Improved Neural Development in Children Moved from Institutional Care


Researchers from Harvard, Tulane, the University of Maryland and Boston Children’s hospital compared MRI and EEG scans of 20 normally developing Romanian children with scans of 29 exposed to institutional rearing as well as 25 previously exposed to institutional rearing but then moved to high-quality foster care. They found that neurodevelopmental deficits associated with institutional care were improved in children moved to high-quality care, suggesting “the potential for developmental ‘catch-up’ … even following extreme environmental deprivation.”

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Sheridan, M., Fox, N., “Variation in neural development as a result of exposure to institutionalization early in childhood.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online July 23, 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 new Jewish settlers of the new country of Israel discovered all of this the hard way. This was when they formed the large communes to do farming etc. I don’t remember what they were called. Anyway, since all of th ewomen were required to go out daily and do something to contribute to the welfare of their communities they had to leave their infants in the care of nurseries. The workers in these nurseries were few in number and the number of infants was high so the babies were bottle fed and their diapers were changed but otherwise the babies just lay in their beds for the most part. The babies died in very large numbers. They finally realized that it was vital to the survival of babies to be picked up, held, talked to, and intereacted with. To test all of this out, a group of scientists did experiments with baby monkeys where they were taken away from their mothers and only bottle fed but never intereacted with. The poor baby monkies became as neurotic as hell or they died. It’s interesting that all of this took place in the late 1950s and early 1060’s, but psychiatric investigators are just now finding this out. What they found is also very understandable if you know anything about Romanian orphanages or institutions that deal with orphan children. Tying them to their beds is the least of what happens to the kids.

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