Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Romania's Abandoned Children

Romania's Abandoned Children

Charles A. Nelson
Nathan A. Fox
Charles H. Zeanah
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Romania's Abandoned Children
    Book Description:

    Romania's Abandoned Children reveals the heartbreaking toll paid by children deprived of responsive care, stimulation, and human interaction. Compared with children in foster care, the institutionalized children in this rigorous twelve‐year study showed severe impairment in IQ and brain development, along with social and emotional disorders.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72607-9
    Subjects: Psychology, Biological Sciences, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 The Beginning of a Journey
    (pp. 1-18)

    Let’s begin with a bold premise: that understanding the human brain holds the key to understanding all of human behavior, which in turn may unlock the mysteries surrounding many of the ills that have challenged societies for millennia. But suppose that our ability to understand the adult brain will never be possible unless we first understand braindevelopment—that is, how the two-celled zygote, the product of one sperm and one egg, morphs first into a simple neural tube (which forms just a few weeks after conception) and then into the complex, three-pound organ that in little more than two...

  5. Chapter 2 Study Design and Launch
    (pp. 19-38)

    Undertaking a large-scale intervention project outside the United States, with a vulnerable population (institutionalized children), was a daunting task. Our desire to assess a range of competencies in these children, to do this in a central location in Bucharest, and to include measurements of brain activity all required a specially designed laboratory, special equipment, and a staff well trained to work with this population. In addition, our intervention required a professional staff of social workers who would work with the foster families we had recruited. These skilled social workers would help us not only to identify qualified foster care parents...

  6. Chapter 3 The History of Child Institutionalization in Romania
    (pp. 39-69)

    In December 1989, the Romanian Communist dictator Nicolai Ceauşescu was overthrown and executed. In the wake of the upheaval, Western media, which had come to Romania to cover the revolution, discovered a vast network of institutions housing thousands of infants, children, and adolescents, many in deplorable conditions. American audiences learned of the situation on October 5, 1990, when the ABC news magazine20/20ran a special report on these institutions.¹ Images of neglected, deprived, and frightened children, some tied to metal cribs or cots, horrified the world. Romanians, too, were shocked by the appalling conditions of the institutions, and the...

  7. Chapter 4 Ethical Considerations
    (pp. 70-93)

    It is hard to imagine a more vulnerable population than abandoned young children living in institutions. The risk of exploitation among these subjects—who cannot speak for themselves and lack advocates who are invested in them on a deeply emotional level—has been a major concern of BEIP from the very beginning. We have written extensively about the ethical dimensions of BEIP, and bioethicists have contributed several commentaries.¹

    Even the original discussions held within the MacArthur Network about developing the study design were heavily influenced by ethical considerations. As planning for the study continued, we discussed these concerns in greater...

  8. Chapter 5 Foster Care Intervention
    (pp. 94-123)

    BEIP was designed to address a number of essential questions: Can a carefully planned foster care program enhance the development of children who have been abandoned early in life and placed in institutions? And would the timing of this intervention, the age at which children were taken out of the institution, or the duration of the intervention itself, have an effect on outcome? Having decided on foster care as the intervention to evaluate in the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, we were confronted with how best to ensure high quality in a context in which foster care was uncommon, regarded with...

  9. Chapter 6 Developmental Hazards of Institutionalization
    (pp. 124-153)

    In 2010, as many as eight million children around the world lived in some form of institutional care.¹ The reasons for institutionalization vary by country and context: some children are abandoned at birth owing to social and religious pressures (for example, unwanted pregnancy and religious restrictions against abortion), others suffer from poverty or neglect (including physical and sexual abuse), and many more are orphaned as a result of war or disease. Although institutions for children exist in most countries, not surprisingly they are more prevalent in areas of extreme poverty, or those having experienced war or health epidemics such as...

  10. Chapter 7 Cognition and Language
    (pp. 154-181)

    Both clinical observations and the scientific literature point to the fact that children who are placed in institutions early in life show declines in their cognitive abilities as well as in their language function. Such declines vary as a function of time spent in an institution, with greater declines the longer a child is in institutional care.

    In the BEIP, we were interested in evaluating children’s cognitive and linguistic abilities prior to randomization and continuing through all subsequent follow-ups, using a combination of standardized measures of intellectual function (for example, developmental and IQ tests), as well as experimental neuropsychological measures...

  11. Chapter 8 Early Institutionalization and Brain Development
    (pp. 182-210)

    A major focus of our study was the effect of severe psychosocial deprivation on the developing brain and whether transferring a child from a deprived institutional environment to a foster family would change brain structure and functioning. We also hoped to explore whether the timing of the intervention would have an impact on outcome; specifically, is there a period during development when intervention would be most effective? To explore these questions, we used brain-imaging methods suitable for infants and young children—the electroencephalogram and its subset, the event-related potential. Two of us (Nelson and Fox) had been using EEG tools...

  12. Chapter 9 Growth, Motor, and Cellular Findings
    (pp. 211-226)

    In Chapter 6 we reviewed studies showing that early psychosocial deprivation associated with institutionalization can lead to a variety of physical, behavioral, and psychological problems. The deficits and developmental delays that result from institutional rearing undoubtedly have their origins in compromised biological and neural development. Whereas in Chapter 8 we focused on the impact of early experience in the BEIP sample on brain development, here we focus on the impact on biology—specifically, physical growth, the prevalence of stereotypies, motor development, and an epigenetic marker of biological health (see Table 9.1 for a summary of the measures we used).


  13. Chapter 10 Socioemotional Development
    (pp. 227-265)

    A striking feature of the institutions in which we worked was how remarkably subdued and somber the children appeared. Fifteen toddlers between the ages of twelve and thirty-six months would be scattered about a large and mostly empty playroom. Usually one caregiver was with them, sometimes interacting half-heartedly with a particular child, but often sitting and paying little attention to the children.

    There were differences among the children to be sure. A few unhesitatingly approached us with open arms, vocalizing and smiling. Others were arrayed around the periphery of the room, engaging in rocking motions while sitting or lying on...

  14. Chapter 11 Psychopathology
    (pp. 266-299)

    In April 2010, a Tennessee mother sent her seven-year-old adopted son alone on a flight to Moscow, with a note telling Russian authorities that she no longer wished to parent the boy, whom she had adopted six months earlier. She complained that he had severe psychological problems, including psychopathic tendencies and violent behavior. The orphanage he came from, she claimed, had lied about his condition and the nature of his problems.¹ For these reasons, she had decided to relinquish the adoption and, amazingly, to return the boy to Russia.

    Though clearly this is an extreme case, according to ABC News,...

  15. Chapter 12 Putting the Pieces Together
    (pp. 300-332)

    We begin with the observation, based on the evidence presented in this book, that exposure to early and profound psychosocial deprivation leads to a derailing of typical development. Why might this be?

    The brain’s initial architecture and wiring are orchestrated by a series of genetic scripts that begin a few days after conception and continue through the early postnatal period. However, whereas genes provide the framework for the brain-to-be, experiences fill in this outline, leading to the emergence of a mature brain toward the end of adolescence and the beginning of young adulthood.

    How exactly does the structure of experience...

  16. References
    (pp. 335-368)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 369-382)
  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 383-390)
  19. Index
    (pp. 391-402)