Institutional placement of infants – life stories 60 years later

At the end of the 1950s, the development and living conditions of approx. 700 infants were systematically documented. Some of these children grew up in their families of origin, others spent their early years in institutions for infants. How have their lives developed and how are they faring today, 60 years later?

  • Project description (ongoing research project)

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    Between 1958 and 1961, Dr. Marie Meierhofer studied 354 infants that, for a variety of reasons, were cared for in institutions during their early life. Between 1971–1973, she conducted a hitherto unpublished follow-up study. At the same time, 350 infants growing up in families were included in a comprehensive study as part of the Zurich Longitudinal Studies at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich. Children placed in institutions showed various developmental deficits compared to their peers who grew up in families.

    The individuals from both studies, in their sixties today (*1953–1959), will be invited to share their life trajectories. Applying a combination of qualitative and quantitative assessments methods, their physical and mental health as well as their cognitive, social and motor abilities will be documented. Factors related to family background, individual preconditions, care environment aspects as well as later biographical events and current life situations will be assessed and described.

  • Background

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    Early childhood is highly relevant for an individual’s biography. However, hardly any studies have focused on specific early experiences with regard to a life course perspective.

    16 interviews conducted five years ago with individuals who were placed in institutions as infants demonstrated their highly diverse life trajectories.

  • Aim

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    The results from the current study will be used to describe the different circumstances related to early environment and later life trajectory. The continuation of the study initiated by Marie Meierhofer aims to make an important contribution to the rehabilitation of the institutional placement of infants in Switzerland. The effort provides a voice to those yet unable to share the experiences made when they were young children. The findings are also expected to be insightful for today’s practices of placing young children in care.

  • Relevance

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    The continuation of the study efforts provides a unique opportunity to document the life trajectories of individuals with different starting conditions in a long-term perspective. It will allow us to distinguish historical variables from individual and social ones and to capture and critically reflect care practices. This will help to draft policy and practice recommendations that aim at strengthening the well-being of children and fostering their resilience.

  • Original title

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    Early Breaks: The impact of infant institutionalization in Switzerland – a 60-year long-term follow-up study