Argentina’s Courageous Abuelas

Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo is a non-governmental organization formed in 1977. Their grandchildren disappeared. Many babies were kidnapped with their parents, some after their parents were killed, and others were born in clandestine detention centers where their mothers were taken after having been sequestered at different states of their pregnancies.

The grandmothers note that from the moment that their children (often with their grandchild still in the womb) disappeared, they have visited every court, office, orphanage, day care center, and so on, trying to locate them. They have appeared before the courts, the successive military governments, the Supreme Court, and the ecclesiastical hierarchies, never obtaining a positive result. They eventually directed their claims to international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States. All to no avail.

These disappeared children were deprived of their identity, their religion, and their right to live with their family, in other words, all of the rights that are nationally and internationally recognized as their universal human rights. Beginning in 1997, the grandmothers began an informational campaign seeking to draw the attention of young people (of an approximate age range of what their grandchildren would be at that time) who may have had doubts regarding their true identity to the Abuelas organization. Happily, they have had some positive results.

The grandmothers wish to make it clear that their grandchildren have not been abandoned and inform them that they have the right to recover their roots and their history. They wish for these victims to know that they have relatives who are constantly engaged in searching for them.

Over 3 decades, the grandmothers located 120 of the disappeared children, including 4 found by governmental commissions and 2 located by CLAMOR, the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Southern Cone. The estimated number of children kidnapped is approximately 500. Widespread DNA testing is now making it possible to locate more of these children who could have been sent out for adoption to any country anywhere in the world.

Some of the recovered children are already living with their legitimate families and have become perfectly integrated. Others are still living with the families that have raised them, but are in close contact with their true grandmothers and relatives. By being a part of two families, the children have recovered their identity. Sadly, there are a large number of disappeared children whose identities were completely annulled. In those cases, the grandmothers are using modern science to prove that they are members of a particular family. They continue to rely on support from the scientific community in the field of genetics, hematology, morphology, and others to accomplish their goal.

Romanian Orphanages

An estimated 100,000 Romanian children were in orphanages at the end of 1989, when communism ended. The high number is linked to the pro-family policies pursued by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In 1966, the regime banned abortions and contraceptives to keep the population from shrinking after World War II.

I remember hearing about these children long ago. Today, I was reminded of them by a link to an article in The Atlantic. Maybe what I heard about was the public execution by firing squad of Romania’s last Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, who’d ruled for 24 years. This past Christmas day was the 30th anniversary of that execution and the discovery of his network of “child gulags,” in which an estimated 170,000 abandoned infants, children, and teens were being raised. Believing that a larger population would beef up Romania’s economy, Ceaușescu had curtailed contraception and abortion, imposed tax penalties on people who were childless, and celebrated as “heroine mothers” women who gave birth to 10 or more. Parents who couldn’t possibly handle another baby might call their new arrival “Ceauşescu’s child,” as in “Let him raise it.”

To house a generation of unwanted or unaffordable children, Ceauşescu ordered the construction or conversion of hundreds of structures around the country. Signs displayed the slogan: the state can take better care of your child than you can.

At age 3, abandoned children were sorted. Future workers would get clothes, shoes, food, and some schooling in Case de copii—“children’s homes”—while “deficient” children wouldn’t get much of anything in their Cămin Spital Pentru Copii Deficienţi, a Home Hospital for Irrecoverable Children. The Soviet “science of defectology” viewed disabilities in infants as intrinsic and uncurable. Even children with treatable issues—perhaps they were cross-eyed or anemic, or had a cleft lip—were classified as “unsalvageable.”

In an era devoted to fighting malnutrition, injury, and infection, the idea that adequately fed and medically stable children could waste away because they missed their parents was hard to believe. Their research led to the then-bold notion, advanced especially by John Bowlby, that simply lacking an “attachment figure,” a parent or caregiver, could wreak a lifetime of havoc on mental and physical health.

