Importance of Nurturing for Children in Institutionalized Care

Baby standing up in a cribResearchers from the University of Pittsburgh say nurturing care can be a powerful tool in helping young children in institutionalized care avoid emotional and mental health issues later in life.

A children’s institution is defined as a group living arrangement for more than 10 children without parents or guardians. Care is usually provided by several adult staff members. Previous studies show children raised in institutions are more likely to experience developmental concerns, such as physical and mental underdevelopment, poor mental and physical health, and attachment issues.

Consistent interaction from a few nurturing caregivers appears to be key, according to the study, which was released last week. It revealed infants, toddlers, and children raised in institutions with nurturing caregivers are less likely to display aggression and deviant tendencies when later placed with families.

Level of Care in Institutions

Researchers observed 135 children at three different institutions in St. Petersburg, Russia. The children studied were between the ages of 18 months and 10 years, and each child had spent at least three months in one of the institutions. The children were later evaluated after spending at least a year with an adoptive family.

The institutions in the study took different approaches. One was asked to maintain their existing level of care, while staff at the second were asked to interact in a more parent-like capacity, expressing more sensitive and caring concern. The third used a similar model as the second, but with even more emphasis given to simulating a parent-like experience, which included reducing the number of regular staffers interacting with each child.

When the eventual adoptive parents of the children were later surveyed about their children, those with children from the second and third model institutions reported fewer instances of aggressive behavior and greater friendliness when dealing with strangers. This was especially true when compared to children from the first institution.

According to lead researcher Robert McCall, when children are raised by a large and rotating staff—and often in a businesslike atmosphere—they are deprived of basic human connection at a crucial time of development. Simple things like hugs and adult-child play are often lost when institutions do not prioritize nurturing care.

How Nurturing Care Can Affect Children

The regimented nature of daily life in an institutional environment has long been known to complicate emotional development and mental well-being, often leading to chronic stress. Even after years with an adopted family, children raised in such conditions are more likely to exhibit behavioral difficulties. In a related recent study, children who grow up in the foster care system are also at greater risk of experiencing physical and mental health problems. When compared to children who had not spent time in foster care, foster care kids were twice as likely to have learning difficulties or other developmental delays, five times as likely to experience anxiety, and seven times as likely to experience depression.

The authors of the research believe their findings are significant to those attempting to craft better protocols of care at institutions. They emphasize the importance of improving caregiver-child relationships and interaction, adding that the quality and consistency of nurturing care is important for all developing children.

References:

  1. Browne, K. (2009). The risk of harm to young children in institutional care [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.crin.org/en/docs/The_Risk_of_Harm.pdf
  2. University of California, Irvine. (2016, October 17). Foster care children at much greater risk of physical, mental health problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161017084248.htm
  3. University of Pittsburgh. (2016, October 7). The importance of loving care within children’s institutions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161007110027.htm

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  • Keenan

    October 18th, 2016 at 3:27 PM

    I find it so sad that there are actually places like this that have to be a home for children because they have no one else who will love or care for them. Every child deserves better than this and I know that most places they are running on a shoestring budget and if you can;t afford to hire the very best for these kids then they are not going to get the care that they or any other child deserves. You would think that there wouldn’t be the need for these institutions since there are so many people who want children but who cant have their own.

  • anne

    October 21st, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    Everyone needs to feel wanted and loved

  • Petra

    October 24th, 2016 at 2:58 PM

    Ugh there is something disgusting to me about treating these children as guinea pigs in some research project.

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