Children, youth, and families living in under-resourced communities in Thailand are especially vulnerable to:


of children surveyed experienced violent punishment by their parents, caretakers or teachers [1]


of children under 14 experienced emotional aggression [2]


of sexual violence are adolescent girls aged 10-18 years [3]

Adding to the above alarming statistics, mounting economic hardships for millions of Thais during the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a marked increase in the already high rate of domestic abuse and violence against women. [4]

In the majority of Thailand’s sexual violence cases, victims know the offender, who may be a relative, friend or boyfriend. Violence tends to occur at home, either in the offender’s home or the victim’s home.

Also, people who resort to domestic violence often have a history of such abuse in their own childhood. Moreover, the repeated scenes of violence and sexual assault children are exposed to in the media and on soap operas can have a negative influence on some viewers. Impressionable children watch such scenes without parental guidance. For many of these youngsters, abusive behavior seen repeatedly on TV becomes acceptable and something to be copied in their own lives. [5]

It is especially concerning that studies have found that violence in residential institutions is six times higher than violence in foster care, and that children in group care are almost four times more likely to experience sexual abuse than children in family-based care. [6]

At Step Ahead we believe all children have the right to be protected from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. The negative impact of violence has immediate consequences on a child’s development such as physical injury, learning ability and school performance to long-term harm that they carry into adult life.

Our programs and services increase the knowledge of positive parenting skills and child protection, and also helps raise awareness of what to do in cases of domestic violence and other societal problems. These critical training sessions and home visits for follow-up conversations have proven to improve outcomes for children.

The law entitles all children within Thailand to enroll in school, regardless of their background or nationality.

Unfortunately, there are disparities in access to education because families living in poverty cannot afford school uniforms, books and the cost of transportation to and from school. The largest proportion of children not in school are from disadvantaged communities, migrants or children living with a disability. [1]

According to UNICEF:


children of secondary school age are not in school


of non-thai children of primary-school entry age do not attend grade 1


of secondary school age non-Thai are not in school

Step Ahead provides families with an income generation assistant grant, so their income increases and their livelihood becomes sustainable. This gives families the dignity to pay for their children’s education costs on their own. We also help families advocate for themselves to access local services providing scholarships or afterschool tutoring. We believe poverty should never be a reason a child drops out of school.

Change starts when you step ahead

Over 3 million children in Thailand are living separated from their parents.

Poverty, lack of access to education and the breakdown of the family are key drivers creating family separation. Many are living with grandparents or extended families, but thousands of parents across Thailand have made the difficult decision to place their child in an orphanage because they can’t afford to put food on the table or purchase school uniforms and books. Orphanages promise better education, healthcare and food security.

However, research shows that children growing up in residential care (orphanages, children’s homes, dormitories), separated from their families, become trapped and vulnerable: deprived of the love and attention of a family and more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. [1]

Findings suggest that early institutionalization leads to profound deficits in cognitive (IQ) and socio-emotional behaviors (attachment). [2] Children growing up without a family are at a higher risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Studies have shown that children growing up in residential care centers are at a higher risk of suicide and becoming homeless when they age out of care than their peers who grew up in families. [3]

Thailand is experiencing a family-separation crisis. According to One Sky Foundation’s research there are over 600 documented children’s homes in Thailand with an average of 50 children per home. At least 260 of those children’s homes are not legally registered flying under the radar of the Thai government with no inspections or accountability, which increases risk to children.

Boarding schools and boarding houses (dormitories) for children coming from under-resourced communities who lack access to education are also a big concern with 33,000 children residing in government boarding schools. The Alternative Care Thailand (ACT) group estimates the number is much higher in private boarding houses and these are often unregistered.

Looking at the map below it is easy to see there is an over reliance on residential care in Thailand and not enough organizations delivering services to support and strengthen families so children are able to stay at home. Not included in this map are the hundreds of boarding houses children live in separated from families to attend school.

Every child longs to belong in a safe and nurturing family.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see all the red dots on the map turn green?

We can do this, but we need your help!



Consider a donation to Step Ahead to help us change that map!

Did you know only 19 % of Thai children are growing up in a traditional family environment?

Thailand’s families have reached a critical state. Below shows the living arrangement for children under 5 years of age in Thailand:









These numbers don’t include children in residential care: orphanages, children’s homes, boarding schools or boarding houses (dormitories).

Millions of children in Thailand are growing up without the care of their biological parents, mainly due to internal migration. Thousands of young girls (often teenage mothers) drop out of school migrating to big cities for work leaving their young children with grandmother. These young mothers become at risk of sexual exploitation.

90% have family.

Exploring the Orphanage Myth research survey shows how over 90 percent of children growing up in Thailand’s residential care centers have family; but sadly, poverty and lack of access to education push parents to send their children away causing separation and other adverse effects.

