by Stacy Fairbanks, Fall 2013 Intern
Increasingly, research is proving and clarifying what we all know instinctively: the importance of a loving, responsive adult in the life of a child. Children who aren’t offered emotional, physical, and mental support are hindered in reaching developmental milestones. SOS Children’s Villages reports estimate that over seven million children are languishing in orphanages worldwide. Children are unable to thrive in an institutional environment because of the infrequent and inconsistent interaction with caregivers. At National Council For Adoption we are committed to promoting the positive option of adoption because we know that it is one of the necessary ways we can offer children a loving, permanent family so they may develop appropriately and develop the skills necessary to navigate life.
Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child has done a great job of teaching those of us who aren’t neuroscientists about brain development and the Science of Early Childhood. Through a series of three 90 second videos we can understand the extraordinary impact that a consistent, nurturing caretaker makes in the physical, emotional, and social development of a child. Check out these great videos here.
In their book, The Connected Child, Karyn Purvis, Ph.D, David Cross, Ph.D., and Wendy Sunshine highlight some of the detriments related to living in an orphanage.
“An infant lying in a crib in a sterile institution may compete with forty other babies for the attention of a scarce caregiver. During the first weeks, the institutionalized baby will cry, but when no one responds, eventually the crying stops. Orphanage nurseries tend to be eerily quiet because babies there quickly discover no one comes when they cry. For these tiny ones, their earliest communications are effectively silenced.”
The research shows us that children learn quickly from both the positive and negative feedback they receive from caretakers. In this case, these orphaned infants, learned not to cry – their voice taken by the inability of overworked caretakers to meet their needs. This is just one example of many that show ways that, without caretaker interaction, kids never learn to be kids. Purvis, Cross, and Sunshine offer parenting strategies to help these and other at-risk children reach developmental milestones and practice needed social skills when they do find their way to family care.
A study conducted by Francis N Onuoha, and Tsunetsugu Munakata (2010) states that children in orphanages often suffer with depression, personality disorder, and anxiety. They further explain that “material and emotional supports from parents during childhood may have enduring psychosocial health benefits” (p. 1). Given the opportunity to interact with an adult, a child can learn self-regulation and decrease the likelihood of developing lifelong mental disorders.
There are many resources parents can review to learn more about how to care for children who have dealt with the trauma of institutional care. Some of NCFA’s suggested readings can be found here.
Here at National Council For Adoption we recognize that many families across the United States and the world both support and take part in adoption. We thank you for the amazing effort you put in to promote the positive option of adoption. We know that adoption benefits both the child and the family they join. Please help us continue to raise a voice of awareness to your family, friends and community members as we continue to celebrate National Adoption Month!