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The effects of state care on childrens development

Panayiota Vorria, Jasmina Sarafidou and Zaira Papaligoura

Numerous studies have documented the impaired language, poor intelligence, disturbed behaviour, and indiscriminately overfriendliness which were observed frequently in children who had been reared in institutions (Ainsworth, 1962; Ferguson, 1966; Tizard & Rees, 1975; Yar­row, 1961). These effects were attributed to the impoverished environment of these settings since research had shown that when conditions in the institutions are improved there is little or no intellectual deficit in children reared in group care (Dennis, 1976; Skeels, 1966; Du Pan & Roth, 1955; Klackenberg, 1956; Tizard, Cooperman, Joseph & Tizard, 1972).Nevertheless, although improvements in the quality of institutions have led to a very marked reduction, of cognitive deficits (Tizard & Hodges, 1978), the same benefits were not observed in social relationships. Thus, Kaler and Freeman (1994) found severe impairments in peer re­lationships in children aged 23 to 50 months living in a Romanian orphanage and Chisholm, Carter, Ames, and Morison (1995) showed that a pattern of social disinhibition persisted in many such children even after adoption into Canadian families. Similarly, the follow-up un­dertaken by Hodges and Tizard (1989a, b), to age 16 years of children who spent their first few years in an institution, found persisting differences in the quality of peer relationships, even in children who had later been adopted into well-functioning families.

The effect of institutionalization on emotional and social development of children have been attributed to the following factors:

The extremely high rate of turnover among caregivers which led to the absence of a consis­tent caregiver (Tizard & Rees, 1975).Most children were admitted into residential care from early infancy (Tizard & Hodges, 1978).Children who were taken into care tended to come from very troubled families with multi­ple psychosocial adversities (St Claire & Osborn, 1987; Wolkind & Rutter, 1973).Thus, the high rate of emotional and behavioural problems shown later may be a consequence of vulnerability deriving from a combination of genetic risks and seriously adverse experiences in early life. The question, therefore, arises as to whether such effects on children’s develop­ment and adjustment are the result of institutional upbringing per se, or of previous adverse experiences in the family which led to admission to group care. This is a most important question that remains unanswered, because in most of the published studies, the great majority of the children had been admitted to group homes either because of a breakdown in parenting or because of seriously adverse experiences at home. Moreover, longitudinal studies of children experiencing institutional care have shown that raised levels of disturbance are often evident before admission to the institutions (St. Claire & Osborn, 1987). In order to determine the effects of institutional care per se, it would be important to study the outcome of children ad­mitted to group care from less adverse home circumstances.

All the previously presented research concerning the effects of group care on children was derived from questionnaires or interviews. There was no information concerning children’s behaviour as observed in their natural environment. Furthermore, all the information regarding children raised in institutions came from only one setting. As a result it could not be deter­mined whether the behavioural features represented a pervasive tendency or, rather, a mal­adaptive response to particular situations.


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