Dr. Barry Bogin: “Orphanages everywhere in the world should be disbanded”

Acclaimed anthropologist Dr. Barry Bogin has dedicated his career to studying child development. Now, he’s calling for all children to be brought out of orphanages and back to family. Immediately. 

Dr. Barry Bogin is a physical anthropologist based at Loughborough University in the UK.  

Known for his pioneering work on the growth of Guatemalan Maya children, Dr. Barry Bogin’s research has led to him to a clear and resounding conclusion. Children need the love and care of family to thrive. Never orphanages. 

In this feature, Dr. Bogin describes how his ground-breaking work has led him to understand the importance of love, the harm of stress, and why every child around the world should be brought back to family.  

Read the full two-part interview here. 

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A home truth

A professor, a writer and a father of three, Dr. Bogin has long known the importance of family. He’s also seen the harm of orphanages first-hand. 

 “My youngest was in an institution in China,” says Dr. Bogin. “I’m fully aware of how brutal it all is.” 

After bringing his daughter back to family, Dr. Bogin saw how her time in the orphanage impacted her. “It wasn’t just physical growth, it was development. She wasn’t walking when we got her. She was about three, four months behind.” Quickly, he understood why. Stress. 

Stress and child development

Years of research into child development has shown Dr. Bogin the harmful impacts of stress. First observed in his studies in Guatemalan Maya communities, Dr. Bogin has rigorously documented how stress drastically impacts children’s development. 

“Children who suffer chronic toxic stress have both physical and emotional and cognitive impairments,” explains Dr. Bogin. “Stress hormones are antagonistic to growth hormones, the relationship’s very clear.”

Orphanages reflect the same conditions. Exposed to violence, abuse and neglect, children grow up experiencing profound stress and lack of safety. As a result, for every three months spent in an orphanage, children lost one month’s growth. 

A photo of an orphanage with locked doors, similar to that worked in by Kseniia, an orphanage employee that describes similar conditions inside an orphanage to that described by Barry Bogin.
Kseniia*, a former orphanage worker, has exposed the abusive conditions inside a baby home in Ukraine. Read her full exclusive testimony.
Yevhenii Zavhorodnii / Hope and Homes for Children

“Children in orphanages are stunted,” explains Dr. Bogin. “As soon as they get out of the orphanage, one of the first things that social workers know is that you’ve got to find new clothes, because they grow.” 

“Probably the best examples of this are a British study of British adoptees from the Romanian orphanages during the Ceausescu regime, when so many kids were tied in their cots, totally neglected,” he says. “The earlier those kids were adopted into families, the better they do, but all of them show residual effects as adults. These orphans were not just a bit neglected. They were severely deprived.” 

Where love is present

For Dr. Bogin, the harm of orphanages stems back to a key flaw in their design. They house and feed children, but that’s it. Orphanages can’t offer family love. But that’s the thing children need more than anything. 

“There’s a very famous study done by a British nutritionist, Professor Elsie Widdowson, who went to orphanages in Germany after World War II,” explains Dr. Barry Bogin. “They had lots of kids in orphanages and they experimented: they gave some kids an extra biscuit, an extra orange, and they gave other kids just the normal fare.” 

The researchers expected to see how extra nutrition boosted growth. Instead, the opposite was true. The children receiving extra food grew less. The scientists couldn’t understand why. Until they changed focus to the care the children received. They quickly saw the truth. 

A silhouette of a father holding up his child, offering a contrast to the harrowing conditions described by Barry Bogin in his research.
Professor Ellie Widdowson’s research has had a huge impact on research for children’s nutrition in institutional settings.
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“The matron (working at the orphanage) beat the children. She punished the children at dinner time before they could eat. Well, you know what that does to every kid sitting in the dining room. There’s no digestion. There’s no absorption. And that’s why the interventions didn’t work.” 

Professor Widdowson’s test proved that subsistence isn’t enough for children to grow. They need family love to thrive.  

“She quotes a passage from the Old Testament: ’Better is a dinner of vegetables and herbs where love is present than a fattened ox served with hatred.’

Dr. Barry Bogin

Bringing children Back to Family 

When we bring children from orphangaes back to family, the positive changes are evident.

“In kids under five, and maybe even up to nine or so, the effect is almost immediate; a month, perhaps six weeks,” says Dr Bogin. “The power of love works very quickly.” 

Finally receiving individualised love and care, children get the chance to flourish. Their stress and anxiety are reduced, allowing their bodies to focus on what they’re supposed to. Growing. 

“In rich countries, the old-style orphanages don’t exist. Kids are placed with families. It is super well known that placing them in the old-style orphanages is bad. So orphanages everywhere in the world should be disbanded.” 

And that’s exactly what Dr. Barry Bogin is calling for. For every orphanage to be closed, and for every child living inside to be brought safely back to family. 

Young boy staring directly at camera. AI imagery used to protect identities,
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