Effects of Early Deprivation on the Development of Institutionalised Children

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Effects of Early Deprivation on the Development of Institutionalised Children

Abstract

Deprivation is defined as a reduced fulfillment of an essential desire or need. Studies on the development of children reared in institutions and orphanages help us to look at the effects of deprivation. Institutionalised children are reported to perform poorly on intelligence tests and to be slow learners with specific difficulties in language and social development, in comparison to orphaned children. They also have problems concentrating and forming emotional relationships, and are often described as attention seeking. Children who are exposed to institutions for a sensitive period, generally being several months of the first two years of an infants’ life, show no deficit in IQ by the age of 4. Children adopted after this sensitive period show marked deficits in IQ, and the longer children are kept in these institutions, the greater their impairments. However, cognitive development for children beginning in the second year of life can be substantially improved through high-quality preschool programs.

“Deprivation is the reduced fulfillment of a desire or need that is felt to be essential” (Mijolla, 2005). Studies on children reared in institutions and orphanages are natural experiments that help us to look at the effects of the social and maternal deprivation on infants. Institutionalised children would have been deprived of physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Publications on the damaging psychological consequences of institutional care by Goldfarb (1944; 1945) and Bowlby (1951) highlighted a number of emotional, behavioural and intellectual impairments in children who had been raised in residential care. Children living in institutions are reported to perform poorly on intelligence tests and to be slow learners with specific difficulties in language and social development. In addition, they have problems concentrating and forming emotional relationships, and are often described as attention seeking. The lack of an emotional attachment to a mother figure during early childhood was attributed as the cause of these problems, which were considered to be long lasting. ‘Attachment theory’ (Bowlby, 1969) emphasised the importance of a primary caregiver for normal child development. The absence of a relationship with a consistent caregiver is reported by other studies to cause attachment disorder behaviour in children who were adequately cared for and exposed to social stimulation (Tizard & Hodges, 1978). Johnson, Browne, & Hamilton-Giachritsis (2006) found that 12 of the 13 studies on intellectual development of children who have been raised in institutions reported that poor cognitive performance and lower IQ scores were associated with children in institutional care, illustrating the negative effects of this environment in comparison to family based care. However, some of these studies also suggest that early removal to family based care can result in recovery and catch up. This was illustrated in the longitudinal studies of Thomas O’Conner, Michael Rutter and the English and Romanian Adoptees study team (1998, 2000). Research on these orphaned children showed that the earlier infants are removed from deprived rearing conditions, the greater their catch-up in development and the less severe their attachment disorders (Rutter et al., 2000). This timing effect indicates the importance of early experience in laying the foundation for positive gains in cognitive development. Cognitive catch-up was virtually complete by the age of 4 for children adopted before 6 months of age (Rutter et al.,1998). However, children adopted after this sensitive period had an average IQ deficit of 15 points at age 11(Beckett, C., Maughan, B., Rutter, M., Castle, J., Colvert, E., Groothues,...
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