Problems with Adoption

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Introduction

Why do some adoptions go wrong? Adopting a child from a foreign country is usually a positive experience, for both the child and the parents. “Over the last 20 years, foreign adoption has become more popular, and Americans now adopt about 20,000 children from Guatemala, China, Russia and other nations each year” (Wingert). The comparison in Figure 1 shows the number of children adopted by U.S. citizens in 1990 and 2001. It illustrates that the number of international adoptions increased dramatically during that period and also that the countries that the United States have been adopting from have changed drastically. Studies show that most of these kids do very well, but in a small but significant number of cases, things go very badly; the adopted children killing their adoptive parents, the parents killing their children. “Since the early 1990s, the deaths of 14 Russian children killed by their adoptive parents have been documented” (Wingert). Cases like these are extreme, but it shows that parents are being overwhelmed by the unexpected emotional and behavioral problems of their adopted child.

Figure 1 US State Department
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Today, adoption is typically described as a lifelong process, or journey, complicating one’s ability to negotiate normal developmental tasks. For example, all adolescents must incorporate their family into their sense of identity; adoptees must integrate a cultural heritage from their adopted family as well as a genealogical and cultural heritage from a birth family, about which they probably have limited knowledge (Penny). There are convincing arguments linking adoption to increased risk of interpersonal problems. Issues concerning loss are inherently relational, meaning that the issues are there from birth, and are central to the adoption experience: adoptees have lost their birth parents, and more generally, a sense of being biologically tied to significant others; further there is a “status loss” associated with being different (Feeney 129-130). Adoption-related losses have unique features that may predispose the child to relational problems. Specifically, the losses are often unacknowledged or downplayed and may entail a sense of abandonment and rejection (Feeney 130).

The problems may be extreme, but they are not the child’s fault. Their behavior is usually the result of trauma, mistreatment, malnutrition or institutionalization in their home countries. “Some are found to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, mental illness or reactive attachment disorder, an inability to bond with a parent” (Wingert). Emotional and even physical disorders can be difficult to detect at the time of adoption, especially in infants, and often are not diagnosed until months or years later. Figure 2 shows the percentage of children adopted at less than 24 months of age and greater than 24 months of age with clinical behavior problems. As you can see, the biggest problem deals with attention, followed by social problems and aggressive behavior. Also, the percentage of children with clinical behavior problems increases in each category as the child grows older. So this means that either the problems are not being detected, or can’t be detected, or that the solutions to solve these problems are not working.

Figure 2 Gunnar
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Psychologist Karyn Purvis, who has done extensive research on troubled adopted children, states in When Adoption Goes Wrong, that many of these kids simply don’t respond to stern lectures and timeouts. Lab workups of her patients often reveal extremely high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Dr. Purvis says in When Adoption Goes Wrong, “The children, for the most part, were in safe homes living with safe people, but those cortisol levels told us that their children did not feel safe with them, even if they’d been living safely with them for years.” Children like them are almost constantly in a hypervigilant state....
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