Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, February 28, 2014

Their Ravaged Psyches

BBC News Photojournal
"When I got a bit older, they started a school inside the institution. One of the volunteers took this picture of me in my uniform.
"Some of the teachers were nice, but there was one woman I hated. She used to strip children naked and put them in cold water as a punishment. One time she beat me so much it made my head bleed.
"I never wanted to see her again – I still don’t. But a while ago I saw her in town and I ran off in the other direction."
BBC News Photojournal
Foreign volunteers
"Everything got a bit better when the volunteers came. But as soon as they left, things went back to normal."A few weeks after this photo was taken, we had our heads shaved again. [Viorica is on the bottom row, second from right]
"One time, when I was 10 or 11, I got hepatitis and no one noticed for a whole week.
"Eventually I was taken to the local hospital where some women felt sorry for me. They gave me some food to take back to the institution, but the staff took it away."
Those are the voices of Romania's children who have lived their lives in Romanian orphanages. The country is more humanely and economically advanced now than it was during its Soviet years under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, who himself and his extended family lived in palaces, though the people lived in desperate need. With the fall of the Soviet Union, a mass uprising in Romania removed Ceausescu from power, and he was summarily lynched.

Soon afterward the world was treated to photographic and news analysis of the living conditions in the country, its people deprived of normal indices of human comfort and entitlements. Not the least of which was freedom and hope for the future under an unspeakable tyranny. But the most abysmal conditions were those suffered by the country's out-of-sight-out-of-mind orphans living in inhumane concentration-camp conditions.

Those abandoned children were twice discarded; once by those who gave them birth, another time by the government.

When the outside world heard of the tens of thousands of wan and sickly, profoundly neglected Romanian children warehoused in pitiless, barely functional cold, grey institutions, stacked one upon the other in their own excrement, the normal human reaction of deep compassion and an eagerness to help resulted. There were television images of small malnourished children rocking themselves silently for inner comfort, lying on threadbare mattresses. Those images galvanized people to act.
"When people saw those images after the fall of Ceausescu, they looked at those babies and thought, 'What that child needs is love and I'm going to love that child and everything is going to be OK.' It turns out that that's not always the case. Everything isn't always OK and what they need is actually more than just a loving home. In fact, the kinds of challenges and difficulties of those kids make it very challenging to provide a really warm, supportive and loving home."
"I would hate for anybody to get the impression that all of the Romanian adoptees are sociopaths, because they're not. But given the early experiences of some of these children, they were very extreme. The deprivation, the horrific conditions they came from, I suppose in some ways we ought not to be surprised that some of them have really extreme disorders as adults now."
Lucy LeMare, associate professor, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver

"It was so overwhelming. The kids are there with their little pyjamas on, in their cribs, sleeping in their own excrement and urine. Horrific conditions."
"We adopted, as we were aware, children that were going to have special needs."
Sonya Paterson, adoptive mother
"Three-year-olds didn't chew because they'd never had solid food", explained Ms. LeMare. Bottles were tied to cribs for babies to feed themselves, in the compassionless expectation that they would figure out for themselves how to nourish themselves without the nourishment of loving care. "Nobody held it [the bottle] for them, or fed them or held the child. If the baby could cope with it, good; if not, they got sick and died", she explained.

Western families without children of their own flocked to Romania in hopes of adopting these abandoned, neglected, needy children. Over 1,400 children were brought from Romania in 1990 and 1991 to Canada, about half of them out of orphanages. Researchers at Simon Fraser University conceived of tracking the children's progress to attempt to ascertain how early deprivation of emotional bonds would later impact on these children.

They have used the past two decades to study the development of the children, surveying them as toddlers, following up twice as school-age children, and again at around age seventeen. A new survey is being initiated to gauge the social development and coping skills of the adults, in hopes that they might learn what helped and what failed to aid their capacity to handle their catastrophic early trauma in emotional deprivation and human bonding.

What the research has revealed to date is that the scars of their early neglect have created a deep reservoir of struggle and dysfunction. Survey results published in 2007 pointed out that about 40 percent of the Romanian adoptees were diagnosed with a mental disorder in comparison to 15 percent among the general Canadian youth population. Hardly a surprising conclusion, given the circumstances. The researchers found that difficulties experienced appeared directly proportional to the time children spent in the orphanages.

The last study found, in fact, that the need for helpful social coping services did not diminish with time; they increased as the children moved into their teen years. A spotlight was turned on the issue when a young woman in British Columbia by the name of Kayla Bourque tortured and killed her family pets and a court case developed. The judge hearing her case heard the expert testimony of a witness for the defence, that she was a psychopathic sexual sadist, adopted at eight months of age from a Romanian orphanage.

Professor LeMare speaks of that young woman as an extreme case. Among the adoptees there are more than their share of university graduates, young parents and role models. Along with the higher-than-average numbers of people with developmental disabilities, mental-health issues, criminal records and social struggles.

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