The Attachment of Adopted Children in Gay Father, Lesbian Mother, and Heterosexual Parent Families
Approximately 20,000 children reside in same-sex parent families in the UK. Notwithstanding the growing numbers of children raised in new family forms, there is a dearth of research on the attachment security of children raised by gay fathers and lesbian mothers. However, it is well documented that children of lesbian mothers are just as likely to have high quality relationships with their parents and to be as well-adjusted, as children with heterosexual parents. As such, there is little reason to expect that the attachment security of children in lesbian mother families would be any different to that of children raised in heterosexual families. However, the research on lesbian mother families cannot necessarily be extrapolated to gay father families as the circumstances of gay fathers are somewhat different. The historical emphasis on mothers as primary attachment figures elicits questions about the attachment of children raised by primary caregiving fathers. Thus, the current study sought to address the question of whether adopted children are as likely to form secure attachments to their gay fathers as to their lesbian mothers, or heterosexual parents.
Participants: The sample comprises gay, lesbian and heterosexual two-parent families with an adopted child aged 10-14 years. Ninety-two children have been interviewed and it is expected that the total sample will be over 100 children.
Measures and procedure: Child attachment. Children were interviewed individually using the Friends and Family Interview; a semi-structured interviewed designed to assess attachment security in middle childhood and adolescence. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim before being coded using the FFI Rating and Classification system.
Analysis plan: ANCOVAs will be conducted to compare attachment patterns (secure-autonomous, insecure-dismissive, insecure-preoccupied and insecure-disorganised) across the three groups (gay father, lesbian mother and heterosexual parents). Age at adoption and gender of the child will be entered as covariates. If significant differences are found, post-hoc analyses will be conducted to identify where these lie.
Results: Data collection is ongoing. Data from the full sample will be analysed and presented for the first time in this proposed symposium.
Implications: The findings of the current study have important implications for policy and legislation regarding the formation of gay father families through adoption. Given the number of children waiting to be adopted and the scarcity of suitable adoptive parents, the value of gaining further insight into this new family form cannot be understated.
The influence of pre-adoption adversity on attachment formation in same-sex parent families
Although children adopted in infancy are no more likely than non-adopted children to show insecure attachment patterns, children adopted in their preschool years show higher rates of insecure attachment than their non-adopted peers. Given such elevated rates of insecure attachment in children adopted beyond infancy, it is important to explore contributing factors. One such candidate is pre-adoption adversity. During their first year of life, children are particularly vulnerable to caregiving experiences and thus early adversity is likely to have a lasting impact on attachment formation. Moreover, it has been suggested that the type of adversity experienced may be predictive of children’s attachment categorisations, with neglected children displaying greater insecure dismissive/preoccupied patterns and physically abused children showing greater disorganisation. To date, the only study to have explored attachment in gay father families administered the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment to a sample of 11-19-year olds with either same-sex or heterosexual parents. However, lesbian mothers and gay fathers were grouped together in the analyses and there were only nine gay fathers in the entire sample. This presentation discusses findings from a longitudinal study of adopted children in same-sex parent families that examines the influence of pre-adoption adversity on attachment in early adolescence.
Participants: 41 gay father, 40 lesbian mother and 49 heterosexual parent families were interviewed at Phase 1 when the children were aged 4-8 years. The families are now being followed-up with the children aged 10-14 years. So far, 92 children have been interviewed and the total sample is expected to be more than 100 children.
Measures: Pre-adoption adversity: At Phase 1, parents were asked a series of questions regarding their child’s pre-adoption history. This included whether their child had experienced physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect or domestic violence, and whether birth parents had been convicted of criminal behaviour, had mental health problems or abused alcohol. Child attachment: At Phase 2, children were interviewed using the Friends and Family Interview; a semi-structured interviewed designed to assess attachment security in middle childhood and adolescence. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim then coded using the FFI Rating and Classification system.
Analysis plan: Regression analyses will be conducted to identify associations between pre-adoption adversity and attachment styles, across the three family types, whilst controlling for socio-demographic variables. Results: Data collection is ongoing. Yet, data will be presented from the entire sample.
Implications: The current study will provide valuable insight into the factors which influence attachment formation in a diverse sample of adoptive families; specifically regarding the role of pre-adoption adversity on attachment at adolescence.
