An experiment in zero parenting

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Science  15 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6198, pp. 752-754
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6198.752

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A study of orphans carried out in Bucharest has been described as the best controlled—and most controversial—analysis of institutionalized child care. Led by Harvard Medical School neuroscientist Charles Nelson, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP) tracks children who were raised for a time with essentially no parenting. BEIP intervened in 2000 to offer high-quality foster care to a randomly selected group of these Romanian orphans; it also tracked a group who lived in institutions. (This was controversial; some critics thought that it was improper to study any children in institutions.) The researchers, who are now preparing to revisit these children in their 15th year, have published strong evidence showing that those who remained in institutional care after the age of 24 months had major delays in cognitive development (among other problems). The researchers found that if foster care began before 24 months, children were able to catch up with peers in many ways. For example, the early foster care group at age 8 scored in the normal range on IQ tests, whereas those in the institutional group did not. The evidence shows, according to BEIP, that an estimated 8 million children in institutions around the world would be much better off living with foster families.