The quality of young children’s linguistic experiences is influenced by early caregiving experiences. What is unknown is whether and how early-life psychosocial impairment is linked to long-term receptive language outcomes. The magnitude of these associations was assessed using 2 prospective longitudinal surveys examining early psychosocial deprivation/neglect in different contexts (i.e., deprivation due to institutional care or poverty experienced by children residing within US families) and receptive language as measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT). First, 129 participants aged 18 completed a sensory language exam as part of the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, a randomized controlled trial of foster care as an alternative to institutional care in Romania. Second, 3,342 participants from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing survey in the United States were evaluated from infancy to middle childhood. In late adolescence, children who were institutionalized early showed worse receptive language scores than their non-institutionalized peers. While being randomly assigned to an early foster care intervention had no long-term effect on PPVT scores, the length of time spent in institutional care was negatively linked with receptive language. Psychosocial deprivation was also negatively associated with receptive language in US households over time, and this relationship remained statistically significant even after controlling for the socioeconomic position. Psychosocial deprivation can have long-term implications for sensory language skills, even up to 18. Psychosocial impoverishment is a strong predictor of lower receptive language performance.
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