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valuate the
statement: “adoption is a significant wound that can be healed.”


Adoption can be defined as an indefinite settlement
of an abandoned child or an orphan with relations or with a family entirely
unrelated to said abandoned child or orphan (Van IJzendoorn & Juffer, 2006). Moreover,
adoption is believed to benefit all within the adoption triad – young
birth parents, unplanned children and infertile couples (Miller et
al., 2000). When focusing on the adoptee specifically, outcomes for adopted
children are thought to be better than for those who remain in care (Golombok, 2000). However, as significant overrepresentation of adopted
children and adolescents in clinical settings has been consistently established
(Kotsopoulos et al., 1988), questions are raised concerning the supposed benefits
of the adoption process. Ultimately, therefore, the role of the fundamental
mechanisms behind the responsibility for adoption being a significant wound,
such as patterns of attachment, identity development and feelings of
relinquishment, will be discussed. Do adopted children function less well than
non-adopted do and what can be what the possible prevention factors for the best
outcomes of adoption are?

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An infant enters the world as a
social being continuously in need of human figures to satisfy his or her
fundamental needs. Consequently, during the first year of life, the infant will
develop trust in these figures (Tyano
et al., 2010). Disruption in the primary
caregiver-infant bond during the first two years of a child’s life has been
shown to wound social, emotional and cognitive aspects in the future (Bowlby,
1951). Bowlby (1988) emphasises the tremendous importance of monotropy – the
need to bond with one single attachment figure, most commonly the mother, the
absence of which can lead to serious negative consequences. As continuity of
care from one figure is essential for development of secure attachment,
inconsistent caregiving can cause disrupted parent-child connection, resulting
in development of insecure or disorganised attachment (Humphrey & Humphrey, 1988; Brodzinsky & Pinderhughes, 2002). According to this
model, being psychologically attached to a primary caregiver while physically
separated causes a child to acquire issues of trust, abandonment
and loss. Additionally, Bowlby’s (1969)
‘Internal Working Model’ of attachment is a cognitive framework based on early
attachment experiences, which provides children with a way of representing their
expectations about forthcoming care, support and protection from others around
them (Hodges
et al., 2003; Bretherton & Munholland, 1999). Ultimately,
an early caregiving environment is crucial, as a child’s future relationships
will be influenced and guided by these experiences.


Similarly, in
the book by Verrier (1993) “The primal wound: Understanding the adopted child”, the author explains that all adoptees suffer an
adoptive wound. Habituation studies have previously shown that due to there
being considerable prenatal sensory development, foetuses can learn and
remember stimuli prenatally (DeCaspar et al., 1994). Similarly, the author
challenges the common belief of insufficient prenatal and early postnatal
understanding, claiming that rejection experienced when abandonment by
biological parents occurs, causes trauma which can lead to long-term
consequences, such as troubles in establishing intimacy and forming subsequent
relationships. This is similar those emotional impairment outcomes resulting
from maternal separation described by Bowlby (1951). Additionally, throughout
middle childhood children typically begin to understand abandonment and loss. They
recognise that in order to be adopted they must have previously been relinquished
(Brodzinsky & Pinderhughes, 2002). A loss of birth parents implies a loss
of birth siblings, genealogical connections and in some cases a loss of ethnic
or racial heritage, which can understandably be despairing and depressing for
the child. Similarly, according to Sants (1964), due to a lack of knowledge
about their past, such as concerning ancestral information, adoptees begin to
experience a syndrome called genealogical bewilderment which is categorised by
confusion, uncertainty and stress. In adolescence, this can have detrimental
effects for a child’s identity formation, especially as they often do not get sufficient
validation and understanding concerning their experience of loss and grief: it
is less socially recognised and is different from that experienced after, for
instance, death (Brodzinsky, Lang & Smith, 1995). Consequently, such a devastating
experience as the loss of a mother will cause impairment, for example
significant damage to the development of trust about permanency of relationships
in the future.


has shown that development of secure attachment is important for the emergence
of sufficient psychological adjustment (Arend, Gove & Sroufe, 1979). Ethnic
or racial similarity with the adoptive parent and timing of the adoption placement
have previously been shown to be associated with affecting the quality of the
mother-infant attachment (Singer et al., 1985). Firstly, the highest incidence of insecure attachment was
established in interracial adoptive mother-infant pairs, which can be explained by interracial adoption
being associated with a more challenging preplacement past and a lack of emotional support received from extended family and
friends (Singer et al., 1985). Conversely, studies have demonstrated interracial
adoptees developing good psychological adjustment (Feigelman & Silverman,
1983), raising doubts as to whether attachment does cause permanent problems.


