Strengthening the Adoption Process

Article excerpt

Adoption usually brings a lifetime of happiness to adopted children and their families. Some adoptions, however, can cause families significant problems. A recent conference on adoption research and public policy examined both the strengths and the weaknesses of adoption and provided a look at how the process might be strengthened.

Adoption has long been a noble solution to a serious problem. Most adoptions, particularly those of infants, are quite successful. But behind the doors of some adoptive homes, things don't always go as smoothly as planned.

Sometimes the arrival of an adopted child causes friction and disruption in the household. Adopted children are more likely than their nonadopted siblings to suffer psychological, behavioral, and academic problems. As they get older, the development of ambivalent feelings about adoption may cause additional emotional strife.

Others pay an emotional price as well. Some children, usually older and with physical or emotional problems, are never adopted, instead spending childhood and adolescence moving from one foster home to another. And among the birth mothers of adopted children, a group that only recently has been studied, a significant number suffer emotional and sometimes even physical problems that can last throughout their lives.

"Adoption raises a whole new set of issues within families that don't exist in nonadoptive families," says Jeffrey Haugaard, an assistant professor of human development and family studies and the organizer of a day-long conference on adoption research held on campus in October.

The conference was sponsored by the college's Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center, and Family Life Development Center. The 100 or so attendees included social workers, policy makers, judges, academics, and a number of adoptive parents. Haugaard and five other speakers discussed their research on various aspects of adoption and the influence of adoption on the different players in the adoption process. They also shared ideas of how public policy might be adjusted to strengthen the process.

Examining Adoption Outcomes

Richard Barth of the University of California at Berkeley described preliminary results of his longitudinal study on how the size and structure of adoptive families affect the outcomes of adoption. Although the project is far from complete, Barth is already finding that factors such as the number of adopted children in the home, the number of birth children in the home, and the age of adoptees when brought into the home can be tied to the adjustment of the adopted children.

David Brodzinsky of Rutgers University described his current research on how children adjust to adoption. Earlier studies have shown that adopted children are at higher risk than birth children for a variety of behavioral, emotional, and academic problems. They have also shown that these problems appear least frequently among children who are adopted during infancy or soon after but begin to increase significantly as the age at adoption increases. Brodzinski is looking at age as well as Children's attitudes, beliefs, and understanding of adoption to determine how these factors influence, their adjustment to adoption.

Special needs children - older children, sibling groups, and children with emotional or physical disabilities - are a particular challenge to adoptive families; James Rosenthal of the University of Oklahoma discussed his current work on special needs adoptions. He pointed out that earlier studies have shown that special needs adoptions are generally quite positive. His project is trying to determine the factors that make them a success.

When the projects are complete, their findings may prove useful in helping adoption professionals predict the success of adoptions based on family structure and the characteristics of the adoptive children. They also may help families be aware beforehand of the special problems they may face with their adopted children. …