Prime Position SEO General What factors contribute to the success of adopted children?

What factors contribute to the success of adopted children?

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Adopted children can face a variety of challenges, including the effects of early trauma. What can parents do to help their children? Ben Fergusson, an author and adoptive father, investigates.

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My husband and I were among the first married same-sex couples in Germany to adopt in 2018. We had to go through a lengthy process of interviews, financial and medical checks, and extensive preparation classes before we were approved. We were frequently confronted in these classes with the numerous challenges that many adoptive children face. Some of them are to do with a fundamental sense of separation and loss: what the Scottish writer and adoptee Jackie Kay, in her memoir, Red Dust Road, describes as the “windy place right at the core of my heart”. Others are the result of traumatic experiences prior to adoption, such as neglect and abuse, prenatal alcohol exposure, or spending early childhood in institutional care. While individual adoption experiences vary greatly, these underlying traumas can pose long-term risks to the child. An analysis of 85 studies on the mental health of adoptees and non-adoptees found that the risk of adoptees experiencing psychiatric disorders, contacting mental health services, or receiving treatment in a psychiatric hospital was roughly double that of non-adoptees. Similarly, a Swedish study of international adoptees discovered that children who had been adopted had a higher risk of severe mental health problems and suicide in adolescence and young adulthood.

Despite the fact that being adopted carries these risks, a successful adoption placement can assist vulnerable children in overcoming the early adversity they faced. Adoption has been shown to help close the developmental gap between children in care and their peers, having a measurably positive impact on their cognitive development, for example.

For children who have experienced abuse or neglect in their birth families, adoption and foster care can provide a variety of long-term benefits that last well into adulthood, the most important of which is a lasting sense of safety. However, depending on individual circumstances, particularly the child’s age at adoption, this journey can vary greatly. According to one study, children adopted at a young age were as securely attached to their permanent families as non-adopted children, whereas children adopted later struggled with attachment more.

The question for an adoptive parent like me then is how to best assist your child in dealing with these challenges. This appears to be a simple enough task. Something for which science must have long since found solid solutions. However, when I ask researchers what has surprised them the most about their research on parenting adopted children, their response is unanimous.

“Oh! How few studies exist, “Kathryn Murray, a psychology professor and consulting associate at Duke University in North Carolina, agrees. She never misses a beat. Every researcher I speak with shares this sentiment. There has been a lot of research done on the developmental risks and challenges that young adopted children face. but far fewer on the nuances of their experiences, the best parenting strategies, or the children’s development over time.

You don’t stop having to deal with issues related to your adoption once you grow up – JaeRan Kim

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“We have almost no research on adoption after childhood,” says JaeRan Kim, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and Criminal Justice at the University of Washington at Tacoma whose research focuses on adoptees’ well-being and experiences. “However, if you’re adopted, you don’t grow out of having to deal with issues related to your adoption,” she says. “How do adopted people raise their children? What sort of adoptive parents are they? How are they coping with the death of their biological parents? What about their adoptive parents? We need to better understand these questions in order to provide them with the appropriate assistance.” Adoption is frequently framed as the final stop on a neglected or parentless child’s journey to safety and stability, so even the most basic information about the issues that children face after adoption is frequently lacking. Further trauma and disruption, such as abuse or abandonment by adoptive parents, can occur. If the adoptive family lacks support and is unable to cope with the consequences of early trauma, such as violent behaviour, the child may be returned to foster care. “We are aware that not all adoptive parents raise their adopted children to adulthood,” Kim says. “This is referred to as an adoption breakdown. However, in the United States, the figure could range between 5 and 25%. We just don’t know for certain because the statistics aren’t available.”

So, with so many gaps in the research literature, how can we, as adoptive parents, use science to improve our ability to meet the unique needs of our children?

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“Well, what we do have is a lot of great research on the kinds of things that adopted children are more likely to have experienced,” Murray says. “For example, we know that adopted children are four times more likely to attempt suicide. That sounds terrifying to someone considering adoption.”

However, when Murray and her colleagues examined a large sample and controlled for trauma, they discovered that trauma accounted for a large portion of the increased risk.

“This suggests that adoption does not increase your risk of suicide in and of itself.” However, being adopted increases your chances of experiencing trauma in your first few years of life. And the good news is that we have a plethora of excellent trauma interventions.” She uses Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) as an example of an evidence-based treatment that has been shown to be effective in reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms and other mood and behaviour difficulties associated with traumatic life events.

“Ambiguous loss”

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When considering how to deal with the traumas experienced by adoptive children, Kim cites the work of psychologist Pauline Boss, who worked with the families of soldiers who went missing in action in the 1970s. Boss was trying to come up with a way to address the specific issue of grieving someone when you didn’t know if they were dead or not, and she came up with the concept of “ambiguous loss”. A loss that does not allow for complete emotional closure, such as the complex grief one might experience for a dementia-afflicted relative or for a child who was never conceived. The focus of Boss’s work was getting people grieving these complex losses to accept that what they were dealing with could be “both/and”. Someone could be both present and absent. And it was possible to learn to live with that duality while still living a happy life.

This approach is obviously very relevant to adoptees, who frequently have missing or incomplete information about their birth families, as well as a plethora of intersecting dualities in their lives: birth parents, adoptive parents, and sometimes foster parents as well. If they were adopted from another country, they may have multiple cultural identities that they do not feel they can fully inhabit. Boss’ approach makes it clear that these children’s differences should not be made to feel insignificant. Indeed, adoptees have expressed their desire for questions and ambiguities to be openly discussed and accepted in adoptive families.

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