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Romanian Orphan Studies

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Romanian Orphan Studies

What happens to children who grow up in orphanages? Do they develop like other children, or does the neglect have lasting effects that continue into adulthood? These are some of the questions that researchers of the Romanian Orphan Studies asked themselves. They studied the effects of institutionalisation and deprivation on the development of Romanian orphans who were then placed with families.

Romanian orphans studies: institutionalisation and deprivation

First, let’s start with the basics: what is institutionalisation, and how is it related to deprivation? The following definitions will help us better understand this terminology.

Institutionalisation is the term used to describe residence in an institution such as an orphanage or children’s home. Deprivation is when the child’s bond with their mother or other caregiver is significantly disrupted because the child is separated from them.

A child is taken from their primary caregiver and placed in state custody because the caregiver has mistreated the child. As a result, the child may be deprived of attachment to the primary caregiver during this time. Depending on how long the child is removed from care, the bond between caregiver and child can be seriously damaged or even destroyed.

In order for separation to turn into deprivation, the period of time has to be long enough to damage the child and caregiver bond seriously. Severe deprivation may destroy the attachment, resulting in permanent or long-term social and emotional damage to the child. But what do institutionalisation and deprivation have to do with Romania?

Romanian Orphan Studies a photograph of Nicolae the former Romanian dictator StudySmarterNicolae, Wikimedia Commons

In 1989, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ciupercă was ousted, and the plight of children in impoverished Romanian orphanages was discovered. Due to the poor conditions in these Romanian orphanages, Romanian orphan studies have been conducted to examine the effects of early institutionalisation and maternal deprivation on child development. Orphans in Romanian orphanages had a poor quality of life, including:

  • Little to no intellectual stimulation. They had a schedule of being fed, changed, and bathed but apart from that were in their cribs the whole day.
  • No ‘assigned’ caregiver for each child.
  • Poor living conditions.

We will look at Romanian orphan studies and learn about the impact of institutionalisation and maternal deprivation on development.

Romanian Orphan Studies a small pram on the grass with a baby doll laying on the grass StudySmarterPram and baby doll, pixabay.com

Rutter (2011) Romanian orphan study

Rutter wanted to investigate the effects of early institutional care and deprivation on later life development. In particular, he wanted to find out whether later good care would compensate for poor care and treatment in early life. To do this, Rutter studied 165 Romanian infants who had been placed in orphanages. They were only a few weeks old and had extremely little contact with adults. Rutter studied these orphans at different stages of their lives in the form of a longitudinal study and a natural experiment.

British families adopted the orphans after growing up in poor conditions in Romanian orphanages:

  • 58 babies were adopted before the age of 6 months.
  • 59 babies were adopted between the ages of 6 months and one year.
  • 48 babies were adopted between the ages of 2-4 years.

Rutter assessed the children’s physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development at ages 4, 6, 11, and 15. Rutter included a control group of 52 English children adopted around the same time to compare the results. The method used by Rutter (2011) for the Romanian orphans is reliable as it is a replicable procedure.

Findings of Rutter’s Romanian orphan study

Some of the results of Rutter's study are as follows:

  • 58 children adopted before six months of age showed ‘normal’ development and had an average IQ of 102.
  • 59 children adopted after six months of age exhibited high levels of disinhibited attachment and had an average IQ of 86.
  • The 48 children adopted after age two years exhibited high levels of disinhibited attachment and had an average IQ score of 77.

Disinhibited attachment means that children have not formed close bonds with specific attachment figures.

For those with disinhibited attachment, the children showed indiscriminate and equal attention and comfort from familiar and unfamiliar people. In this attachment style, the child treats strangers with high friendliness and attention-seeking behaviours such as clinginess. In general, Rutter found significant problems in some of the children adopted after six months of age.

One-third of the children had problems that required the intervention of educational, psychological, and psychiatric professionals. They had characteristics reminiscent of autism, could not form proper attachments or function properly socially, and generally had poor mental performance. These difficulties were not seen in the control group. At age 15, the adopted children generally showed signs of deprivation-specific problems such as emotional, behavioural, and relationship problems with peers.

