Children of Orangewood Need Public Help Again


The opening of the Orangewood home for neglected and abused children a dozen years ago was one of Orange County’s shining moments. It is time to try to re-create such a success for Orangewood.

The facility replaced the Albert Sitton Home, on the same grounds in Orange. It was built largely with private funds after an energetic campaign that tapped into the county’s wealth and residents’ desire to help the innocent.

Only a few years after Orangewood opened, buildings were added. It was an unfortunate commentary on the troubles that too many children face in modern society. Now Orangewood is seriously overcrowded again. It is designed to offer temporary shelter for 236 children. Last week it housed 289. At one point last month, the population set a record of 321.


The overcrowding imposes a strain on everyone. Children can be terrified at being in new surroundings after removal from their homes, even ones where they suffered. They need as much individual attention as possible. But the staff gets stretched thin when too many youngsters come in. That works hardships on the children and those who care for them.

There are health problems as well. Contagious diseases are part of childhood. But putting hundreds of youngsters shoulder to shoulder increases the chance that diseases will spread.

County officials are working on several plans to ease Orangewood’s pains, but they are constricted by the county’s lack of money, both to construct buildings and to operate them. County Supervisor William G. Steiner, a key architect in the campaign to get Orangewood built, rightly says that the best solutions include recruiting more foster parents and educating parents against abusing their children. But Steiner also correctly suggests encouraging the private sector to build more group homes. Orange County builders and developers in recent years have helped spruce up homes for low-income families; now they should explore the possibility of building an annex for Orangewood once a site is found.

The Orangewood Children’s Foundation, a private fund-raising group, also should look into repeating the campaign that was so successful in the 1980s, when private donors gave more than $6 million to build Orangewood.

Orange County demonstrated its commitment to children then. It is not too much to expect that it will recognize that the problem has not been solved and that more assistance is needed now.