Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Twenty American Families' Stories of Adaptation: Adoption of Children from Russian and Romanian Institutions

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Twenty American Families' Stories of Adaptation: Adoption of Children from Russian and Romanian Institutions

Article excerpt

The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand how 20 families have adapted after adopting children between the ages of 3 and 5 years from eastern European institutions. The researcher visited a Romanian orphanage and then interviewed 20 families about their experiences with the adoption process and with family adaptation postadoption. Several themes emerged from the parents' stories regarding their search for support and resources to aid in parenting their children. Family therapists who are interested in working with families who adopt internationally from institutional settings can learn from the stories of parents.

Every year, thousands of children from more than 100 countries are adopted and join families in the United States (Johnson. 1997; Miller, 2000). In 1989, there were almost 8,000 international adoptions, while in 2002, adoptions increased to more than 20,000 children (U.S. Department of State, 2001: U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1989-1998). The continual increase in children adopted from abroad is attributed to a number of factors, including (a) a large number of younger children (infants and toddlers) available for adoption abroad; (b) prospective parents' perceptions that the international adoption process is faster, more cost effective, and less likely to be encumbered by interactions with a child's birth family than the domestic adoption process; and (c) increased media coverage of institutionalized children who are deprived, abandoned, neglected, and in need of families (Federici, 1999; Goldberg, 1997; Johnson & Dole, 1999).

Recent data indicate that Russia is ranked second for placing the most children in the United States through international adoption (U.S. Department of State, 2001). The majority of children adopted from eastern European countries have lived in institutional settings for at least a portion of their lives (Johnson, 1997; Miller. 2000). A number of studies have concluded that developmental concerns; growth delays; difficulties in social, cognitive, and affective development; and physical and sexual abuse have been correlated with institutional living (Federici, 1999; Groze & Ileana. 1996; Johnson. 2000; McGuinness & Pallansch. 2000; Miller, 2000). Children living in institutional settings, no matter how adequate the conditions are, have been offered fewer opportunities to acquire or practice new skills, have received little variation or adaptation for individual differences and needs, and have received inadequate motivational conditions involving reinforcement and praise. In fact, institutionalization in early childhood increases the likelihood that children will grow into psychiatrically impaired and economically unproductive adults (Frank, Klass, Earls, & Eisenberg, 1996).

For the purposes of this study, children adopted from Russia and Romania were grouped together for the following reasons: (a) the former Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc countries share a history of developing similar child welfare institutions and approaches to the care of children in nonparental care, (b) many of the Russian and Romanian adoption characteristics are similar (e.g., the ages of children adopted from institutional settings, child to caregiver ratios), (c) adoptive parents often cite wanting children "who look like them" as a major reason for adopting from Russia or Romania, and (d) children tend to enter Russian and Romanian institutional care for similar reasons (e.g., abandonment, termination of parental rights).

The increase in international adoption from eastern European institutions suggests a need for more health and school professionals with knowledge of medical and mental health issues specific to these children who have lived in institutional settings prior to their adoption, as well as the adjustments to the family's life cycle that arise from the issues common to international adoption (Deacon, 1997). Likewise, informed services and resources to support these adoptive families are needed. …

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