Deprived kids feel the effects two decades later.

Medical Xpress (via PhysOrg) reports on a long-term Boston Children’s Hospital study of institutionalized children from Romanian orphanages – the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP). Compared to kids in foster homes, the people who spent their first couple of years in institutions still face some specific challenges at ages 8 and 16:

“This study shows us that the effects of deprivation and neglect in early childhood continue well into the second decade of life, providing strong evidence that early experience has a long-term impact on cognitive functioning in adolescence—a very important period of social and biological development,” says Mark Wade, Ph.D., of the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and the paper’s first author.

The new analysis focused on cognitive functioning, in particular memory and executive functioning. “Executive functioning includes several cognitive processes that help individuals be more goal-oriented and solve problems,” explains Wade. “It is important in academic achievement and social functioning in childhood, and is also related to long-term occupational attainment, income and other aspects psychosocial well-being.”

  • Among institutionalized children, even those eventually placed in foster care, early impairments in attention, short-term visual memory, spatial planning and problem solving (all components of executive functioning) among persisted through adolescence.
  • The gap in spatial working memory between ever-institutionalized children and those raised in the community widened by adolescence.

There was one note of hope:

  • When institutionalized children were placed early in quality foster care, early difficulties in visual-spatial memory and new learning diminished by adolescence, making them indistinguishable from other children by age 16.

More at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1809145116 . Abstract starts: “UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 8 million children worldwide who live in institutions. Institutional rearing often involves severe psychosocial neglect associated with suboptimal brain and behavioral development.”