Children Raised in Institutions: Increased ADHD, Anxiety, etc.


Data drawn from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project show that children raised in institutions in Romania exhibit elevated symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, depression, and disruptive behavior compared with controls. Researchers from Harvard, the University of Maryland and Tulane also found disrupted brainwave patterns consistent with with risk for psychopathology. Exposure to early life deprivation, the authors write, may contribute to abnormal patterns of neurodevelopment generated by adverse rearing environments. The study is available online from the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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Slopen, N. McLaughlin, K. et al; “Alterations in Neural Processing and Psychopathology in Children Raised in Institutions,” Archives of General Psychiatry, online June 2012


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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. The first thing that crossed my mind is that institutions in Romania are notoriously terrible. But of course so are the similar places in the United States. I recently, as a patients rights advocate, had occasion to interview children on a psych ward who had spent much of their lives in the American child “welfare” system. Almost all of them were there because of attempting or threatening suicide. The psychiatric system then labels them as “mentally ill.”

    But what would be the “appropriate” response to what these kids are experiencing? They are bounced from institution to institution. There is virtually no one in their lives who gives them the love and affection every child needs to grow and thrive. All the mental “health” system offers them is drugs and despair. How should they respond, dance in the streets? Laugh and sing? If they did, of course, they would get still another label.

    The child “welfare” system and the mental “health” system have merged, and now children without families are pumped full of drugs, their lives ruined before they have hardly started. The people who are responsible for this should be sent to prison.

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    • “disrupted brainwave patterns consistent with with risk for psychopathology”


      Human Touch is Miraculous.

      I can only ever speak my “stories” of personal experience. I acknowledge that some people might not appreciate that, but I cannot and will not apologize.

      I’ll try to be as short as possible.

      DV Shelter, moms and kids. Most of the moms didn’t “mother” their children. While there, I had a vision (plenty, actually) and within a week, a new family arrived (mom with her 3 year old son). I recognized the boy from the vision I had. One day, while sitting at the table – the boy wouldn’t sit still, was upset and disruptive. Mom was growing more frustrated and annoyed. Yelled at him. I leaned over, touched his arm and he was *instantaneously* calmed. He was on psychiatric drugs, which I thought was gross neglect on behalf of all doctors and social workers. Sadly, I know precisely what was causing the boy’s troubles – by what I had seen in the vision.

      Another mother had an infant of about 6 months old. Screamer, and screamer babies are *very* difficult to tolerate. Mom put the baby in a plastic swing, wearing only a diaper, on a hot August day and left the room. There’s a rule: no “parenting” other people’s kids. Whatever. I went over, picked the baby up – held her, rocked her, caressed her head. She calmed instantly, but was so stunned and shaken, quivering to catch her breath. She fell asleep in my arms. I brought her upstairs to her mother, who was chillin’ with shelter staff. ALL of them were near horrified at the sight of me, holding the sleeping baby in my arms. Mom told me I could “keep the kid”.

      They all loathed me. Me and my kids got kicked out.

      SO – Human Touch is Miraculous. Don’t shoot the messenger, please.

      (CARE *is* the treatment)

      Oh, and I did some research the other day and found this garbage. Maybe some things aren’t all that “evolved”. Ahem.

      Recommended reading Section



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      • I agree with you that the touch of a another human being who truly cares is a very miraculous thing and works more wonders than any toxic pills ever do. You sure don’t find any human touch in mental health clinics, state hospitals, or treatment centers.

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    • What you have said is so true. What is also sader is that we know the answers, we know what to do, and the best work of that is being done by Bruce Perry and collegues, but of course psychaitry can ignore all of that.

      We are so quick to blame the child. If they don’t do that they blame the parent, which is not the correct response either. What we need to do is to work with the parents to assist them to assist the children. But of course in some cases that is simply not possible and at those times we do need to remove the child, but we need to ensure that we provide responsive and nurturing care, that is both theraputic and developmentally appropriate. When mothers are in domestic voilence shelters they are often traumatised themselves. Yet we offer very little to them theraputically. We tell them they are safe, put them in permanent housing and expect them to just get over it. At most we offer them CBT and tell them it is faulty thinking that makes them think this way. Of course anyone who has worked in DV shelters for more than 25 years knows the mothers who are now coming in there, they were there as children. The cycle has repeated itself, because we didd not do what was needed to stop it.

