Effects of Institutionalization on Children
Children begin the cycle of attachment and bonding even in the womb, as they must receive sufficient nutrition and be free of harmful substances like alcohol and drugs, to develop properly and be ready to attach at birth. Children who are born to mother addicted to drugs or alcohol often have immature neurological system and can be hypersensitive to all stimulation, like touch, which is important in the early phases of attachment. As a result , their heightened sensitivity and irritability may set them up for further abuse and or neglect as caregivers attempt to nurture a baby who is fussy and upset.
The Bonding Cycle
In the first 18 months of life, infants learn whether to trust their environment or else to find that his/her needs will not be met. In what we call the bonding cycle, children have a need, i.e. hunger, pain, etc. They become angry and demand that their need be met. When it is met (gratification), many times over the course of 2 years, they learn to trust that their caregivers will care for and protect them. This gratification and trust becomes a foundation for development for life. When their needs are not consistently met, the bonding cycle is interrupted, having lifelong implications and causing problems in the following areas:
* Social/behavioral development
* Cognitive development
* Emotional development
* Cause and effect thinking
* Conscience development
* Reciprocal relationships
* Accepting responsibility
Children who have been institutionalized often experience interruptions in the bonding cycle. Their needs may be met sometimes, sometimes not; with no predictability, they do no know what will happen the next time they let out a cry. This causes them to learn to lose their expectations that their needs will be met and gratify themselves with self soothing methods. They trust no one besides themselves to gratify their needs and do not learn to identify with others or to develop compassion, empathy or love. These children may use methods to gratify themselves like head banging, rocking, sucking on their hands or pulling their hair. They may appear detached and vacant, desiring no interactions with others.
As newly adoptive parents (soon I hope) it will be important for us to teach our child that we will be there for them always and that we are the caregivers.