age at adoption placement has, likewise, been found to affect the quality of
mother-infant attachments (Singer et al., 1985). Late-placement implies that
adoptees already formed attachment to their biological parents, resulting in
profound experience of loss, manifesting
itself as anger, confusion and helplessness (Brodzinsky, Smith &
Brodzinsky, 1998). Additionally,
late-placement also means adoptees are more likely to be exposed to adverse
experiences, such as neglect (Brodzinsky
et al., 1998). According
to Hodges et al. (2003), children fostering their ‘Internal Working Model’ in
environments of neglect or abuse use these models to then operate in the
adoptive home. Consequently, these children are fearful and aversive, illustrating
negative representations of attachment. They predict rejection and
non-fulfilment of attachment needs and as a result develop self-protection,
disorganisation and avoidance behaviours (Hodges et
al., 2003; Crittenden, 1994). While the internal working model tends to stay
irreversible, after remaining in a new family for one year after placement, even
late-placed adoptees have shown positive changes, such as reduction in
avoidance behaviours, indicating rapid beneficial effects of adoption (Hodges
et al., 2003). Additionally, children placed as infants show no differences in
mother-infant attachment in comparison to non-adopted children (Singer et al., 1985), putting
into question the importance of prenatal
and early postnatal connection. While most adoptees form secure attachment with
their adoptive parents (Singer et al., 1985), it is important to recognise that
some groups of adoptees, such as late-placed adoptees, are at risk of exhibiting
attachment problems.


Additionally, adoptees have been
shown to have elevated risks of externalising and learning problems (Brodzinsky
et al., 1987; Ingersoll, 1997).

Adopted children show higher rates of externalising behaviours such as
attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (Deutsch
et al., 1982), conduct problems (Kotsopoulos et al., 1988) and substance abuse (Marshall,
Marshall, & Heer, 1994). While these patterns of results
suggest worse psychological outcomes for adopted children in comparison to
non-adopted children, no significant differences have been found among adoptees
and non-adoptees in levels of internalising disorders, such as anxiety
disorders (Rogeness
et al., 1988). In other words, elevated risks
of externalising problems across adoptees cannot be merely attributed to issues
within the adoption process, such as poor parent-adoptee bonding, but rather to
factors like referral bias.


Haugaard (1998) found that
generally there are no critical differences in adjustment between adopted and
non-adopted children. Most serious differences were found in minority groups of
adoptees – those at the tails of the score distribution. However, it can be
argued that this should not be overlooked, as these children demonstrate severe
problems, indicating harmful effects of adoption in some cases. Additionally, small or non-existent
differences have been found in non-clinical populations between adoptees and
non-adoptees (Haugaard, 1998), providing more evidence for alternative factors
being responsible for problems in adoptees, such as referral bias and clinical
samples constituting the cases with severely negative outcomes.


Researchers found that even when
there were no differences in psychological problems between adopted and
non-adopted children, adoptees were more likely to be referred to treatment (Barth & Miller, 2000). Adoptive
parents having higher income and education allows them to frequently seek mental
health assistance: in conjunction with this, they are more knowledgeable and
familiar with the system due of extensive exposure with social services.

Overall therefore, this results in lower threshold for referral (Brand &
Brinich, 1999). Additionally, research suggests that adoptive parents are more
likely to adopt a negative attribution bias (Bugental
& Happaney, 2002), associating adoption with increased
levels of problems due to viewing arising issues as more threatening to the
family organisation, resulting in overprotection and making it more likely to
refer the adoptee to treatment.


elevated rates of externalising behaviours among adoptees can be explained by
adoptees being particularly vulnerable to developing externalising behaviours
as a result of both genetic predisposition and prenatal, perinatal and
postnatal environments (Ingersoll, 1997). Firstly, maternal substance abuse has been linked to a risk of
adoptees developing emotional and behavioural problems (Steinhausen, Willms, & Spohr, 1993). Moreover, early environmental
adversities, such as neglect, abuse and disruptions in care, have been
associated with increased vulnerability
for developing emotional and behavioural problems, explaining why later-placed
adoptees have increased rates of adjustment problems (Sharma, McGue, & Benson, 1996). Additionally, researchers
have previously established high genetic heritability among externalising disorders, such as Attention
Deficit Disorder (Biederman et al., 1990). These findings demonstrate that externalising
problems in adoptees can be attributed to the preadoption environment and
genetic heritability, rather than to adoption itself.


