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Mr. Mask
02-13-2015, 11:35 AM
I was thinking about having a character who grew up in an orphanage. This isn't abnormal in stories, but I wanted to understand the psychological effects to make a plausible character. I know the premise that it can have some severe negative effects on children, but lack any details.

The character in question is a girl who has been in an orphanage since infancy, and was adopted out of it somewhere between the age of 5 to 7. The girl also has a naturally high IQ (wholly original, I know :tongue).

Her time in the orphanage might be a reason for her being a moderate sociopath (this was planned before the orphan backstory), or it may be unrelated.


Setting: Modern day America. Probably a pretty decent orphanage.


Could anyone tell me a little about the psychological effects of institutional upbringing on children, or point me to somewhere I can learn it? I know there are full doctoral dissertations on the subject, but I'm hoping to avoid reading through a hundred pages on the subject if I can (I already have a pile of stuff to research).


Thank you for any advice you can offer.

cornflake
02-13-2015, 11:55 AM
I was thinking about having a character who grew up in an orphanage. This isn't abnormal in stories, but I wanted to understand the psychological effects to make a plausible character. I know the premise that it can have some severe negative effects on children, but lack any details.

The character in question is a girl who has been in an orphanage since infancy, and was adopted out of it somewhere between the age of 5 to 7. The girl also has a naturally high IQ (wholly original, I know :tongue).

Her time in the orphanage might be a reason for her being a moderate sociopath (this was planned before the orphan backstory), or it may be unrelated.


Could anyone tell me a little about the psychological effects of institutional upbringing on children, or point me to somewhere I can learn it? I know there are full doctoral dissertations on the subject, but I'm hoping to avoid reading through a hundred pages on the subject if I can (I already have a pile of stuff to research).


Thank you for any advice you can offer.

This entirely depends on several things - the era, the place/type of orphanage, the care she received in it, her personal coping skills, etc., etc.

Growing up in an orphanage turning her into a sociopath frankly has so much wrong I don't know where to begin. If you want to do this, you need a lot of specifics and a lot of research. I can't tell you where to start because see above.

KarmaPolice
02-13-2015, 12:17 PM
Just quick points, as I've got to get to work...

- Chances are, while such a place could leave mental scars later in life, it wouldn't be much. Ask most teenagers how much they remember from 7 and younger, and most will answer 'not much'.

- Was the adopted home happy? Not all of them are. If you're want to 'point the finger' at part of the kid's life that turned them nuts, it would be this.

- You say they've got high intelligence. It could be that it was their lack of proper attention which caused the damage, not from being adopted. Mixed-ability classes, are in their nature 'geared to the slowest'. Perhaps they were utterly bored out of their heads (being forced to sit through lessons for stuff they already knew) and it was this that sparked the problems.

- Working off the last point, it might just be they were very quick to learn the outwards forms of 'right behaviour' but for whatever reasons didn't learn the underlying lessons. Like learning to do a good hang-dog expression and to say sorry, but failing to learn that what they did was actually wrong. It's not impossible for even a kid of 8 to do this.

Mr. Mask
02-13-2015, 01:39 PM
Cornflake: Sociopathy tends to be developed from children being mistreated, or left to themselves in times of need (some blame genetics or learned behaviour, as well). Some orphanages have supplied these environments.

This character has a few neuroses (don't we all?). Sociopathy, misanthropy, social sadism (she detests violence), narcissism, and a few others. It is possible her stay in the orphanage did not impact or cause these traits.


Karma: 1: I agree. Her orphanage background isn't intended to elicit extreme mental scars.

2: The adopted home is actually pretty happy. I was figuring she was adopted into such an entitled existence that it only worsened some of her symptoms, rather than teaching her empathy for others. I'd say her condition is more the problem of no one teaching her better, rather than it being forced upon her.

3: I agree that this is a likely problem. Those with high intelligences have been known to do poorly in school, since they find it appallingly boring. I figure her adoption was the result of when she received an extensive psychological examination and was deemed a genius, which garnered the interest of a wealthy family. This probably taught her a life lesson that if you're, "superior," things go your way.

4: This is a good example of sociopathy, and why it is hard to treat sociopaths. Unless they're willing to be treated, they tend to be very skilled at pretending to have empathy.


Perhaps I should give some examples of her behaviour.

I'd describe her as someone who would be happy to be the despised queen of the world who no one could overthrow. She finds it amusing for people to jealously talk about her behind her back, so long as she remains dominant.