In the decade after the fall of Ceaușescu, the new Romanian government welcomed Western child-development experts to simultaneously help and study the tens of thousands of children still warehoused in state care. Researchers hoped to answer some long-standing questions: Are there sensitive periods in neural development, after which the brain of a deprived child cannot make full use of the mental, emotional, and physical stimulation later offered? Can the effects of “maternal deprivation” or “caregiver absence” be documented with modern neuroimaging techniques? Finally, if an institutionalized child is transferred into a family setting, can he or she recoup undeveloped capacities? Implicitly, poignantly: Can a person unloved in childhood learn to love?

In the fall of 2000, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project was launched. The BEIP study would become the first-ever randomized controlled trial to measure the impact of early institutionalization on brain and behavioral development and to examine high-quality foster care as an alternative.

The researchers employed Mary Ainsworth’s classic “strange situation” procedure to assess the quality of the attachment relationships between the children and their caregivers or parents. In a typical setup, a baby between nine and 18 months old enters an unfamiliar playroom with her “attachment figure” and experiences some increasingly unsettling events, including the arrival of a stranger and the departure of her grown-up, as researchers code the baby’s behavior from behind a one-way mirror.

100 percent of the local community kids living with their parents were found to have fully developed attachment relationships with their mothers. That was true of only 3 percent of the institutionalized kids. Nearly two-thirds displayed contradictory, jerky behaviors, perhaps freezing in place or suddenly reversing direction after starting to approach the adult. 13 percent were deemed “unclassified,” meaning they displayed no attachment behaviors at all.

As early as 2003, it was evident to the BEIP scientists and their Romanian research partners that the foster-care children were making progress. Children taken out of orphanages before their second birthday were benefiting from being with families far more than those who stayed longer. The next year, the Romanian government banned the institutionalization of children under the age of 2. Since then, it has raised the minimum age to 7, and government-sponsored foster care has expanded dramatically.

Meanwhile, the study continued. When the children were reassessed in a “strange situation” playroom at age 3.5, the portion who displayed secure attachments climbed from the baseline of 3 percent to nearly 50 percent among the foster-care kids, but to only 18 percent among those who remained institutionalized—and, again, the children moved before their second birthday did best. The benefits for children who’d achieved secure attachments accrued as time went on. At age 4.5, they had significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety and fewer “callous unemotional traits” (limited empathy, lack of guilt, shallow affect) than their peers still in institutions.

Sadly, about 40 percent of teenagers in the study who’d ever been in orphanages, in fact, were eventually diagnosed with a major psychiatric condition. Their growth was stunted, and their motor skills and language development stalled.

My source for today’s blog has much more content. Can an Unloved Child Learn to Love ? by Melissa Fay Greene in The Atlantic.

A Home For Orphans

Milton Hershey School

There is a need to care for true orphans that do not have living family to care for them.  Milton Hershey is mostly known for perfecting a recipe for milk chocolate.  I love their Hershey Bars with Almonds but I really shouldn’t eat them because my biology is afflicted with a tendency to have high blood sugar.  If I let myself eat one small miniature bar, I want more or something else that I shouldn’t be eating that is too sugary.  Mostly I just don’t.

Milton Hershey was a leading philanthropist during his time.  In the early 1900s, he was a visionary about providing better working conditions for his workers.  He knew this support would also allow them to do a better job in his factory.

Eventually, he built a company town.  It was beyond what most companies did at that time.  Not only did he build homes for his workers but supported the growth of businesses in the surrounding area as well as a transportation infrastructure.

He and his wife Catherine never had any children of their own but they cared about child welfare.  This motivated them to establish a boarding school for orphans.  Even now, the school provides a home and free education through high school to more than 2,000 boys and girls.

Hershey is a good example of a visionary social entrepreneur.  His efforts never diminished his financial well-being but kept on enhancing that further, so that he could do more.

Something In Common Among Us

It always surprises me how many people have adoption in their family histories in one way or another.  So I read today that Rachel Carson participated in a kinship adoption of her nephew, Roger Christie, who was the son of Rachel Carson’s niece Marjorie. Carson adopted Roger at age five after Marjorie’s sudden death.

