NYTimes: 'Oops!' on orphanages?

dickens orphanageAfter publishing a one-sided A1 attack on African orphanages on December 6, The New York Times has now partly corrected its reporting with a shorter A14 story on December 17 that says orphanages may not be so bad after all. Basically, the two stories compare and contrast two models used to care for needy children: the traditional orphanage model and a decentralized approach that gives small cash payments to families that care for local children.

As I wrote in, "Bah Humbug" on charities!, my Dec. 7 post, the December 6 Times story, which focused on one orphanage in Malawi connected to the pop singer Madonna, took cheap shots at the orphanage model favored by many churches and organizations while praising the newer but unproven family model.

The December 17 Times story, "Study Suggests Orphanages Are Not So Bad" by Denise Grady, largely contradicts--but never specifically refers to--the paper's December 6 story.

The December 17 story once again misstates the consensus on the issue by its undocumented use of the words, "widespread belief":

A new study challenges the widespread belief that orphans in poor countries fare best in family-style homes in the community and should be put into orphanages only as a last resort. On the contrary, the care at orphanages is often at least as good as that given by families who take in orphaned or abandoned children, the new research finds.

At least as good? Eight paragraphs later the story finally adds this important insight on what's best for the kids:

The children living in orphanages generally fared as well as those in the community, or even better, the researchers found.

And four paragraphs later, the story acknowledges that moving kids from orphanages doesn't necessarily result in improved care:

The pressure to move children quickly out of orphanages could endanger them, [study author Dr. Kathryn] Whetten said, by sending them back to abusive or neglectful families.

Both Times stories on orphanages acknowledge that the challenge of caring for orphans is both vast and urgent:

Worldwide, an estimated 143 million children have lost at least one parent.

That's what is so confusing about the paper of record's seeming bias against the orphanage model. Could it that the spirit of Dickens' Oliver Twist has muddied the issue with its graphic portrayal of London's horrible workhouses and poorhouses?

Here's my resolution for the New Year: May the best reporting help caring individuals and hard-working organizations find the best way to care for needy children worldwide!

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