English and Romanian Adoptee Study

The English and Romanian Adoptee (ERA) project is a longitudinal, multi-method investigation of the development of children adopted into the UK from Romania in the early 1990’s. It has been part-funded by the Nuffield Foundation, most recently to enable a follow up of the children aged 15. 

The ERA, led by Professor Michael Rutter and Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, has followed a random sample of 165 Romanian children, most of whom had spent their early lives in institutions in which conditions ranged from poor to abysmal. Its aim is to examine the extent to which children could recover when extreme deprivation in early life is followed by a middle childhood within a safe family environment.

The study has shown that children who experience extreme institutional deprivation will usually make a huge improvement in psychological functioning following successful adoption. However, a substantial minority of those adopted after the age of sixth months will continue to experience significant problems.

The Romanian children, adopted by UK families before the age of three and a half, were studied at ages four, six and eleven and fifteen. As a control group, 52 adopted children from the UK who had not lived in institutions were also studied.

Key findings

  • The developmental improvements made by the Romanian children were rapid and often continued over a period of several years.

  • A proportion of the Romanian children adopted after the age of six months experienced difficulties that were very uncommon in the group of domestic adoptees. These were autistic-like qualities, problems with forming appropriate attachments and social functioning, inattention, overactivity and poor mental functioning.

  • One third of the Romanian children placed for adoption after the age of six months experienced problems that warranted the intervention of professional educational, psychological or psychiatric services.

  • A substantial minority of the Romanian children seemed to be functioning normally in all respects at age eleven in spite of their adverse early experiences.

  • The degree to which the Romanian children were under-nourished had only a minor effect on their psychological outcomes.

  • Romanian children with even a very low level of language at the time of adoption had higher average IQs aged eleven than those with no language skills.  

  • The follow-ups at 15 years of age, and into young adulthood, have revealed unusual patterns of persisting, specific patters of deficits and problems that appear to be deprivation-specific, out of which arise a number of emotional, conduct and peer-relationship problems. 

Wider context 

The evidence suggests that wider, more flexible criteria are possible for successful adoption within the UK. The vast majority of families made a success of the adoptions from Romania despite many of them being considered unacceptable for domestic adoption. 

Furthermore, the significant benefit to children following adoption in the UK indicates that there is considerable potential in Romania and other countries if the right conditions outside institutions can be provided.

Project details



Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke, School of Psychology, University of Southampton

Professor Sir Michael Rutter, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London

Funding Programme

Open Door

Grant amount and duration


October 2003 - December 2009



Policy and Practice Implications from the English and Romanian Adoptees (ERA) Study: Forty Five Key Questions, Rutter M, Beckett C, Castle J, Kreppner J, Stevens S and Sonuga-Burke E, BAAF 2009 is available to buy from the BAAF website.