Institutional Living

Institutional Living – it sounds like such a harsh term. In many ways it is. What is meant by “institutional living?” To me, I define that to mean any sort of living arrangement where there is not a one to one caregiver relationship. There is not a Mom/Child, Dad/Child, Foster parent/child relationship during those formative first 5 years (longer, but those are the most important ones.)

During that time period, if there is not one (or two in the case of a mom and dad) caregiver relationship, where the child knows that if they have needs, those needs will be met, then it’s likely that the child will suffer emotional and/or mental damage from the lack of that relationship.

What does that mean? That means, essentially, that if a child lives in an institutional setting for a long period of time (according to the World Health Organization’s report, I believe it is 14 months) there will be scars that the child will most likely carry with them for the rest of their life. Yes, that is exactly why the term, “Children from Hard Places” is often used to describe children who are adopted internationally.

What sort of challenges do they face? To describe that would be like attempting to write a mental health textbook – but in short terms, they could potentially have difficulty regulating their emotions, difficulty trusting people, low self esteem issues and a range of other challenges. The challenges will vary from child to child but I’ve talked to enough adoptive parents to know that these issues tend to show up and are present in almost all adoptive children on a continuum – meaning that some of them will be more in one child and less in another.

For the record, both of my two adopted children do deal with some of these issues. One of them spent longer in an institutional setting and so has them more severely. The other had issues with malnutrition, so she has other challenges that she’s working through.

This is why I’m working on The Vulnerable Project.   Check it out at

If you want to get involved, leave me a note here or e-mail me.


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