Are Adopted Children and Their Parents at Greater Risk for Negative Outcomes?

By Borders, L. DiAnne; Black, Lynda K. et al. | Family Relations, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Are Adopted Children and Their Parents at Greater Risk for Negative Outcomes?


Borders, L. DiAnne, Black, Lynda K., Pasley, B. Kay, Family Relations


L. DiAnne Borders,** Lynda K. Black, and B. Kay Pasley

Drawing from the National Survey of Families and Households data set, a group of adopted children and their parents (n = 72) and a matched group of biological children and their parents were identified. Parents' responses on items related to their own well-being, attitudes toward family life, parenting behaviors and values, and perceptions of their child's behaviors were compared. Results indicated no significant differences between the groups' responses. Findings thus challenged pathological assumptions and myths about adopted children and their parents, suggesting that deficiency models are inadequate for researching-and working with-adopted children and their families.

A considerable body of research has been devoted to investigating whether adopted children are at greater risk for psychological, educational, and behavioral problems. For some time, much of this literature offered a decisive affirmative response. For example, results have suggested that adopted children are more likely to be diagnosed as having learning difficulties (e.g., Taichert & Harvin, 1975), including attention deficit disorder (ADD) (Deutsch et al., 1982); have more frequent school-related behavior problems (e.g., Brodzinsky, Schechter, Braff, & Singer, 1984); and have lower academic achievement (e.g., Brodzinsky et al., 1984; Stein & Hoopes, 1985) and social competence (Brodzinsky et al., 1984). In terms of psychological problems, studies consistently have found adopted children to be overrepresented in clinical settings (e.g., Jerome, 1986; Kotsopoulous et al., 1988) and more likely to manifest greater personality and emotional problems (e.g., Bohman, 1970; Brodzinsky, Radice, Huffman, & Merkler, 1987; Kotsopoulous et al., 1988; Lindholm & Touliatos, 1980).

A few studies have begun to challenge these conclusions, at least for adopted adolescents. Marquis and Detweiler (1985), for example, found that their adopted adolescents had greater feelings of confidence and control than did the nonmatched group of non-adopted adolescents. The adoptees also viewed others more positively, including their parents, who were described as significantly more nurturant, comforting, predictable, protectively concerned, and helpful than non-adopted adolescents described their parents. In the largest adoption study conducted to date, researchers at Search Institute (Benson, Sharma, & Roehlkepartain, 1994) surveyed a random sample of adopted adolescents, their parents, and their non-adopted siblings who had been identified through adoption records of agencies in four midwestern states. The adopted adolescents reported positive identities, strong bonds with parents, and positive indicators of psychological health at the same rates as their non-adopted siblings.

A similar at-risk view is found in the limited literature on adoptive parents (see Wegar, 1995). A number of writers have focused attention on what are believed to be negative differences between adoptive and biological parents (e.g., Brodzinsky & Huffman, 1988; Helwig & Ruthven, 1990; Kirschner, 1990; Winkler, Brown, Van Keppel, & Blanchard, 1988). These writers have suggested that adoptive parents may be less confident and more anxious than biological parents, feeling much anger and grief, and worried about their ability to bond with "someone else's child." These emotions are attributed to factors that lead to their decision to adopt, such as infertility, years of intrusive and expensive fertility treatments, and grief associated with giving up the dheam of having a biological child. Some writers even have suggested that adoptive parents with unresolved anger about their situation may project that anger onto their adopted children, the constant reminder of their infertility (see Marquis & Detweiler, 1985; Wegar, 1995). In addition, the uncertainty of the adoption process (e.g., not knowing when the child will arrive), social stigma (see Bartholet, 1993; Miall, 1987), and reactions of friends and family (and even curious strangers) may affect their psychological health. …

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