New Page 1

4. Discuss potential effects of deprivation or trauma in childhood on later development

Healthy development is influenced by factors such as access to loving caregivers, adequate nutrition, sensory and cognitive stimulation, and linguistic input.

A child reared in a severely deprived setting will not experience such factors and this can affect the child’s development negatively.

  • Deprivation in childhood can be seen as living in a state of various forms of neglect to provide basic needs – physical, emotional, or social. Deprivation is often related to institutionalization, growing up in poverty, and parental problems (e.g. alcoholism or mental illness.
  • Trauma in childhood can be seen as experiencing a powerful shock (e.g. divorce, death of a parent, physical or sexual abuse, natural disasters, or war. Such experiences may have long-lasting effects on development.
  • It is not possible to make a clear-cut distinction between effects of deprivation or trauma: they are much the same. Experiences of deprivation can also be traumatizing for the child.

First let’s look at Trauma


Potential effect of trauma: PTSD


Children who have experienced severe and repeated trauma may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which could interfere with normal development. If left untreated children may exhibit impulsivity, agitation, hyper-vigilance, avoidance behavior, and emotional numbness.

Carion et al. (2009) performed fMRI scans and found that children suffering from PTSD after experiencing extreme stressors such as abuse or witnessing violence performed worse on a simple verbal memory test and showed less hippocampal activity compared to a control group. The participants who performed worst on the test were those who also showed specific PTSD symptoms such as withdrawal from those who wanted to help them. They also had difficulties remembering the trauma, felt cut off from others, and showed lack of emotion.

Yehuda et al. (2001) studied the mental health of 51 children of Holocaust survivors who were raised by traumatized parents and made comparisons to a control group. The mean age of the sample was 40.9 years. The results showed that children of Holocaust survivors were more likely to develop PTSD (33.3 % compared to 12.2% in the control group). Childhood trauma was associated with parental PTSD and the results indicate that PTSD can be transmitted from parent to child.

Now let’s look at Deprivation


Potential effects of deprivation: cognitive impairment and attachment disorder


The English and Romanian adoptees study

This is a longitudinal study of 324 Romanian adoptees that entered the UK between February 1990 and September 1992. The aim was to investigate potential long-term effects of severe deprivation in childhood. All the children had been reared from infancy in very deprived institutions in Romania and adopted into UK families at various ages up to 42 months.

Rutter et al. (2004) investigated a sample of 144 children who were, at that time, six years of age. The parents were interviewed at home and answered questionnaires on the family and the child’s behavior. Three months later the child was assessed using observations and standard cognitive and developmental measures including tests on general cognitive functioning and attachment behavior. The focus was on cognitive impairment and attachment disturbance in children who had spent more than six months in the institutions. The study found no major deficits in children who had spent less than six months there.

Cognitive impairment


  • Cognitive impairment was found in 15.4% of the adoptees from Romania but in only 2.3% of the adoptees from the UK.
  • There was a persistent cognitive deficit at age six in the children who remained longest in the deprived Romanian institutions before being adopted. This was particularly the case for those children who had also suffered from severe malnutrition.
  • These children also had a much smaller head circumference at the time they entered the UK and this could also be observed at age six. This could suggest neural damage.
  • Cognitive functioning of the kids were not related to the educational levels of the adoptive parents.

Attachment disorder


  • Data was collected in semi-structured interviews with parents to assess the child’s behavior toward the parent and other adults in both novel and familiar situations.
  • There was a relationship between length of institutional deprivation and attachment disorders. No significant deficits were found in the children who entered the UK below the age of six months.
  • A number of children showed an insecure attachment pattern called disinhibited attachment disorder or Reactive Attachment Disorder characterized by:



  1. lack of preference for contact with caregivers versus relative strangers (i.e. lack of differentiation among adults)
  1. definite lack of checking back with the parent in anxiety provoking situations.



  • According to Rutter et al. (2004) a lack of personalized caregiving may well be the key factor that puts children’s social development at risk. This is in line with Bowlby (1969) who argued that emotionally available caregiving is a crucial factor in determining a child’s development and future mental health
  • Generally the data revealed a major degree of recovery in children suffering from profound institutional deprivation: the effects were not fixed and irreversible.