Conclusions of Rutter’s Romanian orphan study

Institutionalisation and deprivation can have long-term, severe effects on emotional, social, cognitive and even intellectual development. The earlier adoption occurs, the less severe the long-term effects of institutionalisation and deprivation, as children have the opportunity to form attachments. There is a crucial period in life when attachments develop, most likely before and up to six months of age. If attachments do not form, the consequences are likely to be severe.

Romanian orphan studies: Zeanah et al. (2005) Bucharest early intervention project

The researchers wanted to compare the attachment styles of children who had spent most of their lives in an institution with those of children who had grown up in a normal home and family.The researchers studied the attachment styles of 95 children between the ages of 12 and 31 months. The children had spent most of their lives in institutions in Bucharest, Romania. Half of the children were placed in foster homes and half continued to stay in the institutions.

They compared the results with a control group of 50 children who had never experienced institutionalisation and had grown up in a ‘normal’ family environment. They conducted all assessments of attachment styles using Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Procedure.

Institutionalization & Deprivation: Romanian orphan studies Bucharest Romania StudySmarterRomania, Unsplash

They found that:

  • 65.3% of the institutionalised children had a disorganised attachment style, and only 18.9% were securely attached.
  • 12.6% of the institutionalised children showed such little attachment behaviour that it could not be classified.
  • 74% of the children in the control group were securely attached.
  • The institutionalised children showed signs of disinhibited attachment.
  • Institutionalisation may cause disorganised attachment.

A disorganised attachment style is a classification found in Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Procedure.

Disorganized attachment describes a child who shows inconsistent and disorganised behaviour toward their caregivers and has no strategy for coping with separation. It may sometimes show strong attachment and other times be indifferent or avoidant towards the caregiver.

Evaluation, ethics, and criticism of Romanian orphan studies

Let us now evaluate the research and examine criticism of Romanian orphan studies, as well as their ethics.

Strengths of Romanian orphan studies

Research on institutional care has significantly improved understanding of the impact of institutionalisation. Langton (2006) notes that the findings of this research have changed the way institutions operate, namely by improving the quality of care and providing a limited number of caregivers for a child so that they can form attachments.

Most of the children examined in these studies were placed in institutions from birth, which means they have not suffered from abuse, neglect or other trauma. This makes it easier to study the effects of institutionalisation in isolation because there are fewer confounding variables. There were no significant ethical issues in Romanian orphan studies.

Weaknesses of Romanian orphan studies

There were exceptional circumstances in the Romanian orphanages, including poor quality of care and low levels of intellectual stimulation. It is thus difficult to generalise the results of the studies in Romanian orphanages to other situations of deprivation. The studies only followed children’s development up to the age of 15, making it difficult to determine the long or short term effects of institutionalisation and deprivation. There may still be adverse effects for those children (now adults) adopted before the age of six months.


Romanian Orphan Studies - Key takeaways

  • The impact of institutionalisation and deprivation on development has been studied with Romanian orphans later placed with families.
  • Rutter (2011) examined the impact of early institutionalisation and deprivation on later development. The study took the form of a longitudinal study and a natural experiment.
  • Rutter found that institutionalisation and deprivation can have long-term, severe effects on development.
  • Using the Strange Situation Procedure, Zeanah et al. (2005) compared the attachment styles of institutionalised children to those who were not institutionalised.
  • Strengths of the studies on Romanian orphans include useful, practical applications, fewer confounding variables, and no significant ethical issues; Weaknesses of Romanian orphan studies include difficult generalisability and lack of knowledge about long-term effects beyond young adulthood.

Frequently Asked Questions about Romanian Orphan Studies

There are various studies about Romanian orphans. Two such studies are Rutter (2011) and Zeanah et al. (2005). 

Rutter (2011) studied the Romanian orphans through a longitudinal study, also a natural experiment. He studied 165 Romanian orphans placed into British families. Rutter assessed the children’s physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development at ages 4, 6, 11, and 15.

The Romanian orphan study by Rutter (2011) had no significant ethical issues as it was a natural experiment and had little involvement from researchers.

The method used by Rutter (2011) for the Romanian orphans is reliable as it is a replicable procedure.

Rutter’s (2011) aim for the Romanian orphans study was to investigate the effects of early institutionalisation and deprivation on later development in life. In particular, he wanted to see if subsequent good quality care would make up for poor care and treatment in early life. 


Zeanah et al. (2005) wanted to compare the attachment styles of children who had spent most of their lives in an institution with those of children who had grown up in a normal home and family. 

