Academic journal article Family Relations

Influences of Risk History and Adoption Preparation on Post-Adoption Services Use in U.S. Adoptions*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Influences of Risk History and Adoption Preparation on Post-Adoption Services Use in U.S. Adoptions*

Article excerpt


In spite of the need for pre- and post-adoption support, studies indicate low levels of services utilization among adoptive families, particularly those involving children with special needs. This study examines the relationship between utilization of adoptions services and adoptive child and family characteristics, pre-adoptive risk history, and provision of adoption preparation services. A longitudinal survey of 560 adoptive parents reveals significant but differential influences of pre-adoptive risk history and pre-adoptive preparation services on use of both general and clinical post-adoption services over time. Findings support the need for long-term post-adoption services for adoptive families, especially for families who adopt a child with special needs. Implications for practice, policy, and future research are discussed.

Key Words: adoption services, adoptive families, special needs adoption.

Most children placed for adoption in the United States through public child welfare systems have some kind of special needs condition. For example, 89% of the families who adopted a foster child in 2005 received an adoption subsidy based upon special needs classification of the child (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006). Although definitions vary from state to state, generally the term "special needs" designates children whose race or ethnicity, older age, sibling group status, history of unstable placements, or emotional, physical, or behavioral disabilities may impede adoptive placement (Brodzinsky & Pinderhughes, 2002). A number of these aspects of special needs designation are associated with poor adoption outcomes. Although research is fairly clear about the influence of pre-adoptive risk-including special needs conditions-on adoption outcomes, little is known about how risk factors impact the use of adoption services. Understanding the nature of adoptive family services utilization is an important foundation for the development of effective supports for families who adopt children with special needs. This study examines the influence of pre-adoptive risk history and adoption preparation on the use of post-adoption services. Whereas previous studies on adoption utilization tend to be cross sectional, the longitudinal nature of this study allows for consideration of changing family support needs within a developmental framework.

Adoptive Family Development

Various theories have been proposed that conceptualize adoption as a unique family form. The family systems perspective focuses on emotional and behavioral subsystems among the adoption triad (i.e., adopted child, birth family, and adoptive family). Stress and coping theories incorporate multidimensional aspects of adoption with attention on adoptionrelated coping responses and the biological, individual, and environmental factors that impact cognitive appraisal, coping, and adaptation (see Zamostny, O'Brien, Baden, & Wiley, 2003, for a summary of adoption theories).

Generally, resilience theory emphasizes the dynamic interplay between risk and protective factors, which either heighten the likelihood of poor outcomes or enhance the likelihood of good outcomes, respectively (Masten, 2006). Adopted children with special needs enter their families with one or more risk factors and often present greater developmental and parenting challenges than their nonspecial needs counterparts. For instance, because many adoptees with special needs have lived in family systems that were unresponsive to their needs, child integration into the adoptive family system and development of secure attachment relationships may be hindered (Brodzinsky & Pinderhughes, 2002; Smith, Howard, & Monroe, 1998). These challenges can subsequently impact child and family adjustment throughout developmental transitions (Brodzinsky & Pinderhughes; Casey Family Services, 2006).

Two stage theories specifically address adoptive family development. …

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