Caitlin Sonnenberg and Dr. Chris Porter, Marriage, Family and Human Development
In order for infants to develop normally, “their caregiving environment…has to be good enough to support good emotional health.”1 In the United States, infants normally receive the emotional support necessary to develop at a healthy level. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many developing countries. In Romania, for example, thousands of children are raised in institutions. During the Winter Semester of 2001, I worked as an intern in a Romanian institution for dystrophic (malnourished or underdeveloped) infants, and saw that these infants received little or no emotional support and were unattached to their caregivers.
During my four-month internship, my primary objectives were to provide emotional and physical support to the infants in the Dystrophic Center and to encourage their developmental progress. My second objective was to determine whether encouragement and attention affected an infant’s mental and physical development.
My hypothesis was that a lack of attention and encouragement negatively affects an infant’s development. Infants who are neglected physically and emotionally will have more extreme developmental delays than those infants whose physical and emotional needs are met.
During the first two weeks of my internship, I was able to observe the infants and discover which of them were favored and encouraged by the staff and which were neglected. Initially, all of the infants were neglected. However, shortly after my arrival, a child development class was provided to the staff in order to encourage improvement of the quality of care that the infants receive. At this point that I decided to focus my research on two infants of approximately the same age: Costel, a fifteen- month old male who began to receive attention, affection and encouragement after the child development class, and Petronela, a nineteen-month old female who was continually neglected by the Dystrophic Center Staff throughout my stay. I kept a daily record of the progress and activities of each infant. Each infant’s developmental status was analyzed upon my arrival and again upon my departure according to the Denver II developmentally test. This test covers four areas of development: gross motor, language, fine motor-adaptive, and personal-social.
On January 15, 2001, I analyzed Petronela’s development according to the Denver II test. The results of Petronela’s test displayed extreme delays in the areas of personal-social and language as well as significant delays in both gross and fine motor. As a nineteen-month old child, Petronela had the personal-social and language skills of a six-month old infant. Her gross motor and fine motor skills were delayed to the level of a nine-month old infant. In accordance with test behavior patterns, Petronela was atypical and fearful with a distractible attention span.
On January 16, 2001, I tested Costel according to the Denver II test. As a fifteen-month old child, Costel was delayed to the level of a five-month old infant in both personal-social and language skills and delayed to the level of a nine-month infant in the areas of gross and fine motor. According to test behavior patterns, Costel was atypical and extremely fearful.
Throughout my four-month stay in Romania, I observed Costel receiving substantial amounts of attention and becoming increasingly attached to several members of the staff. Petronela, however, received minimal attention.
On April 17, 2001, I re-evaluated both Costel and Petronela according to the Denver II test. The results were incredible. Costel had progressed to the level of a nineteen-month old in regard to fine and gross motor. His personal-social skills progressed to level of a seventeen-month old and his language skills progressed to the level of a fourteen-month old child. His test behavior patterns become increasingly more typical and his fearfulness dissolved.
Petronela’s test results were quite different than Costel’s results. Her overall development progressed only to that of an eleven-month old. Her test behavior patterns remained the same.
My research and results proved that attention does indeed affect development. Infants whose caregiving environment provides attention and encouragement progress more rapidly than those whose environment does not supply them with attention and encouragement.
In conclusion, I hope that my research will encourage those with children to provide a loving, attentive environment for them to be raised in. I also hope that through sharing my results with the staff of the Dystrophic Center, they will further their efforts to provide a caregiving environment that will appropriately suit the needs of a developing infant.
- Mercer, Jean. (1998). Infant Development: A Multidisciplinary Introduction. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company. Pacific Grove, California.