Pre-Adoption Adversities Affect Post-Adoption Adjustment

Author’s note: This blog is part 1 of 3 from the information on Clinical Concerns in Adoption that I presented to the Morris County Psychological Association on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. You can read more about the event here

The best outcome for adoptive families is predicted by pre-adoption preparation for the parents and post-adoptive clinical support for the family and child. The research also indicates that post-adoption difficulties are predicted by the later age of the child at placement and more significant behavior problems post-adoption.

Pre-adoptive adversities that have affected the child impact their later adjustment. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the conditions they come from and what they have been through before adoption. The source of the adoption has an impact on both the child and the family. Learning about this is part of preparing to bring a child home. It will predict a great deal about what you will have to do to support your child’s adjustment.

Pre-adoptive adversities vary by the source of the adoption, and it is essential to think about this as you decide where to pursue an adoption. It is crucial to think carefully and honestly about what needs you can care for in a child. Every adoptee comes with at least one special need: the search for an identity complicated by the early loss of their biological family. They will have to mourn this and comes to terms with it in the course of normal development. That can be challenging enough in many cases. If you add pre-adoptive adversities such as developmental delays or a history of trauma to this, you may find yourself overwhelmed.

Here then are typical sources of adoption and the sorts of pre-adoptive adversities you might encounter:

People often seek domestic adoptions through agencies such as Catholic Charities or Spence- Chapin or attorneys matching couples with biological mothers. It can be easier to adopt an infant this way; however, they may have been drug and alcohol-exposed and/or lacking in prenatal care. It is essential to inquire about their prenatal history and whether the biological parents request a closed, open, or semi-open adoption.

International adoptions have become more common as fewer women are placing children for adoption in this country, as the stigma about being a single mother has decreased. These adoptions are impacted by the age of the child at adoption, the length of time they have spent living in an orphanage or other institution, any abuse they may have suffered in their family of origin or in placement, poor healthcare and nutrition pre-adoption, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and/or other developmental disabilities. Orphanage conditions and the severity of pre-adoption adversities vary by country and why children are relinquished for adoption. It is imperative to research country and orphanage conditions and to use a reputable agency. Many families retain doctors and translators to help them while they are abroad.

Adoption through the child welfare system is a third common way of adopting. Parents can foster to adopt or adopt children who are already free to be adopted.  By definition, these children come with a history of trauma by virtue of any abuse/neglect severe enough to warrant the termination of their parents’ rights.

Should a family choose to foster to adopt, this method often involves managing visitation with biological parents as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) attempts the reunification of the child with their birth family. This path to adoption rarely results in the adoption of an infant.  These children often have ongoing emotional difficulties that need treatment. DCPP can provide access to sources of ongoing clinical support and an adoption stipend.

Research shows that any adversities your child has experienced prior to adoption will affect them in the long term. Please think carefully about what needs you can handle. Get professional advice to prepare for an adoption and evaluate what support you will have available once your adoption is finalized.