggest study to date says the institutions have been unfairly stigmatized

Orphanages, as we all know from Charles Dickens, studies of kids from former Eastern Bloc countries and the musical Annie, are bad for children. Except, as a few studies are now beginning to find, when they’re not. The latest study looked at children from five not-so-wealthy countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa over the course of three years and found that being in an institution did not necessarily make them much worse off.

Whether or not orphanages are a viable solution for children with no homes is no small issue. According to the most recent figures from UNICEF, there were more than 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005. That’s a scary number — more than the entire population of Britain and Italy combined — and figuring out the best way to look after that many vulnerable beings is a problem of significant complexity.

Even the definition of “orphan” is complicated. Not all of those 132 million-plus kids had lost both parents; closer to 13 million are what UNICEF calls “double orphans.” And 95% of all orphans, single or double, were over the age of five. So while the mental image of an orphan is of an abandoned baby in a basket, the reality is quite different.

There’s a reasonably heated debate over the best way to look after kids with no homes to go to. Studies out of Romania and Russia have found that kids raised in orphanages were vastly worse off than kids raised by foster families. A slew of studies suggest that children who were institutionalized as babies are much worse off than those who were not and that these effects remain through to adulthood.

But the new study, led by Kathryn Whetten, a Duke professor of public policy and director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research (CHPIR), and published by PLOSone, is the largest and most geographically and culturally diverse study of its kind. It followed 1,300 kids, aged six to 15 who were in institutions and 1,400 kids who were in family care in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania. Researchers kept watch on such measures as the kids’ physical health, emotional difficulties, growth, learning ability and memory.

And it concluded that closing down all the orphanages — now sometimes known in more fancy circles as residential educational facilities — and finding other options for the 2 million kids currently living in such institutions would be a significant setback in addressing the issue.

“Our findings put less significance on the residential setting as a means to account for either positive or negative child well-being over time,” Whetten said. Much more important is the kind of country, neighborhood or community the child lives in, and, even more crucially, the kind of kid he or she is. Age, gender, existing emotional and nutritional status, and what kind of life each child has had so far have a lot more impact on that child’s fate than whether or not she or he was raised in a group setting.

Whetten, who first released similar findings from a different cross-sectional study in 2009, believes orphanages have been unfairly stigmatized by studies that have focused in on the dire institutions in Romania and Russia. Many of them rely on data from the Bucharest Early Intervention project, which tracks kids from the notoriously bad Romanian orphanages of the Ceausescu era. “This is reminiscent of what happened to mental health facilities in the U.S. in the 1980s,” she says. “We have taken findings from some of the most emotionally and socially deprived orphanages and are assuming that those outcomes would hold true for all group homes. An analogy that a colleague used yesterday was that it is like if we were evaluating whether to send our daughter to a summer camp and, to make our decision, we examined data from a girls prison camp.”

Indeed while Whetten’s study focused in on less wealthy countries, she believes there are implications for America, especially with the foster care system in such crisis. “In the U.S. there is a movement to see long-term residential care as detrimental to all children and that only when no other options are available do we place children in residential care and with the condition that they stay for as little time as possible,” she says. “Yet many of the residential centers here in the U.S. provide family-like care with long-term caregivers/parents who are continuously trained and supported in how to raise children who have experienced significant chaos and trauma in their lives. The children have family meals and can consider the children in the unit to be like siblings.”

While the study does not go so far as to recommend a whole-scale return to the practice of sending orphaned kids off to institutions, Whetten does think they should be one of a menu of solutions, and chosen when it suits the kid. “We need to evaluate each child individually to see where they will best thrive given the available options,” she says. “For example, if a child has four siblings and they would be broken apart if placed in families, but can stay together in a good group home, the group home may be best for all of them. All children deserve a loving family, and the family can look different depending on the situation.”

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