Like many (some?) adoptive parents, I’m interested in the long-term effects on children by early institutionalized care. If you’re also interested, check out this NPR piece “Orphans’ Lonely Beginnings Reveal How Parents Shape a Child’s Brain.” (Although, for the record, the word “orphans” in this context is not accurate. Most children in care–in this case, a boy in Romania who contracted polio–have one or both living parents, but for a variety of reasons, the parents cannot or choose not to parent the child. Thus the child, although abandoned, technically is not an orphan. )
In any event, I’m delighted research is being done and reported in this important field, which I’ve heard discussed anecdotally among adoptive parents for years. Here are the first two paragraphs:
“Parents do a lot more than make sure a child has food and shelter, researchers say. They play a critical role in brain development.”
“More than a decade of research on children raised in institutions shows that ‘neglect is awful for the brain,’ says Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. Without someone who is a reliable source of attention, affection and stimulation, he says, ‘the wiring of the brain goes awry.’ The result can be long-term mental and emotional problems.”
In discussions of international adoption, where the dialogue largely centers on finding fault with systems, it seems as though this basic biological need by infants and children—for a “reliable source of attention, affection and stimulation”—often is overlooked. Kudos to NPR for focusing on the impact of neglect on the physical and emotional well-being of children. May policy-makers take note.