Facts about the Mental Health of Adopted Children, or why there should be a social worker behind every family

Reading a (somewhat dated) paper on theological ethics, I came across some interesting adoption facts and thought I would share; citation below.

“In order to ascertain the fate of children who are adopted, the National Institute of Mental Health funded the Search Institute, a Christian-based institution in Minneapolis, which then completed the largest study of adopted families ever done in the United States. The report, entitled Growing Up Adopted: A Portrait of Adolescents and Their Families (Benson et al. 1994), has been widely praised. This study looked at 715 families who adopted infants between 1974 and 1980. Conducted in 1992 and 1993, the study included adopted children who ranged in age from 12 to 18 years. The families were randomly selected from the records of public and private adoption agencies. The report indicates that:

• the self-esteem of adopted children compares favorably with that of a national sample of adolescents between 12 and 18;

• adoption is accepted by most adopted children with relative ease, with only 27 percent indicating that adoption “is a big part of how I think about myself;

• being adopted typically does not complicate adolescence, a finding that contrasts with previous studies that took their sample from clinical contexts and from adoptions in which the child was beyond infancy at the time of adoption;

• adopted children are as deeply attached to their adoptive parents as are their non-adoptive siblings;

• adoptive families have considerably lower rates of divorce and separation than do biological families, creating a relatively stable context for the child;

• adopted children have slightly higher psychological health when compared with national norms for all adolescents;

• transracial adopted children (mostly of Korean birth mothers in this study) do as well as their counterparts in same-race families, although the fact of being adopted will never recede into the background in transracial adoptions.

“The authors add that “[e]ven in the best of families, some adopted as well as non-adopted youth lose their way. When this happens in adoptive families, there is a tendency to blame adoption. … To finger adoption as the culprit when a child experiences a lack of health fails to do justice to this complex interplay of factors”(Benson et al. 1994, 8).”

Source: Post, Stephen G. “Adoption Theologically Considered.” The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Spring, 1997), pp. 149-168.

While these facts are somewhat dated and only account for adoptions from birth, they raise the question, “Why would adopted children have it ‘better off’?”

One reason may be, plain and simple, that adopting families are probably a little older than the average family, therefore more experienced and more mature. But I’d push it farther than that. Because of the bureaucracy, paperwork, financial burden, and careful vetting process by different agencies or by the government, adoptive parents are forced to confront and ask questions about why they want to be parents that other families with birth children may not begin to really ask until their children are born (or if they do, they only get about nine months or so to really consider what’s coming, whereas adoptive parents must sometimes plan and wait three to seven years). That waiting period undoubtedly carves out a certain degree of determination and intentionality within adoptive families. Although, of course, none of this is to suggest birth families aren’t good families, only that the birth family doesn’t undergo the intensive review process adoptive ones must endure.

Thus, adoption is all about making a deliberate, voluntary choice. All parents who wish to parent are confronted with that choice, but adoptive parents decide early on what that choice means and whether they are capable of fulfilling it. And more important, they often have a social worker looming over them from the beginning deciding whether or not they’re as ready as they think they are. To be perfectly honest, I think every family should be “vetted” before they can have (and keep their) children. But that’s probably some radical thinking, and at least in America, our society is far too individualistic to ever accept that. If the government tried to provide families with social workers, people would be screaming, “The government doesn’t get to decide what I do with my children,” to which I would respond, “Birthing a baby doesn’t make that child your child. Only loving and nurturing it does.”

I’d use that logic to change the world if I thought anybody would buy it.



    • Glad you found it as helpful as I did.

      I do think there’s something to be said for the complications in a person’s life that arise from their adoption – be they issues of attachment or abandonment, but I think adoptees are usually more equipped to confront these issues because of the nurturing family’s they’ve been raised into. Nature provides a blueprint that doesn’t really guarantee success or failure, just a myriad of paths, whereas nurture is what makes or breaks what path we take. To blame adoption is, in some ways, to blame the blueprint when far more is going on as the building rises, to run with the metaphor.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s