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Activity Level, Organization, and Social-Emotional Behaviors in...

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The purpose of this study was to examine whether children adopted from Romanian orphanages have more difficulty with activity level, organization, and social-emotional behaviors than matched controls, and whether length of institutionalization affects these areas.

Method

Researchers used existing databases to recruit 124 parents of children, ages 3 to 6, who had been adopted from Romania and a control group of parents with children of similar age and gender who were born in the United States and lived with their birth families. The adopted children had lived with their parents for an average of 3 years. Adoptive parents were recruited through a parent support group and conferences. Parents in the control group were recruited through personal contacts and local day care centers. Children adopted from Romania were divided into two groups based on the length of time they had lived in an institution. Sixty-three children had been institutionalized for greater than or equal to 6 months (with a mean of 18.95 months), and 61 children had been institutionalized for less than or equal to 2 months (with a mean of .48 months or 2 weeks). Children in both groups were screened for neurological problems such as cerebral palsy and for conditions such as documented fetal alcohol syndrome. Parents completed a questionnaire, the Developmental and Sensory Processing Questionnaire adapted by Cermak and Miller (1993), which has both a developmental history and a sensory processing checklist. The sensory processing checklist includes questions such as does the child "tend to lack carefulness/be impulsive?" and does the child "have trouble getting along with other children his/her own age?"

Findings

The results of this study support the hypothesis that Romanian children institutionalized for equal to or greater than 6 months have more difficulties than a matched control group in the behavioral domains of activity level, organization and social-emotional. These findings are consistent with other research which also has found that longer-term post-institutionalized adopted children have difficulty with attention and activity level. An unexpected finding was that the children in the Romanian adoption group who had spent two months or less in an institutional setting also were reported to have more difficulties in the reported areas than the control group, although not as significantly as those children who spent much more time in an orphanage.

Discussion

The authors noted that recruiting parents through conferences and parent support groups may have produced a bias sample, as the parents who attend these functions are more likely to be seeking help for their children. The authors recommended that further research be conducted on the following issues: untangling the implications of different aspects of institutional care such as multiple caretakers, nutrition and prenatal care; independent evaluations of children rather than collection of data through parents' completion of questionnaires about their children (as adoptive parents may be more sensitive to problems); and comparisons of adopted children who have spent time in orphanages to adopted children who were adopted from birth and to children who have been adopted from other countries.

This article is significant because it highlights how deprived environments impact children's development. Many (although not all) young people whose childhoods involved abuse and/or neglect, not just in institutions, suffer on-going problems, especially in the areas of school and peer relationships. The article also draws attention to the importance of remedying the effects of early deprivation. The federally funded early intervention program, that provides intense early help for children who have either been born with a delay or who have not had ideal early care and which has resulted in a delay, is one resource that responds to this need.

By Mary Beth Kadlec and Sharon A. Cermak. Adoption Quarterly, vol. 6(2), 43 - 57 [2002].
Reviewed by Sarah Gerstenzang, Policy Analyst

Related Links

The New York University Child Study Center
The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to the understanding, prevention, and treatment of child and adolescent mental health problems.

The International Adoption Clinic at the University of Minnesota
The International Adoption Clinic at the University of Minnesota provides for the health needs of internationally adopted children through clinic services, research and education.
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