' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: How did the Romanian adoptees fare? Better than those left behind.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How did the Romanian adoptees fare? Better than those left behind.

From a Romanian charity, see below
How did the Romanian children who were adopted by wealthier families in the West compare to those who were raised in institutions?

One of the complicated issues of international adoption is whether are children are better off being adopted into a foreign culture, thousands of miles from their original habitat, or left to grow up in institutions in their native country--if homes cannot be found for them there. Most often the institutions that would-be adoptive parents visit are gruesome hell holes; yet we do know that in a great many cases, the operators of these institutions keep them that way exactly to extract as much money as possible from horrified people of good will. Even when given the money to fix up the orphanage, the operators leave them as is to extract more money from visitors. And we know from reports from other countries, such as China and Nepal and Guatemala, that children are stolen to keep those institutions full of "orphans" to be sold to Americans.

It's a never ending cycle. That children were unconscionably warehoused in Romania during the Ceausescu (pronounced Chow-chess-cu) years, as we wrote about in the previous post, is without question, and surely, unless sold to be a slave or to be used sexually, it is better to grow up in relative comfort far away from home than be left to flounder in an institution.

Now there is data that confirms this. According to the authors of Romania's Abandoned Childrenchildren who found homes with families abroad had higher brain development, and were more able to fully function in the world than those left behind. Yet the transition was not easy. Children who were institutionalized for any length of time--two, three years--had a difficult period of adjustment--often as long as they had been institutionalized, or longer.

The study found that the IQs of children placed in foster care prior to turned two were significantly higher than the IQs of children placed after age two. As the researchers, at Harvard and the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, continue their research, the ill effects of institutionalization and abandonment continue to appear--even in children adopted as early as one. The problems likely stem largely from the lack of attachment and sensory deprivation in the early months, or years, of life.

When raised in homes--foster or adoptive--children do better on IQ tests, have greater attachment to caregivers, exhibit less anxiety and depression, better facility with language, and show increased brain activity. Yet even those who by all appearances seem successfully adopted and integrated into their new societies face difficult struggles.

Undoing the effects of stunted development is not a simple matter of giving these children tender loving care. They've never had it, and thus they initially do not know how to react to TLC. Used to little human contact, that is what they initially prefer--just as the new care-givers think the opposite must be true. Because they were washed by putting them under cold water, they are afraid of baths. They relate to strangers quickly, but have a hard time forming attachments to their adoptive parents and any siblings in . They may have night terrors--for years. Their language skills may be poor. They are afraid to be outside because they spent so little or no time outside before. Poor nutrition of the mother during pregnancy may have left them mentally deficient. Anyone taking on such a child must be willing to work hard, and patiently to help these kids accommodate to their new surroundings and situation.

Some children who age out of the institutional system do manage to find purpose in their lives and hold jobs--but they are often embarrassed to admit they were one of the "worker bees" born during the Ceausescu regime. They are likely not to tell friends or employers for fear of being shunned or fired. However, many who aged out of the institutions, end up homeless and largely uneducated, with no family or connections, and struggle to make a life.

Since the early 1990s, several NGOs have worked to close down the larger institutions and get the children into foster-care like homes, employing "maternal assistants" to take care of the children. The most recent data shows that there are more than 20,000 such children living in foster care. Those who take the children get the equivalent of $200 a month for their care, a fee that is roughly the salaries of some teachers and nurses. In rural areas, foster parenting is one of the few jobs available, and those who study the situation say many who foster children do it more for the money than the love of children.

Romania ended international adoption in 2001, finally outlawing it entirely in 2005 under pressure from the European Union as the country made its successful bid to enter the EU. At the time, rumors swirled of children being sold at auction, and Romanian officials said that they did not have the resources to shut down the process. Today, Romanians who want to adopt are largely people who cannot have children on their own, and most, like the rest of the world, want a child under five. Few are willing to adopt a child of Roma (Gypsy) descent, which rules out a large percentage of children in the institutions today.

The legacy of the brutal Ceausescu years lingers on. Putting the needs of the children first, reconnecting them with their biological families or finding them other loving homes would require a change in the social mentality of the Romanians. At the time women were forced to have children, they did not really understand what they were getting into when they dropped them off at institutions. The poor remain uneducated about birth control and, even if they know about it,  the costs are prohibitive. And there is a lingering belief that full-time childcare--for a year, for five years, or more--is still a service offered by the state.

Yes, it's a mess. Large scale social policies that dictate "rules" about having children (as once in Romania) or not have them (as in China) tend to create greater problems than they solve. Any country that offers its children as a major export product (China, Guatemala, Romania, Ethiopia, South Korea) is rife with corruption. Make no mistake, children are trafficked. But to be raised in an institution rather than in a home with parents who want you? There is really no debate. A home is always better.

