Institutionalization

Author: 
Adoptive Families Association of BC
Source: 
AFABC Special Needs Database

Definition
The placement of a child in an institution, such as an orphanage or group home, usually characterized by a large number of children and few caregivers. Unfortunately there is commonly a lack of financial resources, and caregivers, which leads to a number of problems for the children in their care.

Causes
A lack of staff, resources, and money creates a situation in which the children do not receive the type of care they need to thrive.

Characteristics
There are a variety of risks which come along with institutionalization:

Lack of Medical Care or Inappropriate Medical Care

  • Due to the lack of funds, resources, or manpower the children do not always get the medicine, surgery, or check ups which their bodies require.  Often the medical issue is common and treatable with the proper funds and equipment, but these are not readily available in most institutions.
  • On the other hand the children may be used as subjects in experimental research or medicated unnecessarily as in sleeping pills or other sedatives to control behavior.

Exposure to Infection

  • The children can be kept in close quarters with each other and without vaccines or proper medical care infection spreads rapidly.
  • In some orphanages the children are “over-medicalized”, given hundreds of shots of vitamins, boosters, and various other agents before the age of three.  This overexposure increases the likelihood of infection spreading through the needles.

Delayed Growth

  • Due to lack of nutrition, improper feeding, depression, and illness, the children living in these institutions may not grow at the same rate as the majority of children.
  • However, this deficiency is usually easy to repair.  Upon adoption most children rapidly regain weight and height, catching up with the majority of other children their age.

Physical Neglect

  • Because of the common low ratio of caregivers to children, most institutions can not provide the kind of physical attention an infant requires.  As a result there can be neglect of:
    • personal hygiene
    • physical touch and stimulation
    • exercise both indoors and outdoors

Delayed Development

  • Children can be delayed mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically by institutionalization.  Ill-fitting clothes, bare cribs, swaddling, and baby restraints can all delay the baby’s motor skills.
  • The lack of one-on-one attention or toys, as well as the constantly changing attendants, the children are not given the stimulation they need to stretch their minds or development emotion and attachments.

Treatment
In providing the children with what they have been missing while institutionalized, the effects of the orphanage can sometimes be reversed.  By filling the child’s life with stimulation, nutrition, attention, exercise, and love, many of the child’s problems are often resolved.  However, each individual is different and every orphanage is different.  There is no way to predict exactly what the effects of institutionalization have been and how quickly he or she, will or will not recover.

Complications
Although the effects of institutionalization are not desirable for a child, a life abandoned on the streets can often be worse.


This resource is by no means intended as a substitute for a doctor's advice or diagnosis. Any concerns you may have with regard to your child's health and development should be discussed with a professional in an appropriate field.