Romanian Orphan Studies: Effects of Institutionalisation

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  • Romanian orphan studies
    • AO1
      • The Bucharest Early Intervention project
        • Zeanah et al. (2005) assessed attachment in 95 children aged 12-31 months who had spent most life in institutional care. They were compared to a control group of 50 children who had never lived in institution. Attachment was measured using the Strange Situation and carers were asked about unusual behaviour.
        • 74% of the control group were securely attached,  only 19% of the institutional group were the same. 65% had disorganised attachment, 44% of institutionalisd children  had dis-inhibited attachment as opposed to less than 20% on controls.
      • Rutter's ERA (English and Romanian Adoptee) study
        • Michael Rutter (2011) followed a group of 165 Romanian orphans adopted in Britain to test to what extent good after care made up for poor early experiences in institutions. Physical, emotional and cognitive development were assessed at age 4, 6, 11 and 15 years. 52  British children were used as a control group.
        • When they first arrived in Britain half of the adoptees showed signs of mental retardation. At 11 the children showed different rates of recovery that were related to their age of adoption. The IQ of those adopted before 6 months averaged at 102, compared  with 86 for those who were adopted between 6 months and two years, and 77 for those adopted after two years. Differences remained at age 16 (Beckett et al.) 2010).
        • In terms of attachment, there was a difference in outcome related to whether adoption took place before or after 6 months. Those adopted after 6 months showed signs of dis-inhibited attachment. Those adopted before 6 months rarely showed dis-inhibited attachment.
      • Effects of institutionalisation
        • Dis-inhibited attachment is a typical effect of institutionalisation. Children are equally friendly and affectionate towards people they have just met- which is unusual because most children will show stranger anxiety in their second year.
        • Rutter (2006)explained DA as an adaption to living with multiple caregivers during the sensitive period of attachment. A Romanian child might have had 50 carers, none of whom they say enough to form a secure attachment.
        • Children showed signs of mental retardation in Rutter's study when they arrived in Britain- most of these adopted before 6 months caught up with the control group by age 4. Intellectual development that is damaged can be recovered provided that adoption takes place before 6 months- the age at which attachments form.
    • AO3
      • Fewer extraneous variables than other orphan studies
        • There were many orphans studies before the Romanian orphans became available to study but often these studies involved children who had experienced loss or trauma before they were institutionalised.
        • For example they may have experienced neglect abuse or bereavement. These children were traumatised and very hard to observe because of other confounding participant variables. Increases the internal validity of Romanian orphan studies.
      • Real-life application
        • Studying Romanian orphans has enhance our understanding of the effects of institutionalisation. This has led to improvements in childcare in institutions.
        • This means children can develop normal attachments and avoid disinhibited attachment. This shows that such research has been immensely valuable in practical terms
        • For example orphanages and children's homes now of avoid having large numbers of caregivers for each child and instead ensure that a much smaller number of people, perhaps only 1 or 2 people, play a central role for the child.
      • The Romanian orphanages were not typical
        • Useful data about institutionalization have come out of Romanian orphan studies, but conditions were so bad that results cannot be applied to understanding the impact of better quality institutional care or indeed any situation where children experience deprivation.
        • This is a limitation because the unusual situational variables make the study lack generalisability.


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