Previous life experiences and vulnerabilities of children adopted from care in Australia: Research findings and implications for practice
Purpose: This paper describes research on the level of trauma experienced by children adopted from welfare care. The findings assist in understanding the emotional, health and behavioral difficulties that children may confront in adjusting to their new family, and, how best to support adoptive parents. It is hoped that this research will reduce the potential for breakdown and support decisions about contact between children and their birth parents.
Methods: This study is part of the Australian Open Adoption Outcomes research being undertaken by Barnardos Australia’s Centre for Excellence in Open Adoption in partnership with the Universities of Oxford and Loughborough in the United Kingdom. The study is a unique follow-up of the life trajectories of 210 children adopted from out-of-home care in New South Wales between 1987-2013. This element of the study involved examination of administration files and adoption records to gather details about the children’s characteristics and experiences before entering their adoptive homes.
Findings: Many of the children had encountered a high rate of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) within their birth families. These included significant abuse and neglect and are known to be associated with poor life outcomes. Furthermore, many had subsequently experienced protracted periods between first notification and entry to care, failed restorations, disrupted kinship care placements and multiple moves between foster placements, which had increased their vulnerability. A high proportion had significant emotional or behavioural problems and more than half had at least one diagnosed health condition or disability. All of the children had at least one experience that was significantly related to poor outcomes, with most having had three or more; more than half the children were assessed as being at high risk, and 15% at extremely high risk of adverse outcomes in adulthood.
Analysis of data collected about birth parents found a high prevalence of substance abuse, mental health issues and domestic violence, often in combination. Such issues are known to have an adverse effect on parenting capacity and may also have implications for ongoing contact through open adoption arrangements. Adoptive parents were found to be in stable relationships, financially secure and well-educated. Their primary motivation for adoption was infertility.
Implications:The study provides practitioners and policy makers with a profile of the traumatic life experience of many of these children prior to entering their new families. We know that adoptive families can be recruited to care for children damaged by abuse, neglect and very poor early life experiences. However, this paper presents us with the practice implications of preparing families for the task of caring for children who have experienced abusive, chaotic and stressful early lives, and, provides evidence to assist consideration of long-term, post adoption support.
Children adopted from care: what are their mental health support needs?
The adoption of children from care is central to permanency policies in the UK, USA and some other countries. It is vital for policymakers and practitioners to understand the longer term outcomes for children and to consider what support adoptive families are likely to need. This paper presents findings from a recent cross sectional survey of 319 adoptive parents in England who had adopted a child from care.
The in depth survey gathered information about how the adopted child was getting on, and explored what services families had used, wanted or needed. The survey included The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (Goodman, 1997) for children aged 2-4 and 5-17; and The Tarren-Sweeney Assessment Checklists for Children and Adolescents (short forms) (Tarren-Sweeney, 2013).
319 adoptive parents took part and about two thirds of these (n = 207) completed the whole survey including the measures. Respondents included 85% adoptive mothers and 15% adoptive fathers. Single parents (17%), heterosexual couples (76%) and gay or lesbian couples (7%) all took part. Most children (91%) were white British or other white background. Most parents (88%) had adopted a child who was previously unknown to them. Ages of children ranged from 0-17 years (mean age of 7 years); 79% were under 12. Age at placement ranged from 0-11 years (mean 28 months). 52% were boys.
Most parents said the adoption was going ‘really well’ (44%) or they were ‘managing (35%), but in 21% of families, parents were experiencing many difficulties and struggling to cope. SDQ ‘Total Difficulties’ scores were in the clinical range for 45% (86 out of 191) of children. On the Tarren-Sweeney Checklists for Children (5-10 years old) and Adolescents (11-17 years old), scores in the clinical range were found for 49% (60 out of 119) of children and 76% (32 of 42) of adolescents. Despite these high levels of problems, only 28% of children had received a diagnosis of, or treatment for, any type of mental health, emotional or behavioural issue. Parents reported numerous problems in trying to obtain support for their children, especially support in manging mental health difficulties, and some parents felt judged, blamed and left waiting or alone without support when in crisis. Of the top ten most used support services in the last 12 months most were low level support services, such as support groups, social events, online services, training classes. The experience of delay and inaccessibility was mentioned frequently in relation to psychological/therapeutic help.
The results suggest that adoption of children from care does provide permanence and family belonging, but by itself this does not ameliorate difficulties that may follow from early adversity. Adoption support services, especially child mental health services that address the specific needs of adopted children who have experienced early harm, are a vital consideration and early assessment and intervention is warranted.
The relations of problem behaviors and academic achievement to school adjustment among Korean adopted children
Although the developmental outcomes of adopted children have been the focus of research interests in adoption area, the academic achievement of domestic adopted children in Korea has rarely examined. Yet, one recent study found that the academic achievement level of domestic adopted children was not significantly different from their non-adopted peers during elementary school years, but changed drastically after they entered the middle school, showing significantly lower level from their non-adopted peers. Factors related with the overall academic achievement were the level of school (elementary, middle, and high school), maternal education, age at adoption, child’s self-esteem and school adjustment. However, children’s school adjustment and self-esteem may be the result of school achievement, not the factors affecting it. Due to the strong emphasis on academic achievement during middle school and high school years, the low academic achievement of school children tend to be considered as a problem in Korea. Thus, we assume that academic achievement will affect school adjustment of children, since children with low school achievement tend to be treated unfairly by their teachers or peers. Then, what causes the drop of academic achievement of adopted children as they grow? From the previous studies, the level of behavior problem was found to increase as adopted children grow older. We assume that the increased level of problem behavior will be the cause of low academic achievement of adopted children after middle school years. As a follow up study of academic achievement of adopted children, we examined the relations between academic achievement and problem behaviors in adopted children and how these two factors affect children’s school adjustment. The reason why the academic achievement and school adjustment is so important in Korea is their relations to students’ final education level, the quality of jobs and lifetime income in the future. The results show that the level of school was positively related with the problematic behavior of adopted children and negatively related to the school achievement of adopted children. Problem behavior was not directly affect the school adjustment but indirectly affect school adjustment via academic achievement.
Based on the results of the study, the practical guidelines to improve the academic achievement and school adjustment level of adopted children are suggested.