Location, Location, Location: Adoption and Racial Microaggressions Experienced by Intercountry Adoptive Families in Diverse Communities
Adoptive families formed via international and transracial adoption are unique in society, yet more visible and conspicuous than many other family compositions (Wegar, 2000). The very nature of transracial adoption (TRA), due to multiple racial heritages within one family, often triggers questions and insensitive remarks regarding adoption. Given adoption stigma and the prevalence of racial bigotry in society, we used the construct of microaggressions that may target race (Sue et al., 2007) or adoption status (Baden, 2016) to explore experiences and perceptions of bias experiences among adoptive parents of children adopted from China.
Research questions: What microaggressions do TRA parents and their children experience in their communities, and how are the microaggressions related to community diversity? How are parents’ perceptions of others who commit microaggressions related to community diversity?
Trained coders coded interview transcripts from 40 parents for experiencing adoption (AMA) or racial microaggression (RMA) messages, type of microaggression, and parent’s perception of the microaggression-committer. Experiencing a microaggression was defined as an incident when a parent and/or child is the target of an actual bias event. Parents’ ascriptions to others’ motivation were coded as a) others are innocently seeking knowledge; and/or b) others are motivated by a particular bias. Parent’s perception of others and the situation was coded as a) others are rude and intrusive; b) others make too many comments about the family; c) others ask too many questions about my family; or d) if others are prepared, interactions will be better. Community (setting) diversity was coded using the Blau racial index for community racial diversity, using census data for family zip codes.
Results. Parents experienced an average of 8.23 AMAs and 6.26 RMAs. All parents experienced at least one type of microaggression. The most common AMA (83% of families) was “Biology is Best,” reflecting assumptions that adoption was a second choice for adoptive families. The most common RMA (75% of families) was “Alien in Own Land,” with the message that adoptees did not belong in the U.S. Neither AMAs or RMAs were linearly related to setting diversity. Scatterplot of microaggressions and diversity suggested a possible curvilinear relation, which was subsequently explored. Parents heard different types of message depending on the degree of diversity: in moderately diverse settings, parents were more likely to hear AMAs pathologizing birth parents and celebrating adoptive parents than in low or high diversity settings. RMAs exoticizing adoptees were heard more often in low diversity settings than more diverse settings.
Parents in low diversity settings were more likely to perceive AMAs and RMAs as biased or rude, whereas in more diverse settings, parents viewed them as innocent.
We discuss these findings and their implications for supporting adoptive families.
Adoption Microaggressions in France
Background: Microaggressions, or “unintended discrimination” related to adoption have been widely investigated in the USA. These microaggressions may relate to both adoptive status and country of origin, or both. However, the prevalence and qualitative characteristics of these events have been seldom studied in other countries. Differences in cultural norms and practices among countries might influence the type and frequency of microaggressions experienced by adopted children and their families.
Methods: Brief anonymous questionnaires devised to elicit personal experiences related to microaggressions were distributed by 4 clinical services serving this population (3 pediatric, 1 child psychiatric) and by 2 large adoptive family support networks to adoptive parents. Frequencies and relations between experience of micro-aggressions and other variables were analyzed.
Results: In this preliminary analysis, 60 parents responded regarding their adopted children, mean+SD ages 9.8 yrs+4.7. Children had arrived at age 2.55 years+2.36 from 19 countries (30% Asia, 35% Eastern Europe). 77% of children were of different ethnic origin than their adoptive parents. Parents reported that due to having adopted, they experienced negative comments (18%), that they had adjusted certain aspects of their lives (12%), and that they lived differently than non-adoptive families (20%). 51% of parents reported their belief that their child “felt different” than non-adopted children, mostly due to a lack of acceptance or negative comments from peers. These feelings were more common in older children (13.2 years vs 10.4 years, p=.05). 35% of parents reported that their children experienced a sense of exclusion due to the fact of having been adopted (10%), their country of origin (5%), or both (7%). Children also experienced microaggressions related to having learning disabilities, behavior problems, or other special needs (12%), single-sex parents or a single parent (each 2%). 72% of parents expressed concern about the likelihood that their child had or would experience prejudice (isolation, social discrimination, and bullying). Concern about prejudice was less likely in families which participated in adoption-related activities (Chi Square 4.29, p=.03). Neither child gender nor the match in ethnicity between child and parents (e.g., visibility of the adoption) correlated with the child’s sense of feeling different, being excluded, or the parents’ concerns about prejudice.
In this preliminary data analysis, parents reported many stigmatizing experiences related to adoption for themselves and/or their children. Adoptive parents and children in France are commonly exposed to microaggressions; the prevalence and severity of these experiences are not widely appreciated by adoption professionals, and pre-adoptive preparation for these experiences is limited.
‘I am just like any Dutchman’. Discrimination, identity and satisfaction with life of Dutch adult intercountry adoptees
In our study on Dutch adult intercountry adoptees’ satisfaction with life and with their adoption, we questioned 1203 adoptees (18-45) in the Netherlands on their experiences with discrimination. We correlated the assessment of discrimination with what the adoptees considered most important for their identity – features connected to their country of origin or features connected to their current life. Results showed that about 15 percent of the adult adoptees had suffered a lot from discrimination and that discrimination mostly took place during childhood and adolescence. The adoptees who considered adoption the most important aspect of their identity suffered significantly more from discrimination. The 20 percent of the adoptees who considered their adoption important for their identity were less satisfied with life than the ones who did not. Regression analysis showed that discrimination was an important factor for the satisfaction with life of adult intercountry adoptees in the Netherlands.
Ethnic discrimination and valorization: Sources and outcomes among transracial adoptees
Research has recently focused on discrimination among transracial adoptees as, similarly to immigrants, they are likely to experience ethnic discrimination. Previous studies have highlighted that ethnic discrimination negatively influences adoptees’ psychosocial well-being and increases the levels of both internalizing and externalizing problems. However, many aspects of this association are still unexplored, for example the different sources of discrimination: does discrimination originating from peers rather than from adults have different impact on youth psychosocial well-being? There also is a lack of studies concerning the role of positive feedbacks valuing adoptees’ ethnic differences. To partially fill these gaps, the present study is aimed at examining both positive and negative comments that discriminated or valued transracial adoptees’ ethnic differences, the different sources of these messages (i.e. peers, relatives, other people) and the influence on their psychosocial well-being. Participants were 160 Italian transracial adoptive families with adolescent children who filled in a self-report questionnaire. Preliminary results showed the salience of both discrimination and valorization of ethnic differences, the specific role played by the different sources and their impact on adoptees’ psychosocial well-being. Analyses are still in progress and implications for pre- and post- adoption interventions will be discussed.