Sonuga-Barke E, Kennedy M, et al, The Lancet Online First, 22nd February 2017
Research Published in the Lancet looked at ‘Child-to-adult neurodevelopmental and mental health trajectories after early life deprivation: the young adult follow-up of the longitudinal English and Romanian Adoptees study’.
Time-limited, early-life exposures to institutional deprivation are associated with disorders in childhood, but it is unknown whether effects persist into adulthood.
To the knowledge of the researchers, this is the first large-scale study to follow a cohort of children who suffered profound but circumscribed periods of institutional deprivation through to adult life, allowing direct comparison of their post-institutional developmental trajectories across multiple neurodevelopmental and mental health domains.
The finding that early institutional deprivation is associated with a pervasive pattern of long-term impairment and burden is relevant to the health and wellbeing of the very large numbers of children worldwide still exposed to depriving and neglectful conditions. Even when the deprivation experienced is less severe than in the Romanian institutions, studies suggest that the cluster of neurodevelopmental problems seen in the English and Romanian Adoptees study sample are common in other samples of institutionalised but well cared for children and adolescents.
Questions about the extent to which such problems will persist to adulthood in these groups, and whether the findings can be generalised to children who experience other forms of abuse or trauma, remain to be investigated fully. The findings highlight the importance of documenting early-life adversity during clinical assessments. Records of adversary can aid in the planning of services to address the especially persistent and complex nature of the problems such individuals have. The results suggest that taking account of such histories is likely to be important in planning adult transitional services so that affected individuals have continued access to the specialist services they need.
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