Romanian Orphan Studies: Effects of Institutionalisation


– Research into Maternal Deprivation has turned to institutionalised orphan studies as a means of studying the effects of deprivation.

– Institutionalisation is the effect of institutional care as it can affect the development of children

– The effects of institutionalisation include social, mental and physical; underdevelopment


– An opportunity to look at the effects of deprivation and institutionalisation arose in Romania in the 1990s.

– Children who are raised in these institutions often suffer from a lack of emotional care, which means that children are unable to form attachments.

– The former president of Romania required Romanian women to have 5 children.

– Many Romanian parents couldn’t afford to keep the children and so the children ended up in orphanages in poor conditions

– There were more than 100,000 orphans in 600 state run orphanages

– The children spent their days alone in cribs with very little stimulation and they were malnourished

– Many were adopted by western families in 1989



– To investigate the effects of early institutionalisation and deprivation on later life development.


– Rutter et al (2011) followed a group of 165 Romanian orphans adopted in Britain to test to what extent good care could make up for poor early experiences in institutions.

– 111 were adopted before the age of 2

– 54 were adopted by the age of 4

– Physical, Cognitive and Emotional development was assessed at ages 4, 6, 11 and 15 years old.

– A group of 52 English children adopted around the same time served as a control group.


– When they first arrived in the UK, half the adoptees showed signs of mental retardation and were undernourished.

– By the age of four some had caught up with their British counterparts

– At the age of 11, the children showed different rates of recovery that were linked to their age of adoption.

– At age 11, the mean IQ of those children adopted before the age of six months was 102

– Compared with the mean IQ at 11 was 86 for those adopted between six months and two years

– The mean IQ at 11 was 77 for those adopted after two years.


– Difference in outcome related to whether adoption took place before or after six months.

– Those adopted after they were six months showed signs of a particular attachment style called disinhibited attachment.

– Symptoms include attention seeking, clinginess and social behaviour directed indiscriminately towards all adults, both familiar and unfamiliar.

– In contrast, those children adopted before the age of six months rarely displayed disinhibited attachment.



Improved knowledge

– Studying the Romanian orphans has enhanced our understanding of the effects of institutionalisation.

– Such results have led to improvements of the way children are cared for in institutions.

– For example, orphanages and care homes now avoid having large numbers of caregivers for each child.

– This shows that such research has been immensely valuable in practical terms.

– Therefore, this means that children are better cared for in institutions to reduce the effect because of these studies

Real-Life Application

– The research into institutionalisation can be applied to improving the lives of children placed in such care. – The research into Romanian institutions emphasise the importance of early adoption.

– In the past, mothers who were going to give a baby up for adoption were encouraged to breast feed the baby for a significant period of time.

– By the time the baby was adopted the sensitive period for attachment may have passed, making it difficult to form a new secure attachment to a new mother.

– The result has been that most babies are now adopted within the first week of birth and research shows that adoptive mothers and children are just as securely attaches non adoptive families.


The Effects May Be Due to Slower Development

– It may be that the effects of institutionalisation do disappear over time with children have good quality emotional care.

– One of the findings from the Romanian study was that the last assessment, at age 11, a lower number of children had disinhibited attachment.

– Therefore, ex-institutionalised children may simply need more time than normal to learn how to cope with relationships.

– This is supported by another study’s findings that physical underdevelopment had improved by age 11

– Thus, suggesting that development does continue in these children.

– This is a criticism of the research, which implies the effects are permanent, whereas this shows that might not be true

Individual Differences

– It may not be true that all children who experience institutionalisation are able to recover.

– Research shows that some children are not as strongly affected as others as there are individual differences.

– Rutter has suggested that it might be that some of the children receive special attention in the institution, perhaps because they smiled more, and this might have enabled them to cope better.

– This means that it is not possible to conclude that institutionalisation inevitably leads to an inability to form attachments as all children are affected differently