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Pros and Cons of Sponsoring a Child

There is some discussion in the media from time to time about whether child sponsorship is the best way to help children in the third world. Part of the problem is that what people call "child sponsorship" varies from charity to charity. What we consider child sponsorship is a little different from some other charities and you may find when you read this explanation that this sets your mind at rest:

First argument "In most cases child sponsorship is a misnomer. It is community development by a different name. Sponsorship contributions are pooled with other donations and used to support projects to benefit the local community" (quotation from "A Rough Guide to a Better World).

Sponsorship with SOS Children: We are not a general poverty relief charity. General poverty relief charities are very good things, but we have a specialised mission concentrating on children who are all alone without anyone to care for them. Sponsorship with SOS Children is primarily paying for the sponsored child to have a home and family in an SOS children's village. On average an SOS Children's Village also supports around ten children in the community for each child who lives in the village (e.g. through providing a school, medical care and a local nurse supporting child led AIDS orphans in the nearby area) and sponsors who started after March 2005 contribute towards the full cost of the Village and these programmes. But most of what you pay for is the direct care of the children you sponsor. They are OUR children, they have no one else.

Next argument "It can be degrading for the family and parents of a child to be reminded of their dependency on a distant stranger. For this reason communication with sponsors is often discouraged".

Sponsorship with SOS Children: the children whom we take in have lost their parents and have no family to care for them. It is rather positive in circumstances where children feel alone and unloved to feel there is someone somewhere taking an interest in them. We encourage contact with sponsors and for sponsors to visit our villages. We spend time and effort passing on extra gifts for birthdays and similar. With our special mission to children who have lost their parents, sponsorship is rather positive.

Next argument: "The administration expenses involved in sponsorship are high and this money could be better used directly helping poverty".

Our view. If the strict alternative to sponsorship is for all the money to be used to help children then that would be better. Some donors give regular donations without sponsorship and they are very valued. However, it has been estimated that the whole world's poverty could be cured for the amount of money which Europeans spend on Ice Cream. We do not accept the argument that the money which is currently spent building relationship between European adults and third world orphans is not money well spent; the alternative is more likely to be for more money to be spent inside Europe on other things, than that this money would provide additional aid. As for the cost level, it is not that high. We pass on 100% of the actual donations received to benefit the child and cover our administration costs with recovered tax from the (minority of) people who giftaid their sponsorship. We cannot recover any tax from people who give us CAF vouchers, use payroll giving or do not agree to Gift Aid, but that's fine by us. We even have a little left over from those who do Gift Aid.

Next argument: "There are privacy issues involved in publishing details of children available to sponsor".

We agree and we would not do this. Sponsors obviously get the real details of the children they support but they are not given permission to publish these. We do not post "available to sponsor" pictures. Fundraising would be much easier if we broadcast tales of children's misery but we do give out children's details publically, and avoid publishing identifiable photographs and names of children unless we have genuine permission to do so (for example in some instances from the child themselves once they have grown up). We take protecting our children seriously, after all that is what we are here for.

There is one other thing we ought to mention. Since we encourage relationships between sponsors and children, when we increase the "minimum" price for sponsorship we do not generally terminate sponsorships when the sponsor does not feel able to increase their contribution (unless the gap becomes very large). Ending a sponsorship can give a negative message to a child who has already had a lot to cope with. This means that our average income per sponsorship is considerably less than £20/month, nearer £10/month. The actual cost of providing a proper loving home for a child all alone varies from country to country but nowhere is it less than £60/month. Of course, the cost per child of helping children in the community is much less than this: our costs supporting a child-led AIDS family are less than £10/month per child, but although many charities would offer these type of children in the community for sponsorship, we keep sponsorship for children living in the villages. (Some donors do support children in the community by making a regular donation and entering an instruction like "for African Aids Orphans"). Therefore, although each child generally only has one sponsor from the UK (occasionally two), we allow them to have some other sponsors from around the world. Of course, all the money raised from the child sponsorship goes to that child's village and the immediately surrounding community (it isn't like selling the same thing twice). If this seems less attractive than sponsoring with a charity where each child only has one sponsor, the other thing to remember is that for charities where "sponsorship" includes children who are not directly given a home by a charity but are just visited by an aid worker occasionally there is generally no guarantee in practice of knowing whether a child is sponsored through several different charities (e.g. one paying for a nearby school and another for a medical centre in a nearby town).

You might think that this means the relationship when you sponsor a child is less unique than otherwise. However, our child sponsors recognise that sponsorship with SOS Children is already rather special, far more so than getting reports from a field worker visiting the child's school periodically. In practice the majority of sponsors worldwide do not visit and write regularly to their sponsored child, and those that do so are appreciated, and can have as unique a relationship as any between people anywhere. See some child sponsorship examples and sponsorship FAQs.

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