MacArthur has announced a grant of $900,000 to the University of Minnesota to help Romania work towards a community-based family support, and adoption and foster care system for vulnerable and special needs children.
The grant will be used to help establish an Institute of Child Development in Romania to coordinate the research, dissemination, training, and clinical services needed to create and sustain a modern and effective child welfare system in the country.
Our support for the Institute of Child Development represents a great opportunity to make a real and lasting difference on an issue that has plagued Romania for decades, said Jonathan Fanton, President of MacArthur. Under the long authoritarian regime of Nicolae Ceaucescu, Romania built up an unmanageable system of state-run orphanages. Romania has now embarked on a new path, developing a system of foster care that reflects modern scientific findings about child development. MacArthur is pleased to support the new Institute of Child Development that will insure a steady flow of scientific research to national policymakers.
The idea for the Institute came from research conducted by the Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development, a MacArthur-funded interdisciplinary research effort created to explore the influence of brain development on behavior. In an effort to understand more about how early experience affects brain and behavior development, Network researchers compared the development of young children living in Romanian institutions to the development of formerly institutionalized children who had moved to foster homes and to children living with their biological families.
During the course of the Network study, the Romanian government was looking for ways to eliminate its state institutions, but there were few resourcesbeyond our workto explore the needs of institutionalized children or provide training and education for those interested in child development issues in Romania, said Dr. Charles Nelson, the Chair of the Research Network and a professor of Child Psychology, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. This grant will help us put in place the academic infrastructure needed to sustain the long-term effort required to overhaul the current child welfare system in Romania and create opportunities for the study of child development and behavior in the country.
The Network study in Romania, called the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP), was the only source for scientific research on the needs of vulnerable children in Romania. As the study progressed, the government and other supporters of child welfare reform in the country expressed an interest in creating an institute that could continue the work of BEIP after the study was concluded. The MacArthur grant will support the transition of BEIP activities and leadership to the Institute and help build Romanias academic infrastructure for the study of child development. The Institute will be located at St. Catherines Center, where the BEIP is currently housed, with additional space donated by the city of Bucharest.
The unusual circumstances of Romanian children abandoned by their families and cared for by the state in large institutional settings created a rare opportunity for researchers to study the effects of adverse experience and deprivation on early childhood brain and behavioral development. In addition to studying the effects, the Project set up a network of foster care homes to see if the possible negative effects of institutionalization could be reversed. The study, which began in 2001, followed three groups of children: those raised in institutions who remained institutionalized; those who were removed from institutions and placed in foster homes; and those who were never institutionalized and were living with their families. Preliminary data indicated that there was significant improvement in the well-being of children who were moved from institutions and put into foster care. This information was of great value to the Romanian government, which had been looking for ways to improve its child welfare system. The Institute for Child Development was created as a way for the government to continue the work of BEIP and establish a modern and effective child welfare system.
The Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development was created in 1998 to address questions of how the experiences of early childhood are incorporated into the structure of the developing brain, and how, in turn, those changes in the structures of the brain influence behavior. The Network bridges three related disciplines: developmental psychology; developmental neurobiology; and developmental-behavioral pediatrics. Its members are drawn from these fields and include experts in behavior and neurobiology, cognitive neuroscience, pediatric neuroimaging, molecular biology, fetal and neonatal brain development, developmental disabilities, perinatal complications and biobehavioral development, and the effects of psychological trauma on infants and children. It is chaired by Charles A. Nelson, Ph.D., at the University of Minnesota, and is one of nine research networks currently supported by the Foundation on topics related to human development. The research networks are interdisciplinary in nature, with members drawn from institutions and organizations throughout the nation. More information about the network can be found at www.macbrain.org.