Bucharest Early Intervention Project

This study compares the development of children living in institutions to the development of formerly institutionalized children now living in Romanian foster homes established by the Network. (Both groups of children are also compared to a group of never-institutionalized Romanian children living with their biological families.) The domains of development studied include brain, behavior, social-emotional development, attachment, cognition, language development, and physical growth. The goals of the study are:

  1. to examine the effects, across a number of domains, of early social deprivation experienced by young children raised in Romanian institutions
  2. to determine to what extent an intervention (in this case, placing the child with a foster family) could remediate the negative effects of institutionalization

Three groups of young children are being studied: 66 children raised in institutions and remaining institutionalized, 70 removed from institution and placed in foster homes screened, and trained under the auspices of the Network, and 72 never-
institutionalized children living in their biological homes who serve as a community control group.

Each of the children in the study were given a baseline assessment, performed between May and September 2001. Each child would then be assessed at 9 months, 18 months, 30 months and 42 months of age. (Some of the children will only receive two, or even one assessment post-baseline, as they were older at the beginning of the study than some of the follow-up assessment ages. For example, children aged 28 months in April, 2001 received a baseline assessment, and follow-up assessments at 30 and 42 months, while children aged 6 months at the beginning of the study will receive a baseline assessments, plus assessments at each of the four later assessment points.)

These measures will allow us to get a relatively detailed and integrated picture of the children’s cognitive, social/emotional, physical, and brain development over time. We hope the data will provide insight into the effects of deprivation and of a differentially timed intervention on each of these domains. With these data, the Network hopes to provide evidence for a number of hypotheses. We hope to demonstrate that, compared to the institutionalized group, the foster care group and never institutionalized group will exhibit:

  • higher levels of cognitive functioning
  • better physical development
  • more advanced social/communicative relatedness
  • better social interactions with primary caregivers
  • more normal brain physiology

It is also anticipated that the foster care group will master behavioral tasks believed to be associated with specific brain functions earlier and more accurately than the institutionalized group. The data will also elucidate the effects of the timing of intervention on developmental outcome.

In terms of brain functioning, we hope to show the effects of early social deprivation on pattern of frontal brain electrical activity, and normalization of these patterns after intervention; and the effects of early social deprivation and intervention upon neural systems involved in the processing of social-emotional stimuli.

Data have been collected and are currently being analyzed. Some baseline data have been fully analyzed and published:

Zeanah, C.H., Nelson, C.A., Fox, N.A., Smyke, A.T., Marshall, P., Parker, S.W., & Koga, S. (2003). Designing research to study the effects of institutionalization on brain and behavioral development: The Bucharest Early Intervention Project. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 885-907 .

Marshall, P.J., Fox, N.A., et al. (2004). A Comparison of the Electroencephalogram between Institutionalized and Community Children in Romania. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 16:8, 1327–1338.

Parker, S.W., Nelson, C.A., et al. (2005). The Impact of Early Institutional Rearing on the Ability to Discriminate Facial Expressions of Emotion: An Event-Related Potential Study. Child Development, 76:1, 54-72.

Zeanah, C.H., Smyke, A.T., Koga, S.F.M., Carlson, E., et al. (2005). Attachment in Institutionalized and Community Children in Romania. Child Development, 76:5, 1015-1028.

Parker, S.W., Nelson, C.A., and the BEIP core group (2005). An event-related potential study of the impact of institutional rearing on face recognition. Development and Psychopathology , 17, 621-639.