A comparison of attachment difficulties and perceptions of family relationships between adopted and institution-reared children: A Chilean study.
To date, little research has compared the emotional development of adopted and institution-reared children in Latin America despite the large number of children living in alternative care. Findings are presented from the first study investigating the emotional functioning of adopted children in comparison with children living in institutions in Chile. In addition, factors associated with the psychological outcomes of adopted children are examined.
Methods: Data will be presented from two groups: 52 adopted and 50 institution-reared children, aged 4 to 9 years. The researcher visited families at home and also visited institution-reared children at 12 institutions. Adoptive parents or caregivers and teachers completed the Relationship Problems Questionnaire (RPQ), to assess attachment-related problems, and children completed the Structured Child Assessment of Relationships in Families (SCARF), to assess children’s subjective feelings and experiences of family relationships. Adoptive mothers and fathers were individually administered a standardised interview and questionnaire assessments of parental well-being.
Results: The total RPQ score revealed a significant difference between groups as reported by mothers/caregivers, F(1, 100) = 26.78, p < .001 and by teachers, F(1, 81) = 8.58, p = .004, with adopted children showing lower scores for reactive attachment disorder. The analyses were repeated controlling for age at placement. The differences between groups for mother-/caregiver-reported RPQ scores remained significant. However, for teacher-reported RPQ the test was no longer significant. The proportion of children who scored above the cut-off for attachment-related problems was also calculated. While the majority of adopted children did not show signs of attachment disorder, a high percentage of institutionalized children showed clinical levels of attachment difficulties. A difference was also found between groups for the Perception of Emotional Security and the Perception of Positive Parenting scales of the SCARF, towards their mothers (F(3, 94) = 8.22, p <.001 and F(5, 92) = 12.96, p <.001, respectively) and their fathers (F(3, 89) = 14.28, p <.001 and F(5, 87) = 17.71, p <.001, respectively). These differences remained after controlling for children’s age at placement. This shows that adopted children had more positive feelings of emotional security concerning their parents than institution-reared children. Factors associated with more positive outcomes among the adopted children were a younger age at adoption.
Conclusions: Adopted children showed significantly fewer attachment difficulties and more positive perceptions of family relationships than children who remained in institutions. Although a selection effect cannot be ruled out, with higher functioning children more likely to be adopted, the results point to a beneficial effect of adoption on the psychological development and well-being of institutionalized children in Chile.
Inhibited and disinhibited attachment behavior in adopted children: the role of early adversity and post-adoption envi-ronmental factors
Due to early adversity and disruptions in caregiving, adopted children often show developmental delays and are at risk for developing a variety of social, psychological, and behavioral problems, especially disorganized attachment and attachment disturbances. Emerging evidence indicates that quality of caregiving conditions in adoptive family can present protective factors which help to buffer the negative effect of preadoptive adversity. Recent studies have been investigating mainly intercountry adoptees, and the present study is the first study investigating inhibited and disinhibited attachment behavior in both domestic and intercountry adoptions.
The sample comprises 221 adopted children between 12 and 145 months (165 domestic adoptions and 56 intercountry adoptions) which have been adopted within the last two years. Children’s attachment disturbances were measured with the Relationships Problem Questionnaire and the Disturbances of Attachment Interview. Child factors (age, age at adoption, gender), pre-adoptive stressors (e.g., experiences of maltreatment and neglect, placement changes) and family-related factors (adoptive parents’ childhood experiences and emotion regulation, parenting, parenting stress, family characteristics) were included as potential predictors of children’s attachment disturbances.
Results: The results show that 15% of adopted children (domestic: 11%, intercountry: 25%) scored in the clinical level when screening for symptoms of inhibited and/or disinhibited attachment behavior. Multiple regression analyses revealed that the severity of maltreatment and neglect as well as adoptive parents’ self-reported parenting stress and self-efficacy significantly predicted inhibited symptoms whereas disinhibited symptoms were solely predicted by adoptive parents’ self-reported parenting stress and emotion-regulation.
The present study confirms results of international studies as early adversity was found to predict the occurrence of reactive disorder symptoms as well as symptoms of disinhibited attachment behavior. Moreover, our results highlight the role of family-related factors beyond sensitivity for adopted children’s attachment behavior, especially when developing interventions for adoptive families.