The first time Nathan Fox, PhD, stepped into a Romanian orphanage, he was struck by the silence. “The most remarkable thing about the infant room was how quiet
it was, probably because the infants had learned that their
cries were not responded to,” says Fox, who directs the Child
Development Laboratory at the University of Maryland.
The babies laid in cribs all day, except when being fed,
diapered or bathed on a set schedule. They weren’t rocked
or sung to. Many stared at their own hands, trying to derive
whatever stimulation they could from the world around them.
“Basically these kids were left on their own,” Fox says.
Fox, along with colleagues Charles Nelson, PhD, at Harvard
Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, and Charles
Zeanah, MD, at Tulane University, have followed those
children for 14 years. They describe their Bucharest Early
Intervention Project in a new book, “Romania’s Abandoned
Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for
Neglect isn’t just a Romanian problem, of course. UNICEF
estimates that as many as 8 million children are growing up in
institutional settings around the world. In the United States,
neglect is a less obvious — though very real — concern.
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 676,569 U.S. children were reported to have
experienced maltreatment in 2011. Of those, more than 78
percent suffered from neglect.
The lasting impact
To watch a video from the Washington Post
about Izidor Ruckel, a Romanian orphan
who has made it his life’s work to help
other orphans, visit www.youtube.com/