- Who are the children? Parts of the bill refer to children as persons under 18 years of age. Do all children from birth to the 18th birthday experience the same effects from group care? No, certainly not, and to claim that they do is to fly in the face of the well-established principle of developmentally appropriate practice, a guideline based on both common sense and observation of different care needs at different stages of development. The children to whom the bill’s statements might apply are infants and toddlers, who are far more vulnerable to the effects of caregiving quality than are older children-- and certainly than adolescents.
- Does the science now show that children suffer the stated damage from living in all institutions, by virtue of their being institutions? No; the evidence is that neglect by caregivers distorts developmental trajectories in early life. Institutions may be highly neglectful, and no one has forgotten the ghastly Romanian warehouses (incidentally, these throve where abortion and contraception were prohibited). “Natural experiments”, like the Hampstead nurseries administered by Anna Freud during World War II, the Bulldogs Bank children who came as a small group of toddlers from a concentration camp, and the “children’s house” residents of the traditional kibbutz, have all shown that excellent care and development can be achieved in a non-family setting.
- Does the science show immediate effects of institutional life? No, certainly not. Length of time spent in even the worst institution will have a significant effect on the developmental trajectory for most children, and none are instantaneously affected. (The reasoning behind this exaggeration is not at all clear to me.)
- Does the science show lasting and possibly irreparable damage from institutional life for all children? No, it does not. The English-Romanian Adoption study followed over 300 adopted children into adolescence (Rutter et al, Deprivation-Specific Psychological Patterns: Effects of Institutional Deprivation [Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Serial No. 295, Vol. 75, No. 1, 2010). Rutter’s study concluded that “A striking finding at all ages was the heterogeneity in outcome. Thus, even with the children who had the most prolonged experience of institutional care, there were some who at age 11 showed no sign of abnormal functioning on any of the domains we assessed. Conversely, there was a substantial proportion of children who showed impairments in multiple domains of functioning” (p. 14). This heterogeneity suggests that institutional care may be only one of many factors that interact with genetic background and post-adoptive care to determine a child’s development.
- Does the science show an inability to form emotional bonds with others? This is difficult to answer, because the bill does not define “emotional bonds” in any way. However, if we consider this in term of age-appropriate attachment behavior: No, it does not. Of the children Rutter’s group studied, there were cases where children were unusually friendly to people outside the adoptive family, but by the time they reached adolescence most of these children were viewed positively as outgoing and socially engaging. Megan Gunnar, writing in the Deprivation-Specific volume, proposed that these behaviors, sometimes defined as “attachment disorders”, were not in fact caused by differences in attachment.
FURTHER ADDENDUM: https://www.facebook.com/StopCHIFF lets you state your opinion of this bill.