Romania

Bucharest Early Intervention Project

Challenge

The 1989 fall of Romania's Ceausescu regime left approximately 170,000 children in 700 overcrowded, impoverished institutions across Romania, and prompted the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of institutionalization on children's well-being.

Where we started

Launched in 2000, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP) was a rigorously controlled investigation of foster care as an alternative to institutionalization. Researchers included 136 abandoned infants and toddlers in the study and randomly assigned half of them to foster care created specifically for the project. The other half stayed in Romanian institutions, where conditions remained substandard. Over a 16-year span, both groups have been assessed for physical growth, cognitive functioning, brain development, and social behavior. Data from a third group of children raised by their birth families were collected for comparison.

Our Impact

The findings from this study have demonstrated:

  1. the deleterious effects of early deprivation on cognitive, emotional, and brain development, as well as risk for psychopathology
  2. that placement into foster care dramatically improves outcomes
  3. in many domains the intervention is most effective when it happens in the first two years of life.

Data from the study has impacted Romanian practice and law. Currently, foster care is the required method for out-of-home care for all children under age 7, and foster care is supported by the Romanian government.

Moving Forward

Over the next four years, the BEIP will begin another set of assessments. The children are now young adults, around age 21. The study will continue to learn how early and later caregiving experiences impact the risk for psychopathology during adolescence and early adulthood. We will also assess the effects of early adversity and positive caregiving experiences on the emergence of developmentally appropriate competencies during young adulthood.

Contact

Charles Nelson, PhD