Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

Emotional difficulties in early adolescence following severe early deprivation: Findings from the English and Romanian adoptees study

Emma Colverta1 c1, Michael Ruttera1, Celia Becketta1, Jenny Castlea1, Christine Groothuesa1, Amanda Hawkinsa1, Jana Kreppnera1, Thomas G. O'connora2, Suzanne Stevensa1a3 and Edmund J. S. Sonuga-Barkea1a3a4

a1 King's College London

a2 University of Rochester

a3 University of Southampton

a4 New York University


The study assessed conduct and emotional difficulties in a group of Romanian adoptees at age 11, and serves as a follow-up to assessments made when the children were 6 years old. It was found that there was a significant increase in emotional difficulties, but not conduct problems, for the Romanian sample since age 6. It was also found that emotional difficulty was significantly more prevalent at age 11 in the Romanian group than in a within-UK adoptee group. Emotional difficulties in the Romanian adoptee group were found to be significantly and strongly related to previous deprivation-specific problems (disinhibited attachment, cognitive impairment, inattention/overactivity and quasi-autism); however, the presence of such early problems did not account fully for the onset of later emotional problems. Five contrasting hypotheses concerning possible mediators for later onset of emotional difficulties for the Romanian group were examined. No links were found to duration of deprivation or other deprivation-related indices, stresses/difficulties in the postadoption family environment, or educational attainment and self-esteem. There was some evidence that emotion recognition might play a role in the emergence of these problems, but other measures of social competence and theory of mind showed no associations with the onset of emotional problems.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Emma Colvert, P.O. 80, SGDP Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, University of London, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK; E-mail:


We are most grateful to all the families who have generously given their time to participating in this study, and whose comments and suggestions have been very helpful in relation to the interpretation of findings. The data collection phase of the study was supported by grants from the Helmut Horten Foundation and the United Kingdom Department of Health. Ongoing support is provided by grants from the Department of Health, the Nuffield Foundation, and the Jacobs Foundation. We are glad to express our thanks to our external advisory group, whose input has been invaluable. The views expressed in this article are ours and do not necessarily represent those of the funders.