Yesterday, I ended the post remembering the little Romanian adoptee I met one Christmas Eve in Sag Harbor, and wondering how she fared. After reading this material I am aware more than ever that she, adopted by a single woman, almost certainly had a better life than if had grown up in Romania. But it is also likely that she was not a true orphan when she was adopted, and has family back in Romania who may be wondering if their child had truly died, as they were told. She was merely one of the cogs that got caught up in Ceausescu's insanity.

While there are many fewer children living in institutions today in Romania than during the Ceausescu regime, the country--a quarter of a century later--has not recovered from the damage of his severe and unforgiving policies. Adopted or not, the children are the ones who are paying the price.--lorraine 
To donate to a Romanian charity, see Aid for Romanian Children  (the initial picture above is from their website.

Orphaned by History: A Child Welfare Crisis in Romania
The lost children
Adopted from Romania, told her mother was dead, reunited via Facebook

Romania's Abandoned Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for Recovery
by Charles A, Nelson, Nathan A. Fox and Charles H. Zeanah
"The implications of early experience for children's brain development, behavior, and psychological functioning have long absorbed caregivers, researchers, and clinicians. The 1989 fall of Romania's Ceausescu regime left approximately 170,000 children in 700 overcrowded, impoverished institutions across Romania, and prompted the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of institutionalization on children's well-being." --Amazon

The Tip Jar 
by Viorica Culea
"Follow one young woman's real life journey from infancy in a horrific Romanian orphanage, to the broken promise of a loving adoptive family. Her new life with her adoptive parents turns into a nightmare of drunken rage and hostility towards she and her heritage. As she discovers where she is from, she decides to reconnect with her roots and seek out her natural family, still living in Romania." --Amazon


  1. Honestly, as a researcher myself and an adult international adoptee with distant Harvard affiliation, I'm skeptical of adoption research coming out of Harvard University. Elizabeth Bartholet, a very zealous adoptive parent/successful Harvard law professor heads the Children Advocacy Program, and rationalizes for more adoptions wherever she goes. At a conference earlier this year, she rationalized that international adoption was a human rights concern, that NOT adopting foreign children would be a human rights violation. She ignores 1) the corruption, falsifying of records, exploitation, trafficking of foreign children for US/Europe adoption, 2) the effects of loss of family, culture, language, history, and identity on the adoptee, and 3) how the US legal system, adoption agencies, and some adoptive parents disregard the rights and livelihoods of adoptees.

    I have also read that Romanian institutions were built up and marginalized parents were targeted to put their children in the institutions explaining that they would be better taken care of in the institutions than at home. Adoption agencies then photographed the poor children in those institutions for adoption marketing to "do-gooders" in other countries to adopt them. Many children were adopted that way, but many of the children adopted didn't come from the institutions, they came from private families because they were healthier. The children in institutions weren't healthy enough to satisfy the "do-gooders". Thus, adoption didn't even decrease the institutional population as advertised.

    These adoption industry tactics didn't just happen in Romania, but also in other countries. It's "convenient" when there is much cultural misunderstanding and linguistic differences between countries, and such a global and economic imbalance between the two countries that the source country doesn't understand the implications of adoption, and/or doesn't have any power to resist the removal of their children. Similar to the imbalance of power and economics between first parents and adoptive parents, except it's between source countries and receiving countries instead of source parents and receiving parents. We saw the fervor that US politicians fought Russia to get Russia to keep its child pipeline with the US open. Same with Romania.

    Also, the health field is also a profitable industry, especially neurological studies these days. The health industry has also used orphans in vaccine trials or other experiments (ie Ireland and likely other places). The health industry exploited and deceived black people in the famous Tuskegee syphilis trials and weren't exactly forthright or apologetic until several decades later and they had no choice. My point, even when industries say they're being ethical and promote their moral values, it's not always how you believe. Their marketing is quite clever (and profitable and reputation building). We know from the adoption industry that people who "care" about children can be quite deceptive and manipulative. Medical research is only as ethical and credible as the data and all the steps taken to initiate and complete the studies.

    I know nothing about the charity you mention, but I'm wary of all charities working with children, especially ones I don't know about or the large, marketing ones.

    Sorry for my long, circuitous comment.

  2. Kym...I'm aware of all that your say, and agree with your commentary. I felt I had to follow up at the post about Andreea with something about the situation there....knowing that it fed the feeling of adoption at all cost.

    As for Bathrolet, take a moment and search for her name among FMF's posts. I wrangled with her on PBS (the McNeal-Lehrer Report) the day Baby Jessica/Anna was handed over to her natural parents. She had just come out with a book on adopting two boys from Peru, saving the world, one adoption at a time. I was ready to spit blood by the time the show was over, as I was the only person against her (we were live, in the studio) and a wall of attorneys (adoption attys) arrayed against me. She is anathema to us at First Mother Forum.

    There are a number of posts that include her, including this one that does talk about that PBS showdown. (I turned down the Today show the next morning. I suggested they get Florence Fisher (an adoptee! think of that) and she took her head off.
    Yet another baby snatching. Not yet.