This is a kind of adoption that I do think highly of and I already thought highly of Rachel Carson who was born on the same day as I was – May 27th.  She seems to have kept Roger out of the public eye as there is little one can find out about him.  She would have certainly instilled in any child in her orbit a respect for and love of wild nature.

Carson wrote in an article for The Women’s Home Companion in 1956, “the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Carson never married and had no children of her own. Her mother was always the most important person in her life, sharing her home and acting as her housekeeper and secretary. In their later years, they lived at the northern tip of Washington D.C in Silver Spring, Maryland.

That was not the first child Carson took under her wing. Carson’s elder sister Marian died of pneumonia in 1937. Marian’s husband had deserted her and their two daughters a few years earlier. Carson took the girls into her home. Carson’s mother, who was almost 70 years old, looked after them while Carson’s salary paid the bills. Carson and her mother cared for the girls until they were adults.

Rachel Carson died of a heart attack on April 14, 1964 in Silver Spring, Maryland. She was 56 years old. Carson’s will provided generously for the future of her adopted son Roger Christie who came under the guardianship of Carson’s close friend Paul Brooks, senior editor at Carson’s publishers Houghton Mifflin, and his wife Susie.

Coronavirus Orphans

This could be only the beginning of a new wave of orphans.  Sundee Rutter, 42, complained of feeling unwell on March 3 whilst recovering from surgery and thought she may have COVID-19.

The doctor’s told her she didn’t have it.  However, she self-quarantined at home for four days.  Then, she started having difficulty breathing and was admitted to a Washington hospital on March 7.  After one week of fighting, she passed away on Monday.

Sundee lost her husband some years ago and leaves her six children orphaned.  The six children range in ages from 24, down to 13.  Her children say she made it her highest priority to instill in all of them the highest values.  It was her hope that each of her children will make a positive impact on friends, family, and community.

Due to recently undergoing cancer treatment, Sundee simply didn’t have an immune system capable of pulling her through.  She had beat cancer but lost the battle for continuing her life due to the Coronavirus.

Sadly, I feel we will see more sad stories like this one.  I am heartened that there are two children that are 21+ in age plus one who will be in another year who can take over raising their younger siblings.  Though it is a big burden at such a young age, the children are old enough that they are unlikely to end up adopted or in foster care.

Opioid Orphans

It is so sad that medications meant to relieve serious pain have become such a travesty that people who might benefit from them find it hard to receive a prescription.  I understand the complication.  I have been prescribed such medications and though I never became addicted, I could see the temptation and how the drug fixes itself upon the person.

I have experienced the awareness that my ex-husband overdosed and gratefully survived the experience.  When he came home he told me his friend dumped him out at the emergency room.  Not long after, that friend actually died of an overdose himself.  His family lived next door to my in-laws and they quite obviously, and reasonably, distanced themselves from my ex at the time – though he was not at all responsible for his friend’s death.  Parents have a hard time accepting such a hard truth at the time they lose their child.

Today, many grandparents will be forced to rescue their grandchildren after such an event.  Fortunately, the death I described above was a person without children.  Though perhaps a few years away from retirement, they find themselves full-time parents again.  This is the collateral damage caused by the opioid crisis.

As the opioid epidemic has spread across the country, through all age, gender, race and economic categories, the number of children who have lost their parents to drugs—either to death by overdose, to jail, prison, homelessness or disability—has skyrocketed. Those children wind up in one of two places: either with relatives, or in an already overburdened foster care system.  In 2015, the child welfare system saw a three-year national increase of more than 30,000 children entering foster care.  That number is likely much higher now as the nation finally begins to face the truth and pharmaceutical companies are being held to account.

In West Virginia, the hardest hit state in the opioid crisis, the number of foster care children grew 24 percent from 2012-2016.  The numbers escalate as the number of overdoses increase; they mirror the number of addicts in treatment programs, incarceration or living day-to-day on the streets. Babies are born addicted to opioids or other drugs.  More often than not, addict parents, living or deceased, have made little or no provisions for the ongoing care of their children.