Her sociopathy is based on the fact that people die following her orders, and she really doesn't care. To be fair, they were good orders, and it's unlikely she could have succeeded with fewer casualties, but it was very easy for her to justify their deaths as not worth worrying about. The only death she is notably disturbed by is violent death (she detests violence) she witnesses in person, and the deaths of the few people she has positive personal relationships with.


Largely, I was wondering what role her experience in an institutional upbringing might've had, since it relates to an element of the plot (so I was hoping to have examples to compare her with).

cornflake
02-13-2015, 01:51 PM
Cornflake: Sociopathy tends to be developed from children being mistreated, or left to themselves in times of need (some blame genetics or learned behaviour, as well). Some orphanages have supplied these environments.

This character has a few neuroses (don't we all?). Sociopathy, misanthropy, social sadism (she detests violence), narcissism, and a few others. It is possible her stay in the orphanage did not impact or cause these traits.

There is, again, so much wrong here I do not know where to begin. I'm not being snarky, but if you're going to write about this in any kind of believable way, you can't say stuff this wrong and expect it to just kind of fly.

To your first, no. To your second, again, when and where are you even talking about. You're using a term that's outmoded to begin with, and then tagging it and other things with an even-more outmoded term that didn't encompass them even then.

Karma: 1: I agree. Her orphanage background isn't intended to elicit extreme mental scars.

2: The adopted home is actually pretty happy. I was figuring she was adopted into such an entitled existence that it only worsened some of her symptoms, rather than teaching her empathy for others. I'd say her condition is more the problem of no one teaching her better, rather than it being forced upon her.

3: I agree that this is a likely problem. Those with high intelligences have been known to do poorly in school, since they find it appallingly boring. I figure her adoption was the result of when she received an extensive psychological examination and was deemed a genius, which garnered the interest of a wealthy family. This probably taught her a life lesson that if you're, "superior," things go your way.

4: This is a good example of sociopathy, and why it is hard to treat sociopaths. Unless they're willing to be treated, they tend to be very skilled at pretending to have empathy.


Perhaps I should give some examples of her behaviour.

I'd describe her as someone who would be happy to be the despised queen of the world who no one could overthrow. She finds it amusing for people to jealously talk about her behind her back, so long as she remains dominant.

Her sociopathy is based on the fact that people die following her orders, and she really doesn't care. To be fair, they were good orders, and it's unlikely she could have succeeded with fewer casualties, but it was very easy for her to justify their deaths as not worth worrying about. The only death she is notably disturbed by is violent death (she detests violence) she witnesses in person, and the deaths of the few people she has positive personal relationships with.


Largely, I was wondering what role her experience in an institutional upbringing might've had, since it relates to an element of the plot (so I was hoping to have examples to compare her with).

A lot of the latter doesn't make a bunch of sense, and this sounds like it's on a fantasy world, so you can probably make stuff up that fits a fantasy world, without using terms you are, and be better off.

Sorry, I just saw you'd added the setting. Do we have orphanages currently? I don't think that's really a thing, particularly.

Mr. Mask
02-13-2015, 02:27 PM
There is, again, so much wrong here I do not know where to begin. I'm not being snarky, but if you're going to write about this in any kind of believable way, you can't say stuff this wrong and expect it to just kind of fly.

To your first, no. To your second, again, when and where are you even talking about. You're using a term that's outmoded to begin with, and then tagging it and other things with an even-more outmoded term that didn't encompass them even then.


A lot of the latter doesn't make a bunch of sense, and this sounds like it's on a fantasy world, so you can probably make stuff up that fits a fantasy world, without using terms you are, and be better off.

Sorry, I just saw you'd added the setting. Do we have orphanages currently? I don't think that's really a thing, particularly.Normally, one doesn't need to say they are not trying to be snarky.

To my first what? You are giving very non-specific criticisms. What is your education in this field?

I'm trying to work out what your insistence that I've described a fantasy world implies. Even as an insult, it is a very strange comment. The terms I have used come from a college instructor I was speaking with.

The US still has orphanages as far as I'm concerned, called RTCs, group families, and other cute names. As orphanages could vary greatly in treatment, I'm not sure how you can divorce these groups from orphanages as a whole.


I cannot see what I have done for you to behave towards me in such condescending manner.

Parametric
02-13-2015, 02:29 PM
Can you explain, cornflake? I remember learning in psychology class that disruption of attachment in very young children (eg. from being put in an orphanage as a baby) can cause lasting negative psychological effects. I don't pretend that my psychology class is a definitive source :tongue so if that was incorrect, I'd like to learn more.

