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Neglect during infancy can affect children for years, scientists report

DENVER,CO Many children who were neglected in orphanages during the first months of their life encounter a distinct set of developmental challenges--lasting for years after they've been adopted by attentive parents, scientists said today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting. Biological insights into these difficulties may suggest ways to improve the lives of some troubled children, and shed light on how the brain develops in early childhood.

In the last decade, in the United States alone, the number of children adopted by U.S. families from other countries has increased from 7,000 to 17,000, according to Seth Pollak of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, approximately 85 percent of these children have spent some part of their lives in institutions.

The panelists were careful to point out that, overall, internationally adopted children have progressed well, considering the challenges they have faced.

"Our concern is how to inform others about the early experiences these kids have had--but we don't want to sent the message that people shouldn't adopt these kids, that they're damaged," Pollak said.

"One of the nice things, from a scientific standpoint, is that [many internationally adopted children] move from the worst to the best environments," said Megan Gunnar of the University of Minnesota. "The lives of kids in the U.S. foster care system continue to have disruptions, so what we're learning speaks a great deal to our understanding of maltreatment and neglect."

Some of the most obvious ways that the development of institutionalized children has been impaired, such as physical growth, seem to be temporary. Once children have been placed in families, they tend to catch up with other children in their age group, the researchers have found.

Yet, parents have been concerned that certain social and emotional difficulties remain, Pollak said.

"Many of the parents
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14-Feb-2003


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