The development of social competence in adopted people: a longitudinal study from childhood to adolescence
Introduction: Thousands of adoptees during the baby boom of intercountry adoption are now reaching adolescence and this makes possible research on this relevant and significant developmental stage. Social competence is a key characteristic for the integration into the peer group. Some studies have found that early deprivation is associated to difficulties in social relationships in childhood and adolescence.
Purpose: The purpose of this work is to study the development of social competencies in internationally adopted children. The first objective is to analyze the evolution of social skills and problem behaviors of adopted children from early childhood to adolescence. The second objective is to compare the social competence of adopted adolescents to their non-adopted peers in the community.
Methods: The sample was formed by the parents of 30 adopted children from Russia into Spanish families and 30 non-adopted children as a community group. The longitudinal study consisted on three data collections. In the first one, children were between 4 and 8 years old (M = 6.28), in the second assessment they were between 8 and 13 years old (M = 10.66) and the last data collection took place when they were between 14 and 18 years old (M = 16). Adopted children had arrived to their adoptive families at an average age of 36 months.
The assessment took place in the home of each family, where the main caregiver of each child completed the Social Skills Rating System Questionnaire (in the first data collection) and the Social Skills Improvement System Questionnaire (in the second and third data collection). Both questionnaires offer standardized scores for social skills and problem behaviors.
Results: In early and middle childhood, adoptive mothers described their children in a similar way as non-adoptive mothers did, with non-significant differences in children’s social skills or problem behaviors. Preliminary analyses of their social competencies in adolescence suggest that there might appear some differences between the groups. Specifically, the presence of problem behaviors might be higher in adopted adolescents. From early to middle childhood, adopted children increased their problem behaviors, concretely, they scored higher in externalizing and internalizing problems and hyperactivity. Preliminary data suggest that these difficulties might persist when they reach adolescence.
Conclusions: Data obtained in this study will provide a better understanding of the changes taking place in the social development of adolescents whose initial life trajectories were marked by adversity. Furthermore, we continue improving our knowledge of the processes of development, recovery and resilience in such a fundamental stage of the human development.