It could be
said that adoptive families do make a remarkable difference in the life of
their adopted children. Adoptees are observed to have an advantaged childhood
with better education opportunities, better healthcare and better family
stability, for example (Fergusson, Horwood & Shannon, 1981), offering adoptees
another chance to experience a family relationship. Likewise, while adoptive
parents have to experience a number of difficulties associated with adoption,
such as confronting stigma, long years of disappointment, stress and intrusive
treatments, which are generally associated with personal, marital and social
difficulties, research has consistently shown lower levels of postadoption
depression (McKay, Ross & Goldberg, 2010) and more satisfying experiences
reported by adoptive parents in their transition into parenthood (Levy-Sheriff,
Goldshmidt & Har-Even, 1991). Being together through several complications,
adoptive parents have better relationship adjustment (Levy-Sheriff, Goldshmidt
& Har-Even, 1991) and more realistic expectations about adoption demands (Glidden, 1991) than do non-adoptive parents, indicating their ability
to provide an adequate supportive environment and stability, which is highly
desirable for the adoptee. Relatedly, researchers have identified that a nurturing
and stable home environment can reduce negative long-term outcomes for those
adoptees who have experienced prenatal substance exposure, indicating a reversal
of negative outcomes (Barth
and Brooks, 2000). Additionally, interventions
aiming to enhance adoptive parenting, such as illuminative therapy, have shown
to aid a child’s trust (Rushton et al., 2006). Focusing on family dynamics, it
supports parents to have a better understanding about the adoptee’s behaviour, enhancing
tolerance in parents and expression of emotions and feelings in adoptees. These
findings demonstrate healing of adoptive wounds, as a high standard of
appropriate care delivered by adoptive parents has been shown to be sufficient to
eliminate certain effects of adoption damages.


Moreover, the
way in which parents respond to the struggles of the child will make a
remarkable difference. Despite fears that adoptive parents have about
relationship alteration following disclosure of adoption, it has been shown
that if information is communicated early on, in an age appropriate way, and support
and understanding is offered, disclosure will not affect psychological
adjustment or parent-child attachments (Brodzinsky, Smith & Brodzinsky, 1998). It is vital to acknowledge that there are reasonable differences
between adoptive and non-adoptive families (Kirk, 1964). Additionally, being
able to express curiosity and discuss adoption-related issues freely will make adoptees
feel more comfortable with their adoptive status (Stein & Hoopes, 1985). Facilitating
open communication about adoption-related issues, supporting the child with
their feeling of loss and maintaining a respectful view of birthparents, will
facilitate connection and trust between members of the family system (Wrobel et
al., 2003).


According to
Brodzinky (2011), in order to develop their sense of who they are, adoptees
have to know a coherent story of their lives, beginning from birth, representing
the importance of knowledge about adoption for development of a secure identity. For instance,
interracial adoption is associated with more complications in development of
identity, as it is linked to information barriers (Brodzinsky & Pinderhughes, 2002) and
lack of access to appropriate role models (Brodzinsky, 2011). Additionally, parents confidentially holding
information about an adoptee’s birthparents is linked to identity confusion and
uncertainty (Ryburn, 1995), leading to adoptees having unexamined identities, which can be
accredited to inability to explore information about their birthparents (Dunbar
& Grotevant, 2004). These children are particularly
likely to have a desire to search for their birthparents, representative the
adoptive wound as being enduring until information is acquired (Mendenhall et al., 2004). As
open adoption is raising in popularity, it might be easier for adoptees to
someway connect with their birth family. Importantly, however, when family
relationships are open, loving and provide adoptees with sufficient emotional
support, although adoptees might still be interested in their ancestry
information, they are less likely to develop genealogical bewilderment
syndrome, representing the importance of a supportive and nurturing adoptive
family environment for the eradication of an adoptee’s suffering (Humphrey & Humphrey, 1986).


although adoption is associated with increased risk of developing problems, the vast
majority of adoptees are found to be within the normal range of functioning
(Miller et al., 2000). It is
important, however, to recognise that certain groups, such as late-placed and
interracial adoptees, rather than the overall population, are particularly at
risk. This essay evaluates the conditions for the onset of the development of these
problems, recognising that responsibility lies within the preadoption
experiences, genetic factors and overprotection from adoptive parents, rather
than the adoption process itself. Being associated with more positive outcomes
for children than staying in care, adoption can be seen as an overall effective
intervention. While not all adoptees manifest issues internally, all adoptees, although
differently, suffer from loss. This healing can be aided by growing up in a
supportive, understanding and empathetic environment. According to research adoptive
parents, being generally well-adjusted, experienced, resilient and showing
dedication to become parents, have all the capabilities to provide such an upbringing
for their adoptive children. Additionally, recognising that adoptive families
need specific attention, more support should be offered to support services. Interventions
are beneficial as they provide adoptive families with strategies for better
understanding, communication and tolerance, which in turn will help aid
adoptees’ development and help healing. Just like a physical wound will become permanent
if damaged, it can also be healed if well looked after.

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