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Interview with Dr. Elinor Ames


Katherin Jones
September 1992

Dr. Elinor W. Ames, of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, recently reported the results of the Romanian Adoption Research Project. Its aim was to examine the effects of institutionalization on the subsequent development of the children. I talked to Dr. Ames about her findings.

Adoption Helper: What was the major finding of your study?
Elinor Ames: I think one of the most important things for parents, is that the parents [in our study] anticipated that children from the orphanages would be delayed, but they didn't think so much about some of the behavioural and emotional problems that the children would have. So afterwards,they were more upset by the fact that their children rocked back and forth, or that they absolutely refused to eat solid food, than they were that the children couldn't do all the things that Canadian children of the same age could do. It seemed reasonable to them that the children were delayed. But it was the kids' bizarre behaviour that bothered them. [The children] do have some weird behaviours. But in all cases, these are slowly declining.

AH: You said that perhaps the parents were not adequately prepared for the adoptions?
EA: Particularly with Romanian adoptions, I think the first people who went knew very little. They did have the counsel of some of us who had been to see the orphanages. But I think that people are so strongly motivated, they want this child so much, that they're willing to dash off and they do not listen. I was telling people before, if you go to adopt an orphanage child, think of it as a special needs adoption. This is not the adoption of a normal child to start. The difference is that although many of these children will become very normal, they have many behavioural problems.

AH: You said they will become the prognosis for these children is good?
EA: I would think that the great majority of them will come within the normal range, in terms of intellect, school performance, getting along within their families. I think a minority of them will probably have some differences, some problems in attachment. But I'm not sure about that. They're still moving. What struck us was that their parents thought they looked fine, because they were very loving, because they would sit on their parents' laps and they were very loving children. But what the parents didn't seem to realize was at that time, was that they were equally loving with people outside the family. So they would go off with a stranger, they would wander off and not get upset when they couldn't see their parents any more. They were friendly with everybody. And the parents took that as 'they are already attached to me', but it was sort of like they just loved people. They'd just discovered people for the first time who will do things for them. Nobody in the orphanage had any time for them. Now everybody wants to do things and get them things, and I think they're in love with humanity in general. And they have to go through that. If you think of it in a normal baby ... a five month old baby is like that. He'll smile at anybody. You can hand him to anybody. And these kids seem to me to be back at that level.

AH: But they can, ultimately, we hope, attach?
EA: We do not know yet. We hope so. And I would predict that most of them will make fairly normal attachments. But this is something we really don't know a lot about.

AH: Do you feel positively about this kind of adoption process, or is that beyond the realm of your study?
EA: I feel positive about taking children [from overseas for adoption]. One worries about overseas adoptions--are you taking them away their families and culture? But if children are in orphanages, you know that they need a home. And there is just no doubt that every single child in our study has a better life than if they had stayed in those orphanages, by a hundred fold. Regardless of their problems, they'll do much, much better than they would have done if they had been left in the orphanage.

Katherin Jones was first editor of Adoption Helper, no. 1 to no. 21 (1990-1996). She lives in Toronto with sons David (b. 1989, Peru) and Cristopher (b. 1996, Guatemala).

First published in Adoption Helper No. 8, Sept. 1992.

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