    1. Lorraine,
      Thanks for your response. I'm glad you've written about her, I'm not surprised, given how long you've been activating, much longer than I. I do highly recommend Roelie Post's book on Romanian adoptions if you haven't already read it. I read it this year and it certainly opened my eyes.

      Another point I want to make, the outcomes of children who grew up in institutions might not be a good comparison to the outcomes of adopted children. If many of the children were adopted from private families and not from institutions, then the adopted children would likely have not been raised in an institution if they hadn't been adopted. It'd be like comparing apples with oranges - not comparable.

      And considering how little accurate information is given about the true histories about adopted people, we can't really conclude what would have happened to the child had s/he not been adopted. A little more truth and honesty in adoption would help make more suitable conclusions.

  3. I learned recently that Romania allows US citizens born in Romania to adopt Romanian children. Adoption Avenues is a Portland adoption agency which handles Romanian adoptions. http://www.adoptionavenues.org/romania.html.

  4. Kym: Of course we agree that the outcome of children who grew up in Romanian institutions (which were, by all accounts, true hell holes) compared with children who were adopted should not be taken as a comparison to all adoptees. If you have been reading here for any length of time, you know that both Jane and I reject that vehemently. I've reported several times on the studies which show that adoptees have more adjustment problems, issues of identity, greater thoughts of suicide (just mentioned a few days ago). The study does go on about the lifetime effects of being raised in one of the Romanian institutions and what happens to the young adults once they are on their own; that is truly a fate hard to overcome. We can continue to push back against the Bartholet thinking without ignoring that some individuals will be better off being adopted by good parents rather than not.

  5. Lorraine,
    Have you read Roelie Post's "Romania: For Export Only"?

  6. Thank you for writing about the children of Romania. I believe they are in a unique situation than that of Guatemala and other third world countries where poverty is the primary cause of adoption. The political climate was quite different in Communist Romania, and the policies put into place by the government are ultimately what created this heartbreaking situation for children. Children ended up in state run institutions because the government openly and strongly encouraged families to give up their children. As you mentioned in your previous article, the government insisted that women have a certain number of children in order to create a huge work force. You said: "While there are many fewer children living in institutions today in Romania than during the Ceausescu regime, the country--a quarter of a century later--has not recovered from the damage of his severe and unforgiving policies. Adopted or not, the children are the ones who are paying the price." I couldn't agree more.

    I've spoken of my dear friend who runs a charity she started for providing necessities to a Romanian hospital ward for babies. She spent six months in Romania in 2000-2001, and has been going back twice yearly ever since, so I pretty much listen to what she has experienced as she is there in the trenches. It's really heartbreaking to me. I agree that children who are adopted are in a better position, but to me, that's like a study saying soda is bad for you- it's obvious those institutions are horrendous for children. It also still doesn't make me agree with international adoption as that only fed into more corruption (and is one reason the EU wanted it stopped, among other less charitable political reasons). Although my heart always longs to adopt the babies my friend talks about... it's a terribly tragedy, all around.

    She has a child aging out of the foster care system next year, and this girl is someone my friend has been involved with since the beginning of her time in Romania. My friend is desperately trying to figure out a solution for this girl because her prospects are so grim.

    One thing that struck me that my friend told me early on, when she first went over, was about the money the parents were paid by the state per child, and that they would go to the hospital and "visit" their child just by viewing them through a window. Every year. And that meant that technically, the child wasn't abandoned. And there was no way to know if this parent couldn't afford to bring their child home, or didn't want to bring their child home, or bought into the state lie that their child was better off in the institution. No matter which of the three, it was so very sad. Even if the foster parents are doing it for money, I think the children are largely better off, although it's still not ideal. Ideal for be access to birth control, money to the parents to assist them to keep their children, and time to get over the communist ideals that were so drilled into the culture.

    I keep getting interrupted writing this, so I can no longer remember what my original direction was! But thanks for writing about these children- I think they have been largely forgotten after the huge publicity about RAD in the late 90s early 2000s.

  7. Thanks for the interesting post. If you have not already heard it, I hope you (and the co-founders of this blog) listen to the This American Life episode titled Unconditional Love. It is, as all TAL episodes are, very nuanced and in-depth -- about a Romanian orphan who was raised with the BEST POSSIBLE American parents. The adoptive mother is someone I think I admire more than anyone else on earth (and she could easily have lost her life, such was the pain and rage of this child), but the VAST majority of adoptive parents cannot possibly perform even a tiny fraction of what of this woman was able to do. And that means that all suffer -- all are "punished." The episode is instructive for both what is possible and what is NOT possible when raising a child with this severe a psychic injury. And what you have to be willing to do. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/317/unconditional-love

  8. This UK organisation is doing their best to close all orphanages in Romania by 2020:




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