Does family matter? the well-being of children growing up in institutions, foster care and adoption

Christie Schoenmaker*, Femmie Juffer, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Do parents matter for the well-being of children? In this chapter we review research on the cognitive and social-emotional development of children exposed to different “natural experiments” in which the quality of parenting is not manipulated by experimenters but examined in existing atypical rearing conditions. In one of these natural experiments - institutional care - children often experience limited parenting of poor quality. Outcomes on the development of institutionalized children are presented, including an exceptional experiment with institutionalized children randomly assigned to foster care or continued institutionalization (the Bucharest Early Intervention Project). In the case of adoption, adoptive parents function as permanent substitute parents for children who often have been exposed to low-quality parenting in institutions before adoptive placement. Is it possible to recover from early adversity and profit from “corrective” parenting experiences? Catch-up and remaining delays have been examined in a series of meta-analyses comparing adopted children with their past peers (children in institutional care) and current peers (non-adopted classmates and friends). It appears that variation in the pre-adoptive environment and the associated outcomes of well-being are also relevant, as has been shown in a study that compared exposure to institutionalization versus foster care before adoptive placement. Finally, the influence of parenting was examined in more detail in a longitudinal adoption study in which the children were adopted shortly after birth and as a consequence did not experience severe early adversity (the Leiden Longitudinal Adoption Study). In this study we followed adopted children and their genetically unrelated parents from infancy to adulthood. This longitudinal study thus offers a unique opportunity to shed more light on nurture versus nature effects on child outcomes. Altogether, these natural experiments strongly support the notion that parents or rather stable family environments do matter for children’s well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Child Well-Being
Subtitle of host publicationTheories, Methods and Policies in Global Perspective
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9789048190638
ISBN (Print)9789048190621
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


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