Romania's "orphans" : developmental adjustment of adolescents growing up in childcare institutions in Romania
The fall of Ceausescu in 1989 drew attention from the Western media to the plight of children raised in Romanian `orphanages'. Over a decade later, Romania is still fighting the `institutionalised children crisis', despite receiving Western help to improve its childcare system, and having repeatedly undertaken failed reforms. Since its application for EU membership in 1995, Romania has been asked to address this problem as a matter of priority, owing to concerns about the negative impact of institutional rearing upon child development. This research addressed these concerns through a study of 100 adolescents (50 boys and 50 girls, aged 12 to 16) growing up in state childcare institutions in Romania. They were compared with 100 teenagers of similar age and gender distribution growing up with both their parents and attending the same schools as the institutionalised teenagers. Developmental outcomes (attachment to adult figures and peers, behavioural and emotional strengths and difficulties, intellectual development, school performance and family connectedness) were assessed using both quantitative and qualitative methods. The outcome variables were further examined in relation to potential mediating factors, such as: age at admission into institutional care and length of institutional placement; family experience prior to admission; and amount of contact with parents/families during institutional placement and the presencelabsence of a sibling within same the residential unit. The research examined past and present childcare policies and practices in Romania, exploring the factors leading to high numbers of children being in institutional care, and the quality of childcare. This research is particularly important because no systematic studies have previously been conducted with children living in state care institutions in Romania. It enables comparison with studies of Romanian `orphans' adopted internationally in the early 1990s, and the findings reflect a configuration of adjustment difficulties which differs from that reported by these studies. Age at admission into institutional care and length of time spent in institutional care were not related to any of the measured outcomes, suggesting that assumptions of `institutional deprivation' should be reconsidered. Moreover, the quality of relationships with caregivers, family members and teachers can act as important mediating factors suggesting that emphasis must now be placed on a multi-disciplinary, problem-solving approach to childcare in Romania.