      I also would not just blame psychiatry. Psychology is just as bad, and if anything has less excuses. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, who know very little to nothing about child development. Psychologists in the other hand spend at least the first 3 years studying normal development, normal behaviour, etc. They do extensive study of child development. Yet they can get Master’s level and the whole thing is thrown out the door and suddenly it is all about teaching a person to think properly via Cogntive Behavioural Therapy. No one expects a person to learn to write, or drive a car by thinking about it and yet we expect a child to learn how to love and be loved, by thinking about it. No one can believe that they are lovable if they have never experienced it. Yet if they are supposedly lucky enough to be offered any form of talk therapy, as opposed to simply medication, they are simply told they are thinking wrongly. If they bothered to take into account anything they were taught during there training they would know that a person’s thoughts are based on there experiences. Change the experiences and a person’s thoughts can change also. Telling a person they are safe, does not make them feel safe.

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    • I agree that there are many people behind this who should be sitting in prison at this moment, starting with people like Beiderman and people of like ilk. Once again, they’re attacking a helpless segment of society who can’t speak out in their own defense. Rathr than question why we have so many children in institutions and the welfare system we attack the victims and shut their mouths so society doesn’t have to listen to them scream in spiritual pain. Perhaps our society needed to be indicted at the same time as numverous individuals. We break their spirits and when this leads to emotional and psychological anguish and disconnect we claim that they have broken brains and “mental illness.” It’s all very disgusting and extremely sad. My question is what can I as an individual do to work to stop this? It’s obvious that our society doesn’t care and will not do anything.

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      • If you have not already read Bruce Perry’s books, The Boy who was raised as a dog, and born for Love, then do so. They reall do explain how we have gotten to where we are today.

        Get Bruce Perry’s books and Robert Whitakers books into your local library. At least give people the option to read them. At present in mine they are between two books on the Bipolar child!! But at least parents can get a different option.

        The one thing that comes out time and time again from Bruce Perry’s work is that amount of ignorance when it comes to child development. Parents who think it is perfectly acceptable to leave a 4 week old infant alone for 12 hours a day without any human contact at all, and to raise a child in that way for years!! Then they wonder why the child is not developing properly!! Others who did the right thing and said I knew there were bad things with child care centres and we had the money, so we got a nanny for our child. We knew that what was most important was that we spent quality time with the child. That quality time was 15 minutes a day. Then when the child becomes attached to the nanny and the first smile is to the nanny and they want to be with the nanny, the parent sack them to getting too close to the child – this continues to happen, to the point of the child having 18 different nannies before his second birthday!! Then they wonder why the child has no relationships with anyone at all.

        What Bruce Perry says is that the most important that needs to happen is to get Child Development taught in ALL schools, so people know what a child’s needs are. And given that we have mental health education going on in schools with massively disastorous results, then this is even more important. The mental health industy in my local area, surveyed all high school students. What they discovered was that over 80% said that if they were upset or hurt about something they would talk to family and friends before a doctor. They had even said that if they were upset or concerned about a test score at school they would talk to a teacher before a doctor They used that as evidence of the need to insist on young people getting mental health education and training in schools, so they learn that if they are hurt or upset or stressed about anything at all the first thing they need to do is to see a doctor!!! I almost cried when I read the article about it, and shook my head with disbelief!! I mean if anything that should be a good sign. If a child or teenager is concerned about something we want them to talk to family and friends. If anything they should be concerned about the 20% who would not do that. But no they were concerned about the 80% who would do that. That they could consider a child or teenager going to talk to a teacher about a bad mark on a test as a bad thing was beyond belief!! But they did.

        Take it one person at a time, talk about what you know. If you do work in the field acknowledge what you are doing and just help one person at a time. The more people see these people getting better, the more others become interested. Find out about community services in your local area. There are always low cost counselling services, know where they are, there are family support services, find out where they are. Make sure that families are aware of any supports, financial assistance, concessions and the like that they are entitled to, so they are not as inclined to need disability payments for a child. find out about financial counselling services so they can learn to budget and make ends meet. Find out about programs to assist those who dropped out of school to get an education, free education programs for adults, and the like, Be able to refer people to these things.

        Find out about programs that are working and are starting from the botton to work its way upwards. The Roots of Empathy program is a good example. Work to get that in local schools. Here children learn to care about each other by watching a baby grow and they learn about a child’s most basic needs. Consider being a mentor to children in the child protection system, and fight to have siblings kept together when they are in foster care – change the laws so this is a priority and not an optional extra when the social workers can be bothered.

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