Academic journal article Child Welfare

Clinical Observations of Adult Intercountry Adoptees and Their Adoptive Parents

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Clinical Observations of Adult Intercountry Adoptees and Their Adoptive Parents

Article excerpt

Americans are increasingly viewing intercountry adoption (ICA) as a viable method of building a family. Since the mid-1950s, more than 100,000 foreign born children have been adopted by American families. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Reports that even though children born in the Republic of Korea no longer represent almost half of all intercountry adoptees, Americans continue to adopt foreign-born children at a rate of some 10,000 per year, representing about one-sixth of all nonrelative adoptions [National Committee for Adoption 1989]. Additionally, thousands of families throughout the Western world have adopted children born in countries other than their own.

Except for work by Altstein and Simon [1991] examining the psychosocial adjustment of intercountry adoptees and their families, this topic has not received the attention it deserves in the literature, although several narrowly defined studies dealing with policy/legal issues [Joe 1978; Hong and Kim 1979; Adoption Researchers' Newsletter 1988], language development [de Snyder et al. 1982; Greene 1980], and behavioral/medical conditions [Sokoloff et al. 1984; Kim 1980; Jenista and Chapman 1987] have periodically appeared since the early 1970s. Where empirical pieces appeared, they were examinations relatively restricted in scope and size using case study designs [Kim 1977, 1978; Picton 1977; Hong and Kim 1979; Andujo 1986, 1988]. In some instances, investigations into certain limited aspects of ICA were part of a larger study whose focus was not foreign-born adoptees [Feigelman and Silverman 1983]. In no case, however, were the samples large enough to allow for any valid conclusions to be drawn.


This article presents the efforts of a seven-member research course given in the fall of 1992 at the University of Maryland School of Social Work under the direction of a research instructor (first-named author).

The research is part of a larger nationwide project that has been conducted by the first-named author since the fall of 1990. It involves contacting and interviewing hundreds of foreign-born adult adoptees over the age of 18 and their parents.


During the summer of 1990, with the permission of the executive director and the board of directors of a large voluntary child welfare agency, 350 families who adopted foreign-born children were nonrandomly selected from all adoptions arranged by the agency since the mid-1950s. Criteria for inclusion in the population were that the adoptee be at least 18 years old and that the family live in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, Virginia, or Pennsylvania.

Letters from the agency's director describing the nature of the study and asking for the families' participation were sent to those meeting the criteria. Included in the mailing was a stamped return envelope addressed to the agency. If families were interested in taking part in the study, they completed a very short questionnaire furnishing current names, addresses, and phone numbers of their foreign-born adopted children and returned it to the agency in the envelope provided. The agency in turn forwarded the responses to the senior author. Traditional follow-up procedures were used to increase the rate of return (e.g., a reminder letter sent after two weeks). The return rate, though disappointing, was not unexpected. Rates were low because the addresses in the agency's case records were the residences at the time of adoption, making them at a minimum 18 years old. Many, therefore, proved to be incorrect. At least half were returned, stamped "Addressee Unknown."

With those families who responded positively, other problems were encountered that stymied sustained progress, due for the most part to the obstacles inherent in any long-distance research, where the investigator is situated comparatively far from the interviewing site.


After role-playing as interviewee and interviewer on both parent and child instruments, each student was given the names and phone numbers of approximately five sets of adult adoptees and their parents. …

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