Study: Orphanages may slow child growth

Children in orphanages studied by University researchers displayed slowed development.

Robert Downs

The first results of an ongoing University of Minnesota study suggest that living in an orphanage can not only can hurt children psychologically but can harm them physically as well. This information could serve to validate U.S. domestic policy, which since the 1970s has funded foster care in place of orphanages. The study released Monday shows that through early development stages, the amount of one-on-one affection a child receives not only affects appetite but can also curb the way the brainâÄôs pituitary gland and liver secrete growth hormone. University professor Dana E. Johnson led the study in six orphanages in Bucharest, Romania. According to JohnsonâÄôs findings, children in orphanages displayed slowed growth and development, with more severe deficits among those who were born weighing less than 5.5 pounds. Children assigned to foster care showed rapid increases in height and weight, so that by 12 months of age, 100 percent of them were in the normal range for height, 90 percent were in the normal range for weight and 94 percent were in the normal range of weight and height of a healthy child. Due to budget and time constraints, Johnson said, most orphanages are unable to give a sufficient amount of personal attention to children, and more countries should move to a system based on individual care like that of the United States. Kaci Russell runs a licensed foster home in north Minneapolis for children ranging from infants to 12-year-olds. She said she treats the foster children at her house like part of the family. âÄúWe try to make them feel, as much as they can, as if they are [our] biological kids,âÄù Russell said. âÄúWe just went to the mall. We go to church. We try to incorporate them in every aspect of our everyday life.âÄù Though virtually nonexistent in the United States, orphanages remain prominent in eastern European, Asian and South American countries. Not only are these institutions not able to provide personal care, but even the interaction between children can be detrimental to their health. âÄúIn eastern European and Asian countries, the children are [separated] by age,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúSouth American orphanages are set up with children of a variety of ages. ItâÄôs clear that those kinds of environments are better.âÄù Johnson said that although thereâÄôs been recognition by many large international organizations that âÄúinstitutional care for children is extremely bad,âÄù policy changes are simply not occurring. âÄúIt always would be nice if government policy was based on evidence rather than politics,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúBut I donâÄôt have any great hope that that would happen soon.âÄù