Romania’s Abandoned Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for Recovery

In This Review

Romania's Abandoned Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for Recovery
by Charles A. Nelson, Nathan A. Fox, Charles H. Zeanah
Harvard University Press, 2014
416 pp. $29.95
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The Ceausescu regime’s misguided policies on population growth and on the treatment of abandoned children left as many as 170,000 Romanian children in appallingly bad institutions. After a decade of local efforts to deal with the immense damage done to those children, Nelson and his colleagues established the Bucharest Early Intervention Project in 2000. They are not social scientists but rather specialists in pediatrics, neuroscience, human development, and psychiatry, and their project was an elaborate 12-year randomized survey comparing the effects on young children of institutionalization to those of foster care. Their work confirmed many earlier studies that showed that institutionalization seriously impairs brain function and cognitive and motor development, but it also demonstrated that the timely transfer to proper foster care can materially reduce the damage done. For those interested in Romania or the region, the book offers an incisive and disturbing portrait of the benighted policies pursued in this area -- and not only by Romania. The book also contains an excellent discussion of the controversies surrounding the issue of international adoption in the Romanian context, which should also prompt thought among those focused on the parallel Russian case.