Romania's Abandoned Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for Recovery

Romania's Abandoned Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for Recovery

Charles A. Nelson, Charles H. Zeanah

Language: English

Pages: 416

ISBN: 0674724704

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The implications of early experience for children's brain development, behavior, and psychological functioning have long absorbed caregivers, researchers, and clinicians. The 1989 fall of Romania's Ceausescu regime left approximately 170,000 children in 700 overcrowded, impoverished institutions across Romania, and prompted the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of institutionalization on children's well-being. Romania's Abandoned Children, the authoritative account of this landmark study, documents the devastating toll paid by children who are deprived of responsive care, social interaction, stimulation, and psychological comfort.

Launched in 2000, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP) was a rigorously controlled investigation of foster care as an alternative to institutionalization. Researchers included 136 abandoned infants and toddlers in the study and randomly assigned half of them to foster care created specifically for the project. The other half stayed in Romanian institutions, where conditions remained substandard. Over a twelve-year span, both groups were assessed for physical growth, cognitive functioning, brain development, and social behavior. Data from a third group of children raised by their birth families were collected for comparison.

The study found that the institutionalized children were severely impaired in IQ and manifested a variety of social and emotional disorders, as well as changes in brain development. However, the earlier an institutionalized child was placed into foster care, the better the recovery. Combining scientific, historical, and personal narratives in a gripping, often heartbreaking, account, Romania's Abandoned Children highlights the urgency of efforts to help the millions of parentless children living in institutions throughout the world.

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defective (hence the reason for placement in institutions in the first place), and the situation be­comes clear. Romania had no established system of foster care. Although foster care was not illegal, and in some instances was even encouraged during the CeauÝescu era, it was rare for families to take in an in­ stitutionalized child. The administrative pro­cesses were cumbersome and did not encourage the practice. With the overthrow of CeauÝescu and the knowledge of conditions in institutions

procedures to follow that would allow them to work with the then-­nascent child-­protection system. The result was that children were ­adopted in diverse ways. Foreign ­adoption agencies came to Romania and worked directly with directors of institutions. Child welfare NGOs worked with the courts in an attempt to provide some basic pro­ cesses for international ­adoptions. Many families just came over and met directly with individual families privately, ­adopting from these biological parents by

withdrawal, toileting dif­ ficulties, bedtime struggles and nightwaking, and refusal to eat or hoarding, hyperactivity, and indiscriminate behavior, all of which are common in young, maltreated children.18 Cultural Sensitivity and Importability (Transportability) We were mindful of the risks of implementing a model of par­ enting for Romanian foster parents that was imported from the United States and not culturally appropriate in Bucharest. We were fortunate to learn about a foster care

better ­un­der­stand­ing of the foster parents and to anticipate appropriate matches between foster child and foster parent. We sought foster parents who seemed comfortable with young children and who seemed to possess the emotional availability necessary for the intensive work of caring for a post-­institutionalized infant or toddler. These were qualities that the team of social workers assessed as they interviewed and observed foster parents during the training. 106  ROMANIA’S ABANDONED

kinesthetic, and tactile stimulation and contingent social interaction. (Contingent social interaction can be thought of as “serve and return,” that is, the well-­coordinated turn-­taking that occurs when parent and infant interact with each other.)10 Infants and young children in institutions develop in environments in which these experience-­ expectant stimuli are absent, hence potentially creating a weak foundation to brain development in the first years of life. Experience-­de­pen­dent

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