Mr. Mask
02-13-2015, 02:35 PM
It is the same for me. If I am incorrect, I'm happy to have this explained to me in a calm manner, as I enjoy learning things.

cornflake
02-13-2015, 03:07 PM
Can you explain, cornflake? I remember learning in psychology class that disruption of attachment in very young children (eg. from being put in an orphanage as a baby) can cause lasting negative psychological effects. I don't pretend that my psychology class is a definitive source :tongue so if that was incorrect, I'd like to learn more.

Sure, though to begin with, there's no reason that being placed in an orphanage as a baby would necessarily cause any disruption in attachment, unless we're talking about specific places and times. Disruption of attachment can cause lasting negative effects though, sure. The things tied to that specifically are like, attachment disorders (reactive attachment disorder, social engagement disorder [though that doesn't necessarily have the same genesis or result, which is why they're different), failure to thrive in extreme cases, sometimes anxiety disorders or stuff like ODD, conduct disorder, though the links are more tenuous, afaik, and some of the above are childhood and some are adult, and etc.

Personality disorders are not specifically tied to anything of the sort, though there's theory; there's more theory about BPD in that regard, as it's got a few other components which may lend some credence.

Cath
02-13-2015, 03:39 PM
It is the same for me. If I am incorrect, I'm happy to have this explained to me in a calm manner, as I enjoy learning things.

Regardless of how you read any post, there may be something in it that is helpful. Or not. You can decide whether to use anything, everything, or nothing that you find here.

Remember, everyone contributing in this thread is trying to help YOU. A little gratitude wouldn't be out of place.

Mr. Mask
02-13-2015, 04:13 PM
I'm sorry, I don't see the issue in my previous post.

shadowwalker
02-13-2015, 06:34 PM
The US still has orphanages as far as I'm concerned, called RTCs, group families, and other cute names. As orphanages could vary greatly in treatment, I'm not sure how you can divorce these groups from orphanages as a whole.

RTCs (I'm assuming you mean 'residential treatment centers') are not orphanages. They are treatment centers of short-term duration for children in trouble (mental illnesses, behavioral issues, family issues, etc). Not sure what you mean by 'group families' but I have read of 'group homes' which are, again, of relatively short-term stays for children in trouble. Children whose parents have lost or given up their parental rights go into the foster care system with adoption availability. You would be hard-pressed to find an actual orphanage in modern US.

It appears - and I may be misinterpreting your quoted phrasing - that you really want to use an institution to place partial/full blame for your character's issues, but if you are set on doing that, her issues will have to be acknowledged before she goes into an RTC, or you'd have to modify to have her in a lousy foster home. Or you can hope that your readers will accept the existence of an "orphanage" in an era when they don't exist.

Having done some research on US orphanages pre-WWII, I found that most children, even in the most neglectful places, seemed able, as adults, to focus their anger and resentment on the institution itself, and otherwise moved on with their lives as normally as most people do. Caveat: This was based on first-hand accounts of their experiences, and so was limited in scope.

You may want to look into issues concerning modern day non-US orphanages and the effects on the children. I personally know of one young woman who was an infant/toddler in a Russian orphanage and adopted by an American family. She had what they termed 'attachment disorder', where she wanted close and/or physical relationships but didn't know how to handle them once she got them.

Mr. Mask
02-13-2015, 07:17 PM
RTCs (I'm assuming you mean 'residential treatment centers') are not orphanages. They are treatment centers of short-term duration for children in trouble (mental illnesses, behavioral issues, family issues, etc). Not sure what you mean by 'group families' but I have read of 'group homes' which are, again, of relatively short-term stays for children in trouble. Children whose parents have lost or given up their parental rights go into the foster care system with adoption availability. You would be hard-pressed to find an actual orphanage in modern US. Making the children's stays short term is a good idea. Do they really manage to avoid children having an institutional upbringing? Does that mean some children have to get shuffled between foster parents, or are there enough foster parents for all the orphans that come through?

I find this very interesting. I'm curious about how this works, as it's contrary to what my experience with the subject has lead me to think.


It appears - and I may be misinterpreting your quoted phrasing - that you really want to use an institution to place partial/full blame for your character's issues, but if you are set on doing that, her issues will have to be acknowledged before she goes into an RTC, or you'd have to modify to have her in a lousy foster home. Or you can hope that your readers will accept the existence of an "orphanage" in an era when they don't exist. Well, to be honest, I was thinking of subverting the victim of life trope, and aim the fault more at the character. I'm sorry if I didn't give that impression before now.


