Development and Psychopathology

Special Section Articles

Postadoption parenting and socioemotional development in postinstitutionalized children

Melissa C. Garvina1 c1, Amanda R. Tarulloa2, Mark Van Ryzina3 and Megan R. Gunnara4

a1 Sonoma State University

a2 Boston University

a3 Oregon Social Learning Center

a4 University of Minnesota


Children adopted from institutions (e.g., orphanages) overseas are at increased risk of disturbances in social relationships and social understanding. Not all postinstitutionalized children exhibit these problems, although factors like the severity of deprivation and duration of deprivation increase their risk. To date, few studies have examined whether postadoption parenting might moderate the impact of early adverse care. Three groups were studied: postinstitutionalized and foster care children both adopted internationally and nonadopted children reared in their families of origin. The Emotional Availability (EA) Scales were assessed at 18 months in parent–child dyads. Parent emotional availability was found to predict two aspects of social functioning shown in previous studies to be impaired in postinstitutionalized children. Specifically, EA positively correlated with emotion understanding at 36 months; in interaction with initiation of joint attention at 18 months and group, it predicted indiscriminate friendliness as scored from a parent attachment interview at 30 months. Among the postinstitutionalized children but not among the children in other groups, higher EA scores reduced the negative association between initiation of joint attention and indiscriminate friendliness, thus suggesting that parenting quality may moderate the effects of early institutional deprivation.

(Online publication January 31 2012)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Melissa Garvin, Psychology Department, Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park, CA 94928; E-mail:


The authors acknowledge the contributions of Shanna Mliner, Erin Kryzer, Kristen Wiik, Kristin Frenn, Jessica Kimmes, and Adriana Herrera for their assistance in coding the data and the Center for Neurobehavioral Development at the University of Minnesota, which provided space for the 18-month data collection. Foremost, we are thankful to the families who participated in the study and have been generous with their time. This research was supported by the Experience-Based Brain and Behavioral Development Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research fellow funds (to M.R.G.) and a National Science Foundation Graduate Student Fellowship and National Institute of Mental Health Grant T32 MH018264 (to A.R.T.).