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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 2, No. 4
July 1997

Implications for Separation and Placement of Infants

  1. Infants' cognitive limitations greatly increase their experience of stress. Without a well-developed cognitive perception of the event, any change is threatening. Infants will be extremely distressed simply by changes in the environment and the absence of trusted caregivers.

  2. Infants have few internal coping skills. Adults must "cope" for them by removing stressors and meeting all of their needs. When deprived of adults whom they have learned to trust and upon whom they can depend, they are more vulnerable to the effects of internal and external stresses.

  3. The infant experiences the absence of caregivers as immediate, total, and complete. Infants generally do not turn to others for help and support in the absence of their primary caregivers. Infants who have lost their primary caregivers often cannot be comforted by social workers, foster parents, or others.

  4. If separation occurs during the first year, it can interfere with the development of trust, the foundation of positive self-image, worldview, and later social development.

  5. Infants' distress will be lessened if their new environment can be made very consistent with the old one, and if the biological parent(s) can visit regularly, preferably daily, and provide direct care to the infant in the placement setting.


Caye, J. (1993). Capturing best practice in foster care and adoption for North Carolina: Trainer's notes. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC School of Social Work.

1997 Jordan Institute for Families