Final Romanian Orphan Studies Quiz

Question

Define institutionalisation.

Show answer

Answer

Institutionalisation is the term used to describe residence in an institution such as an orphanage or children's home.

Show question

Question

What were the conditions in Romanian orphanages?

Show answer

Answer

The conditions included little to no intellectual stimulation for the children, no 'assigned' caregiver for each child and overall poor living conditions.

Show question

Question

What was the aim of Rutter's (2011) English and Romanian Adoptee study?

Show answer

Answer

Rutter wanted to investigate the effects of early institutional care and deprivation on later life development. In particular, he wanted to find out whether later good care would compensate for poor care and treatment in early life.

Show question

Question

What kind of study was Rutter's (2011) English and Romanian Adoptee study?

Show answer

Answer

The study took the form of a longitudinal study and a natural experiment.

Show question

Question

Describe the procedure of Rutter's (2011) English and Romanian Adoptee study.

Show answer

Answer

Rutter studied 165 Romanian babies that had been placed in orphanages. After British families adopted them, Rutter assessed the children's physical, cognitive, social and emotional development at ages four, six, eleven, and fifteen. To compare findings, Rutter included a control group of 52 English children adopted around the same time.

Show question

Question

Summarise the findings of Rutter's (2011) English and Romanian Adoptee study.


Show answer

Answer

  • Institutionalisation and deprivation can have long-term, severe effects on emotional, social, cognitive and even intellectual development.
  • The earlier adoption occurs, the less severe the long-term effects of institutionalisation and deprivation, as children have the opportunity to form attachments. There is a crucial period in life when attachments develop, most likely before and up to six months of age.
  • If attachments do not form, the consequences are likely to be severe.

Show question

Question

 What is disinhibited attachment?


Show answer

Answer

Disinhibited attachment means that children have not formed close bonds with specific attachment figures. Instead, children show indiscriminate and equal attention and comfort from familiar and unfamiliar people. In this attachment style, the child treats strangers with high friendliness and attention-seeking behaviours such as clinginess.

Show question

Question

What was the aim of Zeanah et al.'s (2005) study?


Show answer

Answer

The researchers wanted to compare the attachment styles of children who had spent most of their lives in a home with those of children who had not grown up in a home (in a family).

Show question

Question

What was the procedure of Zeanah et al.'s (2005) study?

Show answer

Answer

The procedure was as follows:


The researchers studied the attachment styles of over 100 children between the ages of 12 and 31 months. The children had spent most of their lives in homes in Bucharest, Romania. They compared the results with a control group of 50 children who had never experienced institutionalisation and had

grown up in a 'normal' family environment. They conducted all assessments of attachment styles using Mary Ainsworth's Strange Situation Procedure.

Show question

Question

 What were the findings of Zeanah et al.'s (2005) study?

Show answer

Answer

The findings were: 

  • 65.3% of the institutionalised children had a disorganised attachment style and only 18.9% were securely attached.
  • 12.6% of the institutionalised children showed such little attachment behaviour that it could not be classified.
  • 74% of the children in the control group were securely attached.
  • The institutionalised children showed signs of disinhibited attachment.

Show question

Question

What is a disorganised attachment style?

Show answer

Answer

A disorganised attachment style describes a child who shows inconsistent and disorganised behaviour toward their caregivers and has no firm strategy for coping with separation.

Show question

Question

What was the conclusion found in the Zeanah et al. (2005) study?

Show answer

Answer

Zeanah et al. concluded that institutionalisation could cause disorganised attachment.

Show question

Question

What did Langton (2006) state about the research into Romanian orphan studies?

Show answer

Answer

Langton (2006) notes that the findings of this research have changed the way institutions operate, namely by improving the quality of care and providing a limited number of caregivers for a child (so that they can form attachments).

Show question

Question

Why was it an advantage, for research purposes, that the children were institutionalised at birth?

Show answer

Answer

Because it makes it easier to study the effects of institutionalisation in isolation as there are fewer confounding variables.

Show question

Question

Why are the findings of such research difficult to generalise?

Show answer

Answer

Romanian orphanages had unique circumstances, including poor quality care and low levels of intellectual stimulation. It is thus difficult to generalise findings from research into Romanian orphanages to other situations of deprivation.

Show question

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