Member log in

Forgot your password? | Not a member? Join now

Loving foster homes repaired brain damage of Romanian orphan

Harvard University has found that Romanian orphans suffered serious brain damage

Two-year-old orphan boy staring longingly out through the slats of his iron crib as he lies dying of AIDS in the AIDS ward at the Municipal Hospital of Constantsa, Romania on December 03rd, 1990
Two-year-old orphan boy staring longingly out through the slats of his iron crib as he lies dying of AIDS at the Municipal Hospital of Constantsa, Romania on December 03rd, 1990  Photo: Taro Yamasaki/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

However new research suggests the youngsters were not only psychologically traumatised by their ordeal but also suffered serious brain damage.

A 12 year study by Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital in the US found that the brains of the orphans stopped developing properly after they were abandoned in the Bucharest institutions.

Their ‘white matter’ – the part of the brain which helps neurons communicate – was significantly damaged by their ordeal leading to poor language skills and decreased mental ability.

However the researchers discovered that those children fortunate enough to find loving foster homes were able to regrow the missing connections and restore lost function.

"Results from this study contribute to growing evidence that severe neglect in early life affects the structural integrity of white matter throughout the brain,” said report author Dr Johanna Bick of Boston Children's Hospital.

"Our findings have important implications for public health related to early prevention and intervention for children reared in conditions of severe neglect or adverse contexts more generally.”

Under Ceauseuscu’s communist state both abortion and contraception were banned, causing birth rates to rocket.

Abandoned children were left in filthy orphanages where they were often drugged and suffered institutionalised neglect and abuse.

The full horror of conditions endured by the nation’s 100,000 orphans finally came to light when the regime fell in 1989.

When the first journalists sent back pictures they showed malnourished or disabled youngsters, some tied to their cribs and others hobbling because they had never been allowed out of there cots to learn to walk.

Rescued youngsters were found to be socially, emotionally and mentally impaired with poor language skills.

Romanian orphans photographed at No 2 Orphanage in Filipesti, Romania on June 02nd, 1990 (REX/Steve Back / Daily Mail)

To discover the impact of early neglect, the researchers followed 136 orphans who had been abandoned in the Romanian capital for 12 years.

At the onset of the study, foster homes were almost non-existent in Bucharest, and institutional care was the norm for abandoned children.

The study began in 2000 and youngsters were given brain scans to monitor the development of their white matter, which was compared with children who were raised in loving biological families.

The brain's white matter is made up of layers of cells that speed up the connection between different neurons and different brain areas.

After birth and until young adult life, there is a linear increase in the amount of white matter, which contributes to progressive increase in the speed of mental ability.

The study found that the structure of the white matter was severely damaged in children who had been neglected.

Experts said the research could explain why abandoned children often experience poor mental health in later life.

“The study significantly adds to existing literature suggesting that interventions, such as foster care, may remediate some of the effects of adverse childhood experiences on brain development,” said Dr Andrea Danese, Head of the Stress & Development Lab at King’s College London.

Pitiful closeup of excruciatingly gaunt orphan baby Marian, 2, dying of AIDS as he cries in pain, lying in crib at the infectious disease clinic of Colentina Hospital in December 1990 (Taro Yamasaki/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

“Further research is needed to understand what are the specific cognitive or behavioural correlates of the white matter differences reported in this study.

“Nevertheless, similar white matter abnormalities have been previously described in young people with a wide range of psychiatric disorders and, thus, appear to be a good candidate mechanism through which adverse childhood experiences can influence mental health.

“Ultimately, the study reminds us that the brain of children is very plastic. Bad experiences can harm it. Yet, early interventions have the potential to at least partly remediate harm. This is inspiring news for the many dedicated mental health workers and a call to boost financial support to the strapped child and adolescent mental health services.”

The research was published in the online journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Join today graphic

Give a child a the gift of love this Mother's Day

You can help a child without a family, by helping us help families who are opening their hearts and lives to give a child in need a permanent and loving home.

Please click on the above button to donate to GiFT Growing International Families Together International Adoption Agency - together we can give children back their lives through the love of international adoption.

We thank you for making a difference – our most popular donations are £10, £50 and £100 - every Pound goes to changing a child's life forever

Thank you for your kindness and generosity

Adoption News

Why UK has low Inter country adoption numbers

Published - Mar 23, 2017

Nepal to begin process to ratify Hague Convention

Published - Mar 14, 2017