Early intervention is helping very young children in China who otherwise might spend years in institutional care.
When a young child is plucked from its parents due to death, abandonment or war, the damage to its developing brain can be irreversible and life-changing.
What happens to a young girl or boy – whose brain is 90% fully formed by the age of five – can be crucial for how they develop over the rest of their life.
Some children have no option but to hit the ground running – their underdeveloped brains struggling to cope and sometimes never getting the chance to catch up.
One charity trying to address this is OneSky for all children, an NGO which develops low-cost, early childhood care for at-risk young children.
Through the Loving Families Programme - part of its Orphanage Model - married couples who have already raised a family are recruited from the local community to provide permanent, loving foster homes for children whose physical, emotional, or cognitive challenges are likely to prevent their adoption.
Children who would otherwise spend their young lives in institutional care grow up knowing the love of a family, while also receiving the special care that early intervention programmes provide.
Debbie Cohen, Associate Director, Communications at OneSky, said: “We were founded in 1998 to provide care for institutionalised children in China.
"OneSky is now working towards large-scale, practical application of its innovative yet proven early childhood intervention models - eventually in other countries.”
Theirworld's #5for5 campaign has been helping to grow awareness of the need for children under five to have access to quality care including nutrition, health, learning, play and protection.
We have been pressing for world leaders to invest in early childhood development and pre-primary education.
OneSky's early intervention models address the needs of at-risk children in a variety of circumstances. These include China's "economic orphans" - whose parents leave their impoverished villages to find jobs in faraway citie.
Cohen said: “OneSky has trained thousands of caregivers to provide life-changing care that has directly impacted the lives of nearly 170,000 at-risk children and, indirectly, millions.
“Sometimes children in our Loving Families Programme (who live with foster families) later get adopted by American families.
“We do not take part in the adoption process. However, the care they received up to that point helps them make the transition to being adopted by a 'forever family'.
“And, sometimes, the kids in the foster families never get adopted out, due to their severe special needs.”
Peter McParlin, a child psychologist and an adoptive parent who was brought up in 39 children's homes and foster homes, spoke to Their News about the negatives and positives of fostering and adoption.
“I’m not just an adopter - but one of the main reasons for me to adopt is to remove a child from the care system to a loving home,” he explained.
A considerable amount of people who have experienced care become very high achievers and very successful, as though to buck the system.
“It’s a very complex issue but I think recovery requires ‘one set’ or ‘one person’ providing foster care or adoption to replace the fractured earlier childcare.
“Any break to consistent caregiving can have severe negative consequences for the child's attachment and ‘multiple adult care-giving’ can be too hard for the child to comprehend. A child needs one or two full-time caregivers.
“In adopted children and young people, the behavioural and emotional backlash to early neglect can be found to have ramifications throughout the considerable part of the adoptees' lifespan even up to early thirties and beyond.”
However, research has found that many adopted children become high-achievers in spite of their difficult beginnings.
“It’s important to remember that a very considerable amount of people who have experienced care become very high achievers and very successful, as though to buck the system,” said McParlin.
“This group are noted for the high resilience and personal targets to achieve well in life.”
The story of Yuli and Yuping
Two siblings under the age of five were "orphaned" when their parents were sent to prison. Yuli and her little brother Yuping were put in an orphanage as no relatives stepped in to look after them.
OneSky became involved and the brother and sister joined the Loving Families Programme – and the search for foster parents began.
“We could see that Yuli’s estrangement from her brother was growing deeper and deeper,” said Yuli’s OneSky preschool teacher Huang.
OneSky’s Debbie Cohen said: “Unlike a lot of her peers at the Guangzhou orphanage, who have no memory of ever having a mother or father, Yuli not only remembered her parents, she had happy memories of them.”
Yuli told her teacher: “I once lived by the riverside with my mum, dad and little brother. I went shopping with my mum and she would buy me nice food … but one day mum and dad did something wrong and got arrested by police."
Cohen said: “Yuping, meanwhile, was often ill and anxious, constantly looking for his big sister. Unlike her, he never mentioned his former family life.
“Thanks to the Loving Families Programme, the children could be reunited in a family - even if not the one they were born into.
“After several rounds of interviews and introductory training, the Tangs became the new foster parents of Yuli and Yuping. They also agreed to accept two more children, Boliang and Jinlei.
"To ease the transition for all involved, the siblings were introduced to their new family earlier than Boliang and Jinlei.
“As the foster parents spent time not only providing emotional support for their new children, but teaching them practical skills (such as learning how to do chores), something truly unexpected happened.
"Yuli began to take care of her little brother by pouring water for him, playing and sharing snacks with him.
“One evening, Yuli woke up during the night, asking to sleep with her brother. Watching the two siblings get all snuggled up in bed under the covers together, their new foster parents couldn’t help but be overjoyed.”
Names have been changed to protect identities
Theirworld’s #5for5 campaign and our work on early childhood development is supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.