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Deprivation is the loss of something. The term is most often used in the fields of maternal; deprivation, where the child is deprived of the love of the primary attachment figure.

Deprivation implies that the separation has entailed some bond distribution-separation plus disruption or loss of attachments.

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Short term effects

Name/date Findings Evaluation

Robertson and Bowlby (15)Maccoby 180Stacey et al.170Kotelchuck 176Barlington and Anna Freud 14-44Barrett 17Spitz 145Spitz and wolf 140 Found that there were three progressive reactions to separation protest, despair and detachment. Children in study aged between 1-4, were placed by their parents in residential nurseries (mother or they were entering hospital)Separations are likely to be more distressing between seven and eight months and three years, reaching between 1 and 18 months.Studied 4-year-old children in Wales who went into hospital to have their tonsils removed. They stayed for days and their parents were not able to stay overnight.Using the SS, found that when fathers are actively involved as caretakers, children are more comfortable when left alone with strangers and the period during which children strongly protest at separation was shorter if they were cared for by both parents.Institutions can provide high quality substitute care, an example being Hampstead nursery, where stability affection and active involvement were encouraged.Examined films made by Robertson and Bowlby of children who were separated from their caregivers, and claimed that the children’s initial response to separation could be better described as a determined effort to cope rather than to protest. This led Barrett to suggest a more complex account of the effects of separation that was related to individual differences.Anactic depression-used to describe the severe and progressive depression found in institutionalised infants, resulting from prolonged separation from their mothers.Studied 100 apparently normal children who became seriously depressed after staying in hospital. Initial protest involved crying, grizzling and calling of mother, child appearing distraught and panic-stricken. Behaviours lasted from several hours to about one week. Protest reactions gave way to despair, child became apathetic, uninterested in their surroundings, cried and had a continuing need for their mother. Followed by detachment as the child cries less and became more alert and interested. Detachment at first appeared to indicate recovery, but seems to have been at the cost of suppression of feeling to the mother. When mother returned child responded to her with lack of interest, angry and rejecting.One of the variables associated with age is ability to hold in the mind an image of the absent mother, and also limited understanding of language.Some coped very well and it was discovered that they had experienced separations before, mostly staying overnight with their grandparents or a friend.Many institutions are run in such a way that it is virtually impossible for any kind of substitute attachment to develop.A securely attached child may show little initial protest and cope relatively well, whereas an ambivalent or avoidant child would be more immediately into protest and despair and became quite disorientated.They observed that the children generally recovered well if the separation lasted less than three months, longer separations were rarely associated with complete recovery.

Long-term effects

Bowlby Maternal D H Bowlby developed the idea that if an infant was unable to develop a ‘warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother, then the child would have difficulty forming relationships with other people and be at risk of behavioural disorders. This became known as maternal deprivation hypothesis.

There are other studies such as Spitz and Wolf 146 and Robertson and Robertson 171.

An evaluation of maternal D H shows more evidence came from children in institutions- who where deprived in many ways. Others from deprivation (e.g. physical deprivation)

Not all research has found that separations lead to maladjustment. Therefore it would no appear that separation does not have harmful effects, as long as bond distribution is minimized.

Bowlbys thieves study 144 Conducted research with 88 clients from child guidance clinic where he worked as a psychiatrist. 44 of children stealing, Bowlby said “affectionless psychopaths”, little sense of social responsibility no guilt, other children not committed crimes, they were emotional maladjusted did not display antisocial behaviour. Bowlby interviewed the children and their families and he built up a record of their early life experience. 86%-diagnosed as affectionless psychopaths, had experienced early and prolonged separations from their mothers, whereas the very few of the non-psychopaths thieves or the other children had experienced such separations.

Other studies which influence later behaviour other than deprivation.

Hospitalisation Douglas (175)Quinton and Rutter 176Goldfarb 14Deprivation due to death and divorce, Richards 187Hetherington et al. 17 Analysed data collected as a part of the national survey of health and development, a study of 5000 children born during one week in 146. The children were assessed at regular intervals up to the age of 6. Douglas found that children who had spent more than a week in hospital, or had experienced repeated admissions under the age of 4, were more likely to have behaviour problems in adolescence and to be poor readers.Found that repeated hospital admission were associated with later problems whereas children admitted only once rarely had later difficulties.Compared one group of 15 children raised in institutions from about six months until .5 years of age, when they were fostered, with another group of 15 children who had gone straight from their mothers to foster homes. The institution group fell behind the fostered group on all these measures. Causes- group differences and the institutional care may have been very poor. This might account for the results rather than separation.Both death of a parent and divorce are difficult processes for children to experience but the research suggests that divorce may be more problematic than death.Studied 4 year olds living with their mothers following divorce and who were in regular contact with their fathers. During the first year, mothers became more authoritarian, increasing the number of demands and restrictions and becoming less affectionate. The children (boys mainly) became more aggressive and inflexible. By two years after the divorce, the balance was beginning to be restored-mother had become more patient and communicative and domestic life was more structured with both parents. The Childs behaviour settled down accordingly.


From the studies above we can come to a conclusion that the following conclusions are the main effects of deprivation. Separations can have important effects but this isn’t always the case. Various research studies into deprivation are very diverse reasons for separations are very different, length of separations vary, number of separations vary, there may or may not be bond distribution as a result of the separation, some of the studies are actually cases of privation. Early research sometimes confused deprivation and privation (notably Bowlby).

In the short term, protest-despair detachment occurs if adequate substitute emotional support is not given. Because monotropy seems incorrect it follows that separation from the mother could be compensated for by the presence of another attachment figure and this does seem to be the case. Short-term foster care or maintaining visits to the attachment figure significantly alleviates the child’s distress.

Prolonged separation may lead some children to experience anaclitic depression but this depends on many individual variables (Barrett 17).

One of the most important conclusions from the research is that the problems experienced by children in deprivation studies cannot necessarily be attributed to separation from attachment figures. Deprivation is associated with many other variables physical neglect, lack of substitute care, discord in the home, and poor relationships prior to separation. It may be these that are correlated with later difficulties and not separation per se.

Even when damage is done, it is not irreversible. Tizard and Hodges (178) showed that later adopted children could develop positive relationships with others despite early deprivation. Clarke and Clarke (176) presented a number of case studies of children that showed that careful therapy could help them overcome earlier difficulties. Because there is no critical period for human attachment, profound developmental effects as a result of short-term separations are not likely.

The long-term effects of deprivation are less clear but separations do not necessarily lead to any psychological problems. Too much of the evidence is correlation and does not consider that a third variable/factor may explain both separations and later problems. Parental separation may mean that there is increasing discord at the time, or later, or perhaps less supervision of the child given by a single parent. These latter variables might be the real causes of the delinquency, not the separation itself. No clear casual link can be inferred between separation and developmental problems and delinquency.

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