Seale, B. (1991). General Statistics and Information on Adoption. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.
Just about everyone in the United States knows someone affected by adoption. “Adopted children make up at least one percent of all of the children in the U.S. and suffer greater problems in social, educational, and emotional development when compared with non-adopted children.” (Brodzinsky. . Psychological and Academic Adjustment in Adopted Children. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 52.) Statistics on adoption have not been maintained nationally since 1982, but the Washington-based National Council for Adoption estimates that two million couples of child-bearing age suffer from infertility problems. Yet, only 40,000 healthy infants can be placed in adopted homes each year.
The issue of adoption is significant due to the number of individuals and families affected. Adopted children statistically have more social and emotional developmental problems. Combined with a culture that already makes adolescence a time of tribulation, it is vital that youth workers are aware of the issues facing adopted children and their families. In addition, there are several trends from the past 25 years that may further serve to help or hinder the development of adopted children and all members of the adoption triangle-the birth parents, the adopted, and the adoptive parents.
One issue that may impact adopted youth is the increasing number of people adopting babies through independent adoption or the black market, rather than through government- and state-controlled adoption agencies. This trend is directly due to the high demand for infants and lack of available infants for adoption in licensed agencies. “Independent adoptions, which are legal in all but a handful of states, generally are arranged through a third party, frequently a lawyer or doctor, although direct placements by parents are permitted.” (Editorial Research Reports, 2, p. 646). According to the National Committee for Adoption, in 1982, independent adoptions outnumbered public agency adoptions, and the average cost of an independent adoption was about $7,800. The main problem with independent adoption is that it is not regulated, and potential parents are often not screened as well as they are by public agencies. In 1986, a private adoption agency in Oakland, California, arranged for the adoption of a one-year old boy. The boy was later beaten to death and the adopted couple turned out to be two men, one of them a transvestite (Editorial Research Reports, 2). Though the effects of independent adoption on the adopted children are still unknown, the potential for placement with abusive or unfit parents seems higher due to lack of regulation.
Another trend in adoption is open adoption. Open adoption allows the birth mother or birth parents to influence where the baby is to be placed and to possibly maintain contact with the child. Proponents of open adoption believe that it eases the anguish of the birth mother, eliminates the fear of adoptive parents that the birth parents may someday reappear, and erases the adopted child’s search to find his or her birth parents. Some open adoptions allow the birth parents to maintain relationships with the adoptive child as they grow. Critics of the open adoption claim that “open adoption may only serve to confuse and add to developmental problems for the adopted by creating a hopeless and tragic confusion of parental roles.” ([1984, June 24]. Detroit Free Press, p. 1G).
Developmental issues facing adopted children are greater than other children. Although adopted children make up only one percent of the population of U.S. children, they comprise four percent of children in mental institutions. They tend to be more aggressive, exhibiting greater conduct, personality, and social disorders, according to Brodzinsky. One study indicates that adopted kids rate lower in social competence and higher in total behavior problems. Notes Brodzinsky, adopted girls, in particular, seem to struggle with issues of depression, social withdrawal, hyperactivity, delinquency, aggressiveness, and cruelty when compared with non-adopted children. Though studies and counselors disagree on the degree to which adoption affects children, there seems to be general consensus that adoption magnifies or increases problems of development in children, adolescents in particular.
The older a child when adopted, the greater the risk of adoption failing due to the child’s or adolescent’s inability to bond with or trust their adoptive family. Older adopted children are often shuffled between foster homes before adoption, and the pattern of rejection and instability prevents them from bonding. Contributing to failed adoptions is the fact that older adopted kids, “have been rejected by their natural parents, relatives, cousins, uncles, and people they were supposed to trust. Most have been abused, emotionally and sexually. They have been abandoned and bounced from one foster home or institution to another. They’ve never known anyone they could count on-and they’re not about to trust adults. Or anyone else.” (Sinisi. [1985, November 24]. Faded Dreams, Failed Adoptions. Denver Post, p. 42).
Evidently, adoption affects the development of the adopted in varying degrees. Not all adopted children display problems in establishing their identity, developing socially or emotionally, or bonding with their adopted families. However, there are enough adopted children growing up deeply affected and hurt by their adoption to warrant the study of this issue by those who work with youth. Trends of independent, open, and biracial adoption may further confuse the adopted child and add to the possibility of developmental problems.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- How can you help adopted children cope with these issues?
- How can you break down the barriers erected by a pattern of rejection by adults?
- Are you prepared to refer and provide adopted youth with professional support groups or counseling?
- How do you discuss the issues and effects of adoption with affected youth?
- Are you willing to take the time to build the bonds of trust necessary for working with adopted children?
- The majority of adopted kids develop normally in their adoptive families. It is important not to overreact.
- Adoption can complicate social, emotional, and self-identity development. Adolescents struggling with their adoption may show signs of hyperactivity, cruelty, aggressiveness, depression, and social withdrawal. It is important to refrain from viewing these symptoms as personal signs of rejection. Instead, realize that they are manifestations of a deeper issue. Persevere and pursue friendship and intimacy.
- Older adopted children are often unable to bond with their adoptive family because of the grooves of rejection etched throughout their life. While they desire stable relationships in which they can trust, they build barriers to protect themselves from further emotional pain. It takes time and, often, professional work to bring wholeness to these young people. One must, therefore, be ready to invest time and energy, and suffer rejection in order to build relationships with these youth. One must also know where to refer these young people for professional help. Also, many older adopted children have been sexually and/or emotionally abused.
- Trends toward open, independent, and biracial adoptions may exacerbate the problems facing adopted children. Confused parental roles in open adoption may serve to further promote a lack of belonging. Independent adoptions may allow the opportunity for emotional or sexual abuse due to the lack of screening of adoptive parents and lack of regulation by state agencies. One must consider ways to probe and discuss these issues with adopted youth as one earns the right to be trusted through a caring, deep, relationship.
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