Having done some research on US orphanages pre-WWII, I found that most children, even in the most neglectful places, seemed able, as adults, to focus their anger and resentment on the institution itself, and otherwise moved on with their lives as normally as most people do. Caveat: This was based on first-hand accounts of their experiences, and so was limited in scope. I recalled someone discussing the issues of institutional upbringing of children, and I thought their main problem was with the US in particular. Maybe I or they were mistaken. I'll be able to speak with someone more knowledgeable about the adoption system later. I'll ask them whether some children stay in the system for long.

I do agree that orphans are well adjusted people with few exceptions. I'm sorry if it seemed like I was implying otherwise. I wasn't meaning that the character's issues would be common to other orphans. I have seen many studies that showed institutional upbringings were not healthy for the children, though, so I feel the orphans have a right to be angry with the institutions.


You may want to look into issues concerning modern day non-US orphanages and the effects on the children. I personally know of one young woman who was an infant/toddler in a Russian orphanage and adopted by an American family. She had what they termed 'attachment disorder', where she wanted close and/or physical relationships but didn't know how to handle them once she got them. My main reason for basing the story in the US was related to some military details, and the assumption US institutions would have the most studies to use, but I could easily move it to another country with a few organizational changes.


Thank you for the advice, Shadow!



PS: While searching, I noticed this short overview in a list. Haven't verified it's quality, yet, so it may be inaccurate, but thought others might be interested in it (and might mention if it seemed inaccurate): http://www.crin.org/docs/The_Risk_of_Harm.pdf

shadowwalker
02-13-2015, 08:07 PM
Making the children's stays short term is a good idea. Do they really manage to avoid children having an institutional upbringing? Does that mean some children have to get shuffled between foster parents, or are there enough foster parents for all the orphans that come through?

I find this very interesting. I'm curious about how this works, as it's contrary to what my experience with the subject has lead me to think.

Children around here (and I can only speak for my area) generally are placed in group homes until a foster family is found for them. While placement may not take place immediately, it's rare for it to take longer than a few weeks (children do cycle out, after all ;)). And unfortunately, some kids do get shuffled around, based on many factors, including but not limited to a 'good fit', medical issues of either child or foster parent, financial changes of the foster family, ebb and flow of the child's natural family's circumstances, etc etc. But generally the emphasis and focus is on getting the child into a stable family situation as quickly as possible, either through reunification with their natural family, with a foster family, or adoption.

You might also want to consider your use of the term 'orphan', at least in your book. There are very limited situations where children are actually called 'orphans' nowadays (again, in the US); mostly it's a legal definition for specific situations.

KarmaPolice
02-14-2015, 10:39 AM
Yeah... while I'd agree wholeheartedly that growing up in care can leave real heavy scars mentally, it's just that I considered being in a children's home from 5-7 too young to really do so. Also, I was working on the idea that the children's home wasn't that bad, though hardly ideal for any kid.

Mr. Mask
02-14-2015, 11:18 AM
Oh, the girl is intended to be there from infancy, as a baby, until she is about 5, 6 or 7 years old, when she is adopted. I'll have to work out which country she's in.

Isn't being in institutional care at younger ages more damaging to children?

maggi90w1
02-14-2015, 03:41 PM
Isn't being in institutional care at younger ages more damaging to children?
It is. I'm not an expert but I did an internship at a psychiatry specialized on children in the foster-care-system and the psychiatrist all agreed that normal development is pretty much impossible if the child lives in an unstable/violent/neglecting environment for the first 12 months. If the first year is eff-up there the damage done is almost impossible to fix.
And oh boy... these children had problems. Attachment disorders, Antisocial personality disorders, ADHD, violent behavior, stealing, lying, Encopresis and enuresis and so on.

Mr. Mask
02-14-2015, 05:22 PM
I was wondering if the character might have to have received favouritism, due to how I need her to be. She appears mentally and socially well adjusted, her neuroses being more personal in nature.

shadowwalker
02-14-2015, 06:53 PM
It is. I'm not an expert but I did an internship at a psychiatry specialized on children in the foster-care-system and the psychiatrist all agreed that normal development is pretty much impossible if the child lives in an unstable/violent/neglecting environment for the first 12 months. If the first year is eff-up there the damage done is almost impossible to fix.
And oh boy... these children had problems. Attachment disorders, Antisocial personality disorders, ADHD, violent behavior, stealing, lying, Encopresis and enuresis and so on.

