How Do Your Children Grow?

By Jeffery Kingry

“Orphans reared in a mental institution by caring, mentally retarded women fare much better-physically, intellectually, and socially-than do similar children reared in a state run orphanage by trained but busy, matrons” (Robert T. Trotter, Science News, Vol. 108, No. 41).

With this bold assertion the writer of an article in a leading science magazine cites the unavoidable conclusion of a study on child-rearing spanning forty years.

This thesis was first postulated by H. M. Skeels in the 1930s, and it shocked Psychologists, especially those who believed that intelligence was a strictly genetical inheritance. The Skeels’ study and others like it eventually forced the closing down of the huge institutions of the depression that were used as warehouses for unwanted children.

The original study was made at the Iowa State orphanage forty years ago. The children were kept in bleak barracks, many of the buildings dating back to the Civil War. Infants were stored in cribs draped with white sheets to prevent the children from seeing each other. The infants had few toys and their only human contacts were with busy nurses who did little more than feed and change them on schedule. At the age of two those who survived (There is a 35% death rate among institutionalized infants) were moved into “family cottages” where they ate and slept according to rigid schedule. At the age of six they received a minimal sort of schooling on the orphanage grounds.

The study grew out of a casual observation early in the 1930s by H. M. Skeels of two young girls. Skeels described them as “pitiful little creatures.” The children were always crying, had runny noses, and little or no hair. They were undersized, sad, and inactive, and spent most of their time rocking back and forth on their beds. After testing, it was suggested that the children’s intellectual quotient (I.Q.) was 50 or less. Because of their extremely poor mental and physical condition; it was unlikely that these girls would be adopted. They were transferred to a home for the mentally retarded.

A while later Dr. Skeels, who also had clinical duties at the home for the retarded, visited the wards and was surprised to discover “two outstanding little girls. They were alert, smiling, running about, responding to the playful attention of adults and generally behaving and looking like any other toddlers.” Skeels tested them and found their I.Q. normal. Another test a year later again proved their normal and growing intelligence.

What had happened to these children? The sole difference was that they had been loved, cuddled, talked to, and provided an environment of confidence. They had been placed separately on wards with retarded adults. Each had been “adopted” by a “foster mother” who had plenty of time to devote to a child. Other women on the wards considered themselves to be “aunts” and shared in the care taking responsibilities. Convinced that the stimulating and loving environment of a “family” was responsible for their improvement Dr. Skeels attempted to demonstrate it in a controlled experiment. Thirteen preschool children who were tested as mentally retarded or coming from mothers who were mentally retarded were transferred to the adult home of mental retardation. All of the children came from educationally and economically deprived backgrounds.

These children started with an initial I.Q. average of 64 at 18 months. All gained 7 to 45 points in their I.Q. while at the institution. At age six, the mean I.Q. showed a total gain of 31 points. When seen as adults all were independent and self-supporting. Two other groups of children were placed in the homes of normal families before six months of age. All of these children came from severely retarded or disturbed mothers. In normal families they overcame their “high risk” status and became successful as adults.

The “control group” was not so fortunate. Twelve children, who had been normal as infants, for one reason or another were not placed in homes, or moved to the adult retardation home. After two to four years in the orphanages, it was found that these children were no longer normal in their development. One child with an I.Q. of 99 at 14 months, by age three had dropped to an I.Q. of 54, and by five this poor child’s I.Q. had dropped to 35-severely mentally retarded. By the age of eight, nine of the twelve had been transferred to the institution for the mentally retarded-as residents, not for therapeutic reasons. When seen as adults, ten of the twelve had spent nearly all of their lives in institutions.

“These fit the classical stereotype of the mentally retarded: minimally skilled, unemployed or unemployable: They had a singular barren, affectionless, detached childhood.” The state had taken 12 infants, and at tax-payer expense made mentally retarded adults from normal healthy children. In the words of Skeels, “The evidence speaks for itself.”

Nothing Replaces You

What man can demonstrate by the scientific method God has already revealed in His Word. True religious service before God is to care for the fatherless and the widow in their time of trouble (Jas. 1:27). Contrary to the belief and practice of some brethren, “care” is not provided by institutionalizing them. Providing for the needs of the thirsty man, is to give the thirsty man what he needs and lacks: water. The need of the fatherless and widow is family. Putting them in a building and providing for their food and clothing meets a need, but not the one they really desire, and certainly does not meet God’s standard of “pure religion.” I pray for the day the doors of all orphanages open and the children are allowed to enter and become part of the homes of Christians.

And parents, whoever fails to care for his own relatives, especially those in his own household has in fact repudiated the faith. He has no right to say he is a Christian. He is worse than any unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). “Care” is not just caring for the physical needs of a family. A nurse or matron, or robot, could care for these duties. Parents owe their family, before God and at his command, “to love their children … be keepers at home” (Tit. 2:4,5): There is no such thing in the eyes of God. as a “sometimes parent.” May God’s damnation come down in judgment on women’s lib and all day-care centers! These rebellious unbelievers are raising a godless, lost generation. “A. good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children” (Prov. 13:22). “A child left to himself bringeth his mother shame” (Prov. 29:15). Brethren, both the evidence and the testimony of God speak eloquently for themselves.

Truth Magazine, XX:2, p. 5-6
January 8, 1976