Health of children adopted from Guatemala: comparison of orphanage and foster care.Pediatrics. 2005 Jun; 115(6):e710-7.Ped
Since 1986, American parents have adopted >17300 children from Guatemala. This study assessed the health, growth, and developmental status of 103 Guatemalan adopted children (48 girls; 55 boys) after arrival in the United States. Physical evidence suggestive of prenatal alcohol exposure and adequacy of vaccinations administered were also reviewed.
Retrospective chart review was conducted of 103 children who were evaluated after arrival in the United States in an international adoption specialty clinic, and a case-matched study was conducted of a subgroup of 50 children who resided in either an orphanage or foster care before adoption. Mean age at arrival was 16 +/- 19 months. Before adoption, 25 children resided in orphanages, 56 resided in foster care, and 22 resided in mixed-care settings. The 25 children who had resided in orphanages before adoption were matched for age at arrival, interval from arrival to clinic visit, and gender with a child adopted from foster care. Health and developmental status of these matched pairs were compared, allowing the first direct comparison of children raised in orphanages or foster care before adoption.
Mild growth delays were frequent among the children. Mean z scores for weight, height, and head circumference were, respectively, -1.00, -1.04, and -1.08. Children from foster care had significantly better z scores for height, weight, and head circumference than those from orphanage or mixed care. Among children who were younger than 2 years at arrival, growth measurements correlated inversely with age at arrival. Infectious diseases included intestinal parasites (8%) and latent tuberculosis infection (7%). Other medical conditions included anemia (30%), elevated lead levels (3%), and (using strict criteria) phenotypic facial features suggestive of prenatal alcohol exposure (28%). Adequacy of vaccine records from Guatemala was assessed: 28% met American Academy of Pediatrics standards for vaccine administration. Unsuspected significant medical diagnoses, including congenital anomalies and ocular, neurologic, and orthopedic problems, were found in 14%. Most children were doing well developmentally (80-92% of expected performance), but 14% had global developmental delays. Cognition, expressive and receptive language, and activities of daily living skills correlated inversely with age at arrival for children who were younger than 2 years at adoption. Among the 50 matched children, those who resided in foster care before adoption had better measurements for height, weight, and head circumference at arrival to the United States. Moreover, those who resided in foster care scored significantly better for cognitive skills than those who had previously resided in orphanages (96.3% of age-expected compared with 88.3% of age-expected); other skills did not differ between the 2 groups. No differences were found between the 2 groups of children related to prevalence of medical diagnoses or phenotypic evidence suggesting prenatal alcohol exposure.
Guatemalan adoptees display similar overall patterns of growth and developmental delays as seen in other groups of internationally adopted children, although not as severe. Younger children had better growth and development (cognition, language, and activities of daily living skills) than older children, regardless of location of residence before adoption. Among children who were matched for age, gender, and interval from adoption to evaluation, those who had resided in foster care had better growth and cognitive scores than children who had resided in orphanages before adoption. These findings support the need for timely adoptive placement of young infants and support the placement of children in attentive foster care rather than orphanages when feasible.