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Monday, May 20, 2024

PHIVolunteering Guidance for Selecting Childcare Volunteer Placements


As a leading volunteer travel operator, we know how important it is to have the right policies and procedures in place to guide the ways in which we interact with children, and organizations that work with children. PHIVolunteering programs take place in a wide range of locations around the world and many of them include opportunities for volunteers to work with children. We acknowledge that we have a responsibility to protect children and their rights everywhere we operate. It is the right thing to do and it ensures that our volunteering programs support local needs in an ethical and effective way.
The purpose of this document is to provide guidance on the selection of responsible childcare volunteering placements. It is intended to support our local teams to make informed decisions about the childcare providers they choose to work with and aims to provide a useful set of best practice guidelines to other organizations working with childcare providers. It also seeks to inform current and future PHIVolunteering volunteers about the criteria that guides our decision-making when we’re considering childcare volunteer placements.
The guidelines included in this document have been developed in consultation with PHIVolunteering staff and partners and are designed to complement PHIVolunteering’s Child and Vulnerable Adults Protection Policy. For the purpose of this document, we consider a child to be any person aged 16 years or under.


The prospect of working with children is attractive for many people considering a volunteering abroad program. People often want to contribute in a meaningful way to the development of children and want to assist them to overcome social challenges. We know that in many cases volunteers achieve their goals and enjoy a volunteering experience that has a positive impact on the lives of children, helping them to learn new skills and abilities, expand their horizons and experience a level of care that they might not otherwise know.
But sadly not every childcare organizations is run ethically and there are many unregulated organizations or individuals that actively take advantage of the situations of children for their personal gain. In many cases, this exploitation has a negative impact on a child’s development and, at its worst, can lead to the significant abuse of the basic human rights that should be afforded to all children. As with most instances of exploitation, these issues are more prevalent in some areas of the world than others, where a lack of government regulation has allowed local organizations to profit from the good will of volunteers without delivering a service of any long-term social value.
At PHIVolunteering, we are committed to playing our part in tackling this challenge and believe that all organizations offering volunteer travel experiences should be making a contribution towards preventing this practice. Many orphanages and childcare providers perform a vital role in meeting the needs of children in the countries that are popular with volunteers, and it is these organizations that need to be fostered and supported.


The term ‘orphanage’ can be confusing because for many people it implies that the children involved are without suitable parents. But this isn’t always the case and the term can also be used to refer to residential childcare establishments where the children involved may indeed have living parents and other immediate family members.
In order to be transparent about this distinction for the benefit of our volunteers, we’ve changed the name of all non-teaching PHIVolunteering placements that work with children from ‘orphanage projects’ to ‘childcare projects’. This distinction is important for us because the term ‘childcare’ more accurately reflects the fact that our volunteers who choose this type of project are placed in a broad set of organizations ranging from orphanages, daycare centers and crèches through to homes for children with disabilities and facilities that provide food and basic education to street children. These organizations all play a vitally important role in communities and our decision to change our terminology simply reflects our desire to be open and up front with volunteers, so that they know what to expect when choosing to work with children on one of our programs.


