The awful fate of children in orphanages

As you can see, attachment and separation are very complex issues because the nature and the quality of the attachment (and hence separation) depends upon how parents respond on a regular basis to meet the child’s needs, and how they frequently attune themselves to the child’s emotional state in its attempts to feel secure and safe. It is about connection or disconnection, depending on the type of attachment.
The actual level of connection or disconnection has a profound effect on how our brain (neo-cortex) is wired and much research has been carried out to show that the neural pathways laid in childhood are strongly influenced by the type of attachment to our primary caregiver. In other words, the type of emotional relationship the very young child has with the primary caregiver, helps to wire its brain, and the brain structures made by the experiences and relationships in those early months dictate how we will behave and relate all our lives, and when we explore our feelings and behaviours in adult life, we must remember that these early patterns are in our subconscious. It follows that a negative environment and negative relationships at that young age lays the foundation of distress in later life.
Linda Graham gives and excellent description of attachment and the brain in her article The Neuroscience of Attachment, which you can find on the internet. As already mentioned, Allan Schore is an expert on brain formation and emotional development. He is a neurobiologist in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA, and uses brain scans and thousands of studies to prove the connection between brain development and attachment. His major work, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. The Neurobiology of Emotional Development, is a complex work, offering the most detailed examination and explanation of the brain in this context.
In their book, Born for Love, Maia Szalavitz and Bruce Perry also give a fascinating, but less detailed account, of how the brain installs the attachment in the infant’s malleable brain, bearing in mind that ninety percent of brain growth occurs prior to puberty, much of it in the earlier years. When the caregiver nurtures and comforts the child on a frequent basis three neurotransmitters (the ‘chemical messengers’ dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) are released, and over time these create the psychological bond between child and parent, bringing calmness and comfort to both. Oxytocin is particularly important in mothering. Farmers sometimes inject young heifers with it to stimulate the flow of milk for the new calf. It is noteworthy, too, that dopamine is also released when a mother’s face looks joyful and stimulates the infant. Such mirroring is essential for human emotional development.
The bond of love that grows from maternal warmth is the best and most natural antidote to fear. If, however, the parent is withdrawn or punitive these chemicals are not activated, and an emotional void exists between the child and the parent. It is an awful coldness that withers the emotional development of the child and has undesirable long-term consequences. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz put it another way in their explanation that a failure to stimulate the lower areas of the brain by affection in the early years means that the human has to use cognitive ways to make connections. In such cases people often say they are numb. Their behaviour mimics autism, but is not autism. It is nothing more that frozen feelings, one of my own sad experiences for decades. But, the repercussions can be far worse than mere numbness, because it is now known that children can waste away and die if they live in a world devoid of empathy, with little emotional nourishment.
At first sight this may be difficult to believe, until we examine the behaviour of children in some continental orphanages, where until recently the initial stress and ultimate disconnection of children was clear to see. This was often followed by early child death in these establishments, where there was no environment for secure attachment, and where, as Dr Ivor Browne states, ‘the cold heavy hand of meaningless discipline’ is frequent. John Bowlby had already noticed this when observing children in institutions from the late 1940s. Research shows that children, even as young as one year old, adopted by American couples from Romanian orphanages, suffered mental health problems years later. Romania is now rectifying this horrifying situation in different ways, but the evidence shows that no matter how comfortable an orphanage is, the consistent warmth by a particular caregiver is essential for emotional growth. If orphanage staff members are warm and kind that is helpful, but it is not enough. Studies show, for example, that children living in prison fare far better, simply because they are with their mothers.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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