But there is HOPE!

Children that are separated and living in orphanages can safely return home when families are assessed and provided the appropriate services for reunification.

For children where it is not possible to return home, a family-based solution should be the priority (kinship care, foster care, adoption). Residential care should always be the last resort and a small family-like environment in a community.

Step Ahead’s vision to see every child in Thailand grow up in a safe and nurturing family will be made possible with your support! Our “Keeping Families Together” program fortifies families through holistic development training, income generation assistance, educational opportunities, psychosocial support and access to health care services.

At a fraction of the cost of supporting a child in an orphanage, Step Ahead is able to support families in vulnerable communities.

Help us continue to strengthen families across Thailand

The US Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) 2016 explains that human trafficking is multifaceted, complex, and clandestine. The root causes of the crime are deeper than any one of its facets and relate to larger systemic conditions such as poverty, forced migration, racism, and discrimination, among many others. Understanding human trafficking in its local context is critical to developing a meaningful response.

Traffickers may, for example, prey on the hopes and dreams of parents searching for a way to give their children access to a good education; recognize a vulnerable community’s fear of engaging law enforcement officials with a reputation for corruption; or rely on bias and discrimination to keep victims hidden in plain sight. [1]

Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets for traffickers. Even at their best, orphanages and children’s homes are unable to meet a child’s need for emotional support that is typically received from family members or consistent caretakers with whom the child can develop an attachment.

The physical and psychological effects of staying in residential institutions, combined with societal isolation and often subpar regulatory oversight by governments, place these children in situations of heightened vulnerability to human trafficking.

Traffickers recognize the vulnerability of children growing up in the absence of stable parental figures and take advantage of this need for emotional bonding. In addition, the rigid schedules and social isolation of residential institutions offer traffickers a tactical advantage, as they can coerce children to leave and find ways to exploit them.


Step ahead addresses trafficking at its roots

Instead of band-aiding the issue (rescuing victims), our Keeping Families Together (KFT) program works to prevent human trafficking from occurring before harm is done.

Click on the Root# to discover the solution

Root #1 - Poverty & Significant Debt
Research indicates that poverty and lack of employment places pressure on families making them vulnerable to traffickers.

Solution #1 – Financial Literacy & Income Generation Assistance

KFT’s emphasis on empowering caregivers with financial stability through financial literacy and income generation assistance will pull the family out of poverty making both the child and adults less vulnerable to human trafficking.

Root #2 - Lack of Access to Education
Studies show that children who are the highest risk of trafficking have a history of abuse, poverty and lack of access to education.

Solution #2 – Education Support

KFT’s addresses the financial, social and psychological barriers to education in our training with both adults and children. We stress the importance of education to caregivers and how their child’s future will be brighter if they stay in school. We help families access scholarships and government support for uniforms and school books.

Root #3 - Child Abuse, Neglect & Trauma
A history of child abuse, neglect and trauma has proven to be a common factor of victims of human trafficking.

Solution #3 – Child Protection & Positive Parenting Skills Development

KFT participants are equipped not only with the knowledge of what child abuse is and how to protect their children from it but are also given training in positive ways to approach parenting. KFT kids are taught about good touch / bad touch and how to protect themselves from predators, strangers and bullies. All KFT staff have been trained in Trauma-Informed Care (TIC).

Root #4 - Pornography & Digital Exploitation
Online child abuse and porn are on the rise in S.E. Asia with an ever increasing access to the web. It is a thriving business with an estimated $3-$20 billion yearly annual profit. Thailand has been identified as a major supplier of pornographic mater.

Solution #4 – Internet Safety Training

KFT includes a teaching module for both caregivers and children on the dangers of the Internet and how to protect themselves from online predators. Caregivers are coached on how to monitor what their children are doing online.

Root #5 - Family Breakdown
Family dysfunction is another common root causing instability in a home for a child or vulnerability to adults to potential traffickers.

Solution #5 – Coaching on Healthy Relationships & Conflict Resolution

While more studies are needed to evaluate programs and policies that help reduce trafficking and exploitation-some of the most promising practices have included encouraging healthy behaviors and relationships and strengthening families and communities.

Root #6 - Children Separated from Family or Growing up in Residential Care
The US State Department Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report 2018 (p.22) clearly lays out the many reasons children living separated from parents in residential care are especially vulnerable to traffickers.

Solution #6 – Advocacy & Training the Social Workforce & Orphanages

KFT case managers are trained on the harmful effects of a child growing up in residential care and are equipped to address it with the KFT families in the program if ever they reach that point of desperation. Step Ahead also advocates for government policies to make sure children grow up in safe and nurturing families.