“An Experiment in Zero Parenting” by Eliot Marshall ia an article that discusses an experiment done by the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP) in Romania. In the 1960’s the dictator felt Romania’s population needed to be boosted, so he started taxing women for having less than five children with no consideration about their financial and physical abilities to care for any or all of the children. This left a heavy burden on Romania to take care of these children when their caregivers no longer could, and these children were put into orphanages. These orphanages were not a positive environment for the children to be raised in. They were overrun with nearly 170,000 children living in them, which left the employees doing the basic care needs, so infants spent most of their time in their cribs with no stimulation. When a child doesn’t get stimulation, the brain doesn’t develop correctly, “cognitive and emotional growth are stunted” (Marshall, 2014, page 752).
The author wrote “The children’s empty motions, or ‘stereotypies,’ are like the pacing of a tiger or elephant in the zoo” (Marshall, 2014, page 752). The researchers with BEIP decided to fund top of the line foster homes and study the differences between the children in orphanages, those in the foster homes, and those never in institutional care. What they discovered was the children who the orphanages for foster care did have some resilience and bounced back. This was especially true if they were able to leave prior to 24 months, as well as those who spent a short time in the orphanage due to lack of an attentive caregiver.
The researches gathered test results several different times and found the children out of their home scored much lower than the children being raised by their family placing them in the “profound intellectual delay” category. They also completed brain electrical readings (EEG’s) on the children which showed the brains of those left in orphanages were less mature than the other groups. Although the outcomes for the children in the orphanages were disheartening, there were positive outcomes as a result of this research. Since the findings, the Romanian government founded a foster care program which has led to a significant drop in the number of children in orphanages. The article stated many of the children in orphanages today are those who are severely handicapped which makes the reader wonder what the outcomes for those children could be if the foster care program supported them. Hopefully this study, along with continuing research, helps all governments improve their child welfare system.
This article particularly interested me because I work in the child welfare system and I have several personal relationships with people who have been affected by foster care and adoption. My current position at The Division of Child and Family Services is to manage the team that makes placements of foster children and manages our basic foster homes. This article reinforced a lot of my personal beliefs. These were formed from my experiences, especially the importance for children to be in a family setting, ideally with their own family. My team was created for situations where children can’t remain in their homes. Our goal is to find the best matched foster home so children can hopefully have one placement before they are reunified with their family or adopted. With one home, a child is more likely able to build a secure attachment and have caregivers who are providing them with opportunities to grow, such as stimulation.
The article by Marshall (2014) also discussed how neglect can also be more detrimental than abuse, which I have also noticed in my career. Therapeutic interventions and an engaged, loving parent can often help a child heal. This is especially true for a child who has been the victim of abuse or neglect, however it seems like it takes longer and behaviors are more extreme for children who have suffered severe neglect. According to Health First (2019) infants need stimulation for multiple reasons including nervous system development, memory, and a more secure self-image.
Articles like this help me feel more motivated at work to continue advocating for a better foster care system. In our state we have a significant shortage of foster homes, so we are continually working with our community partners to recruit more foster homes. There is an even greater need for homes that can take large sibling groups, children of all ages, and homes that understand and are willing to work with behaviors that result from trauma. We are also constantly advocating and working with the community to provide better services for foster children, foster families, and their biological family. I would love to see a foster care system where a higher level of care (group homes or residential treatment) is rarely needed. This is especially true as research, including this article shows us institutional care has detrimental effects.
This article also made me reflect on the type of stimulus children receive. I recently became a parent and it can be exhausting to find ways to engage your child in activities that provide stimulus to help them grow especially, after a hard day at work or a terrible night of sleep. I want to continue to do research about the risks of using electronic stimulus because I think a lot of Americans use television or tablets to keep their child entertained. American Academy of Pediatrics (2011) recommends no television is recommended until age 2 and technology can increase attention issues in childhood. While this isn’t as extreme as a neglected child it is interesting in the Zero Parenting experiment, they noticed zero parenting led to increases in attention related disorders. I would love to research what programs already exit to teach parents appropriate ways to engage with their child, which increases their self-esteem, attention span, brain growth, and regulation skills.
Article such as this are also beneficial for being a school counselor. In the school setting we are seeing more children who have been exposed to traumatic events such as abuse and neglect. These articles help us understand their behaviors and survival skills, while giving us hope of positive outcomes with good interventions. Another reason I would like to find programs about engaging with your child is to use in my role as a school counselor. I can use these while working with children, give tips to other school personal as needed, and refer programs to parents when appropriate. I love that there is more information available on trauma and how to help children affected by trauma, as well as prevent bad outcomes in the future for our future children.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). Media Use for Children Younger than 2 Years. Pediatrics, 128, 1-6
- Infant Stimulation. (2019). Retrieved September 15, 2019, from https://hf.org/health_info/your_health_first/kids/infant_stim.cfm
- Marshall, E. (2014). An Experiment in Zero Parenting. Science Magazine, 345, 752-754