But those environments can occur no matter where the child lives - in their own family, in a foster home, with relatives, yada yada. It's not the where - it's the how. I've known foster parents who were the most loving and supportive people you could hope for - "their" kids came back to visit with their own families decades later. Labeling foster care as a whole as a negative influence is terribly unfair to many foster parents.

ArtsyAmy
02-14-2015, 07:51 PM
Oh, the girl is intended to be there from infancy, as a baby, until she is about 5, 6 or 7 years old, when she is adopted. I'll have to work out which country she's in.

Sounds like a good idea to consider a different setting than your original "Modern day America." If the child entered foster care in the U.S. as a healthy infant, it seems implausible that she would have remained in care until age 5, 6, or 7. There are waiting lists to adopt healthy infants in the U.S. In the state where I live (and used to work in children's services), changes were made in the foster care system over twenty years ago to prevent adoptable children from remaining in care for longer than necessary. These include regular Family Court reviews to make sure that efforts for reunification with the parent are being actively persued, or that other arrangements are being actively persued, such as placement with a relative or adoption.

Mr. Mask
02-14-2015, 08:00 PM
Uh... yeah. What else does, "I'll have to consider what country she's in," mean ;)?

ArtsyAmy
02-14-2015, 10:38 PM
I wrote to say I thought your idea of looking for another setting instead of your original was a good one. And I added some info about why I thought your idea was a good one. I was supporting you. Hope things go well with your story.


Regardless of how you read any post, there may be something in it that is helpful. Or not. You can decide whether to use anything, everything, or nothing that you find here.

Remember, everyone contributing in this thread is trying to help YOU. A little gratitude wouldn't be out of place.

cmhbob
02-14-2015, 11:55 PM
Thought this link might prove interesting and helpful. It talks about an orphanage in South Carolina that's currently in operation. Written by an alum.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/quora/are-there-any-traditional_b_4960439.html

maggi90w1
02-15-2015, 02:25 AM
But those environments can occur no matter where the child lives - in their own family, in a foster home, with relatives, yada yada. It's not the where - it's the how. I've known foster parents who were the most loving and supportive people you could hope for - "their" kids came back to visit with their own families decades later. Labeling foster care as a whole as a negative influence is terribly unfair to many foster parents.
Oh, no no! That wasn't what I meant. Most of these kids gained their problems before they entered the foster care program.
At least here in Germany (and I'm guessing it's not that different in the US) a lot of bad stuff needs to happen before CPS takes a kid out of the family for good, so by the time they enter a stable, positive foster family the damage is already done.
The point I was trying to make was that even a short amount of time spent in a unhealthy environment can damage a child beyond repair if it happened during a crucial developmental time (aka the first 3 years or so).

shadowwalker
02-15-2015, 03:04 AM
Oh, no no! That wasn't what I meant. Most of these kids gained their problems before they entered the foster care program.

My apologies - I misread your comment.

Mr. Mask
02-15-2015, 08:59 AM
Thought this link might prove interesting and helpful. It talks about an orphanage in South Carolina that's currently in operation. Written by an alum.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/quora/are-there-any-traditional_b_4960439.html So there are traditional orphanages still operating in the US?

shadowwalker
02-15-2015, 09:59 AM
So there are traditional orphanages still operating in the US?

I found this listing

http://www.orphanage.org/#america

but many of the "orphanages" are actually now social service entities, private schools, or no longer in operation.

Mr. Mask
02-15-2015, 10:32 AM
Thank you for the list. Unfortunately, it isn't working for me at the moment. I'll try to check on it again later.

autumnleaf
04-23-2015, 10:30 PM
There was a study done on children from Romanian orphanages, comparing them to children in foster care:
http://www.livescience.com/21778-early-neglect-alters-kids-brains.html

Long story short: there's a very good reason why developed countries have moved away from the orphanage model.

RightHoJeeves
05-01-2015, 02:40 AM
Didn't read the posts, but I have a link that might be useful: http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/inside_life_in_childrens_homes_and_institutions/home

I worked on the PR campaign for this exhibition. It was funded by the Australian Government after they apologised to all the kids who had to go through the orphanages.

robjvargas
05-01-2015, 07:18 PM
As I recall, 60 Minutes did a story on the number of overloaded orphanages in Russia that rose up after the fall of the Soviet Union. Children going from infancy to well into teens without any significant human contact.

Heartbreaking story. But the results, I think, don't help the story in the OP.