Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Guardian Unlimited | Science | Depriving children of loving environment damages intelligence

A Loving Family - The Ultimate Institution

Guardian Unlimited | Science | Depriving children of loving environment damages intelligence: "A loving family can boost children's intelligence

Five-year study measures impact of environment
Deprived upbringing is linked to stunted growth

Ian Sample in St Louis
Saturday February 18, 2006
The Guardian

Depriving children of a loving family environment causes lasting damage to their intelligence, emotional wellbeing and even their physical stature, according to the most extensive study of social deprivation yet.

A lack of care and attention left children with stunted growth, substantially lower IQs and more behavioural and psychological problems than children who had been better cared for, according to the report at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in St Louis yesterday.

The extent to which children are sensitive to the environment they grow up in emerged from an unprecedented study, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project. It is the first randomised clinical trial set up to investigate the effects of social deprivation on the emotional, psychological and physical health of children.

The study has been running for five years and records the wellbeing of children in a Romanian orphanage from an early age, and the changes they experience when transferred to foster care. The orphanage represents an extreme of social deprivation because the children are typically looked after by a rota of carers who will be responsible for 12 to 15 children at any one time.

Researchers found children living in deprived conditions suffered stunted growth, falling within the shortest 10% for their age. But on moving to a foster home, they went through astounding growth spurts.

'They can grow five times faster than normal and by the time they've been in foster care for a year and a half they will nearly have caught up,' said Dana Johnson, professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, who estimates children in orphanages lose one month of growth for every three they spend there. Even though the children go through extraordinary growth spurts, they tend to go through puberty younger and faster, and so miss out on the usual long spell of growth most children experience.

The researchers say the children's recovery is unlikely to be explained by better nutrition as they had adequate meals before. Instead, they believe the effect is down to the more attentive environment."

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