We are committed to doing everything we can to empower our local teams to ensure they only work with reputable and responsible childcare organizations. Our focus is on providing a source of volunteers to organizations who prioritize the development and protection of children and young people above all else. We have seen first-hand the inspiring work that is done by a large number of responsibly run orphanages and charitable childcare providers and we are motivated by seeing the significant role that these organizations play in transforming the lives of thousands of children every year. It is these organizations that we seek to support through the placement of PHIVolunteering volunteers and through our financial support.
We expect all of our local teams and partners to adhere to the following guidelines when choosing a childcare volunteer placement. Every community is unique, but we believe these guidelines provide a useful resource for making decisions about which childcare volunteer placements to work with.
1. Register with the relevant government bodies
The childcare organization should be registered with the relevant government bodies and should be able to demonstrate how it complies with relevant regulations, especially if children are housed overnight by the organization. Given corruption can exist within government, being registered does not in itself guarantee that an organization is responsibly or ethically run but requiring it is a good place to start.
2. Prioritize the needs and safety of children
Any responsible childcare provider should always have the needs and safety of children as their number one priority. There are many ways that this can be demonstrated, including:
  • Require background checks. All staff working with children should have had a background check to assess their suitability for regular interaction with children and a responsible operator should require that all volunteers also produce a background check before starting work. Tourists and members of the public should not be allowed to visit without undergoing a similar check and must not be allowed to have access to children unsupervised.
  • Support the rights of families. Where possible, family groups should be kept together and the rights of children to grow up with their parents, siblings or other family members, provided they can provide safe and appropriate care, should always be observed.
  • Limit volunteer numbers. A responsible operator should have a limit on the number of volunteers that they are willing and able to accept at any one time, in order to deliver a quality service to the children involved. Less responsible childcare providers will accept volunteers even when there is not a need for them.
  • Maintain personal and religious freedoms. A childcare provider should always maintain and support the human rights of children. Children should not be forced to interact with volunteers and they should not be prevented from associating with different religions.
  • Prevent child labor of any kind. Children should not be forced to perform paid or unpaid work or participate in public performances of any kind.
3. Address educational needs
Beyond supporting the basics of safety and security, a responsible childcare placement should also have an active education program that is focused on developing relevant social and academic skills. Any education program should also be aligned with a national or regional curriculum, if one exists.
4. Demonstrate impact and a commitment to building a long-term partnership
A childcare provider should be able to demonstrate the positive impact that their organization has over time. This should include detailed information about the social need that the provider is aiming to address and evidence to show that they are genuinely meeting this need. This includes providing evidence of how their work does not support the long-term institutionalization of childcare but rather genuinely meets a need that is created when traditional family-based childcare solutions are missing or unavailable.
A responsible provider should also be willing to commit to a long-term partnership with our local PHIVolunteering teams, so that the placement of volunteers can help to support the development of local staff as caregivers and develop the long-term capacity of the organization as a whole.
5. Avoid attachment and dependency
Attachment with a carer is an essential part of a child’s development. However, it is important that this attachment is with an appropriate member of local staff rather than a volunteer who will inevitably leave once their volunteering program finishes. Attachment with short-term volunteers can be harmful and a responsible childcare provider should have plans in place to avoid building these kinds of relationships between children and volunteers. This could include ensuring that volunteers are encouraged to rotate between groups of children during their placement.
The childcare provider should also be able to demonstrate how their organization avoids having a dependency on volunteers. This includes having plans in place to support the employment and development of long-term staff to work alongside volunteers or in their place.
Where possible, providers should also have long-term plans for integrating children into safe and appropriate family or community groups over time.
6. Ensure the right briefing is provided to childcare volunteers
Working with children isn’t easy. Volunteers need to be well prepared in order to support development needs in the right way and it is important that a childcare placement provides a comprehensive briefing to any incoming volunteers. This briefing should cover a background to the needs of the community, should provide guidance about the behaviors that volunteers need to exhibit when working with children, and should make clear what impact volunteers should be prepared to have. A responsible childcare placement will ensure volunteers have the right expectations and have done the right preparation before they begin work.
7. Allow monitoring by third parties
A well-run childcare organization should be transparent about how they operate and open to monitoring from third parties. These third parties may include local PHIVolunteering teams, government agencies, or non-government organizations. Monitoring shouldn’t interrupt or affect the operations of the placement but it is important to select and work with a childcare provider who doesn’t have anything to hide.


We know that there are many things to consider when setting up new volunteering programs and selecting appropriate volunteering placements. Development work is complicated and we want to do everything we can to ensure that our volunteers who work with children are enabled to make the best possible contribution, in a responsible way. Working with the right organizations is critical to this ambition and we are confident that applying this guidance will help the community of volunteer travel organizations to exclude unethical organizations that engage in ‘orphanage tourism’.
We believe there will always be a social need for us to offer childcare placements and we are confident that these types of placements will always be a popular choice for PHIVolunteering volunteers. By proactively establishing these guidelines and ensuring they are understood and adhered to by all of our local teams and partner organizations, we trust that PHIVolunteering childcare placements are ethically and responsibly run. Credit: IVHQ
This guidance document has been developed for use by anyone interested in choosing the right childcare provider to work with and will be updated and refined over time. Feedback on the guidance can be provided to PHIVolunteering’s Head of Sustainability and Risk in Colombia, Jorge Marin: jlmarin@positivhub.org.


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