An orphanage is a residential institution devoted to the care of orphans – children whose natural parents are deceased or otherwise unable or unwilling to care for them. Natural parents, and sometimes natural grandparents, are legally responsible for supporting children, but in the absence of these or other relatives willing to care for the children, they become a ward of the state, and orphanages are one way of providing for their care, housing and education.
It is frequently used to describe institutions abroad, where it is a more accurate term, since the word orphan has a different definition in international adoption. Although many people presume that most children who live in orphanages are orphans, this is often not the case with four out of five children in orphanages having at least one living parent and most having some extended family. Most orphanages have been closed in Europe and North America. There remain a large number of state funded orphanages in the former Soviet Bloc but many of them are slowly being phased out in favour of direct support to vulnerable families and the development of foster care and adoption services where this is not possible.
Few large international charities continue to fund orphanages; however, they are still commonly founded by smaller charities and religious groups. Some orphanages, especially in developing countries, will prey on vulnerable families at risk of breakdown and actively recruit children to ensure continued funding. Orphanages in developing countries are rarely run by the state.
Other residential institutions for children can be called group homes, children's homes, refuges, rehabilitation centers, night shelters, or youth treatment centers.
There is an increasing body of evidence that orphanages, especially large orphanages, are the worst possible care option for children. In large institutions all children, but particularly babies may not receive enough eye contact, physical contact, and stimulation to promote proper physical, social or cognitive development. In the worst cases, orphanages can be dangerous and unregulated places where children are subject to abuse and neglect.