Sir Michael Rutter CBE

  • Date:

We are very sad to hear that Sir Michael Rutter CBE has passed away. There could not be a more influential person in the field of child psychiatry and child development, following on from the influence of John Bowlby. Sir Michael trained as a psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in South London, and in 1966 took up a position at the Institute of Psychiatry. In 1973, he became the first Professor of Child Psychiatry in the UK. He went on to become Head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 1973, and Professor of Developmental Psychopathology in 1988.

After many years of study of Bowlby’s work, attachment had become an enormously significant concept in understanding the fundamentals of child development. Sir Michael’s publication of Maternal Deprivation Reassessed in 1972 was a significant challenge to the field. The advantages that resulted from that challenge deepened our understanding of the issues of deprivation and privation in the early years. One concept in child development cannot explain everything, and Sir Michael addressed many other child development issues, including autism.

From my perspective, one of the most influential studies led by Sir Michael was the English Romanian Adoption Study of children placed at a very young age in Romanian institutions where they experienced severe deprivation. A total of 165 of these children were adopted into the UK, where they were then followed up over time to explore their development and recovery. The sensitivity and complexity of these issues cannot be underestimated but, led by Sir Michael and his exceptional team, the study became hugely important in setting out the detail of recovery and what enabled this. The study has continued through various stages of childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and I was privileged to be invited to join the advisory group in the latter stages, when BAAF (now CoramBAAF) published a summary of the study’s policy and practice implications.

One further influence of this study was an opportunity to follow up a parallel study of 100 girls adopted into the UK from Hong Kong in the 1960s. BAAF (now CoramBAAF) agreed to this becoming a priority project, with a partnership created with the Institute of Psychiatry through Professor Alan Rushton and a team at BAAF. An application for funding to the Nuffield Foundation brought us into contact with Sir Michael, given that it was then funding his English Romanian Adoption Study. Nuffield generously agreed to fund the Hong Kong project, and Sir Michael continued to rigorously challenge us, as we needed him to do, as we embarked on the project and published the results.

These are just small examples of what Sir Michael contributed to the sector, but they cannot be underestimated. There are many, many other significant examples of his research, creativity and determination – involving countless others in a wide range of different ways. We must celebrate the continuing influence of his world-changing contribution to child development and child psychiatry.


John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development