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How are Romanian orphans doing in adulthood?

October 28, 2013
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SFU researcher Lucy Le Mare is planning another round of interviews with Romanian orphans who were adopted by Canadians in the 1990s following the fall of the Ceausescu regime.

This is Phase Five of SFU’s Romanian Adoption Project, a longitudinal study that has followed the children’s development since they started arriving in Canada more than 20 years ago. The interviews will be done via online questionnaire.

“The participants are now in their early- to mid-20s, a time of life characterized by several transitions and new developmental tasks, including the establishment of employment/career, serious romantic relationships, greater independence from parents, identity development, and for some, starting a family of their own,” says Le Mare, an education professor and the project’s lead researcher.

“We are hoping to learn how the participants are managing in these areas, and about the factors that contribute to or explain their successes and challenges. This study will be among the first to address the development and well-being of post-institutionalized adoptees as they enter adulthood.”

During Ceausescu’s reign, Romanian families were impoverished, birth control was outlawed, and the government instituted pro-natal policies that rewarded those who had children and penalized those who did not.

Brutal conditions for orphans in Romania

It became routine for mothers to leave maternity hospitals without their newborns, who, after a short hospital stay, were transferred to so-called orphanages. These institutions were severely underfunded, over-crowded and often unable to meet even the most basic needs of children, who suffered from global and extreme deprivation.

Effects of early deprivation

 “Their early deprivation has undoubtedly had lasting negative effects for some of the adoptees. When we compare the development of children who had extensive orphanage experience (more than nine months) with those who had minimal orphanage experience (less than four months) and with non-adopted Canadians of the same age, on average, those with extensive orphanage experience have suffered more and greater challenges,” says Le Mare.

“However, among those with extensive orphanage experience there is considerable variation in developmental outcomes with some experiencing multiple and severe challenges over time, some doing well at some times but having challenges emerge at others, and some showing positive development across time.”

By Dixon Tam, Information Officer, SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations