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Romania: Adopted Children Pose Problems For Canadian Parents

Ottawa, 2 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Two recent studies on how Romanian orphans are adapting to life in Canada reveal serious emotional, behavioral and mental problems among the children.

At least 1,200 Romanian children have been adopted by Canadians since the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime in 1989.

The studies were carried out in the west coast province of British Columbia and in Ontario. In the first, done by psychology professor Elinor Ames of Simon Fraser University, it was found that 65 percent of the children studied had serious problems more than three years after coming to Canada and that 33 percent of their parents needed help or counselling because they felt like failures.

In her study, Ames says the problems are numerous: hyperactivity, low intelligence, an inability to make an attachment to anyone, delayed learning, difficult relations with other children (ranging from withdrawal to aggression) and repetitive behavior, such as constant rocking.

She recommends that Canadians learn more about the impact of orphanage life on children before they pursue international adoptions. She also suggests that international adoption brokers be required to provide more services after the adoption. The study concludes that the longer a child lives in an orphanage, the more problems a child will have.

She suggests that people adopt as young a child as possible -- and cautions it takes time, money and tolerance to cope with potential stress.

"Having the knowledge, experience and contacts to gain access to -- and even fight for -- information or services or having a bit of extra income to pay for a child's preschool or for a sitter to provide some relaxation for a stressed parent may make a large difference in outcome," Ames said. "These differences are especially important when the child's initial problems are more severe or when two children are added to the family at one time."

Ames found another worrisome development: that parents under stress sometimes use harsh means to try to cope with the problems. She defines harsh means as scolding, punishing or restraining the child.

"Parents' feelings of incompetence, depression and lack of investment in parenting, along with increased use of harsh means to deal with their children's problems are likely to contribute to less optimal parenting and, thereby, further limits the parents' ability to help their children improve," Ames said.

The second study was done by Ontario psychologist Sharon Marcovitch, who has co-authored several studies on adopted Romanian children. She found similar patterns, especially the longer a child was in an orphanage.

"There are some very disappointed parents out there," Marcovitch concluded. "Many parents come back very naive, thinking that loving the child is enough. Love is not enough."

Marcovitch's study found that development of the Romanian orphans she studied "was delayed by more than two years and some may never catch up to average." However, she says that her studies found a lower problem rate than that of Ames.

She notes that Ames has been invited by the Ontario Children's Aid Society and the Adoption Council of Ontario to speak next month to parents interested in international adoptions and professionals in the field. She will talk about what people should know when adopting, the kinds of problems to watch for in the first few years and where to look for help if it is needed.

Canadians are turning, increasingly, to foreign countries to adopt children because of a decrease in the number of Canadian children available for adoption. Adoptions from Romania were halted from 1991 to 1994 after the Romanian government was embarrassed by reports that children were being sold for adoption. Now -- following the terms of an international convention on foreign adoption -- follow-up reports on adoptive parents are required every six months for a two-year period.