Monday, November 9, 2009

Beyond Culture Camp:Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption

Great title, eh? Beyond Culture Camp -- that's the title of the research report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, reported in the New York Times.

Here are the central findings, verbatim from the executive summary:

Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults. A primary contribution of this study is the understanding that adoption is an important factor in most adopted persons' lives, not just as children and adolescents, but throughout adulthood. Adoption grew in significance to respondents in this study during adolescence, continued to increase during young adulthood, and remained important to the vast majority through adulthood. For example, 81 percent of Koreans and over 70 percent of Whites rated their identity as an adopted person as important or very important during young adulthood. This new insight has profound implications for policy, law and practice relating to adoption.

Race/ethnicity is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for those adopted across color and culture. Racial/ethnic identity was of central importance to the Korean respondents at all ages, and continued to increase in significance into young adulthood. Sixty percent of them indicated their racial/ethnic identity was important by middle school, and that number grew during high school (67%), college (76%) and young adulthood (81%). Based on their overall scores on the Multi-group Ethnic Identity Measure, Korean adoptees had a stronger sense of ethnic identity than did White respondents, but with caveats. While being equal to Whites in agreeing that they were happy about being a member of their ethnic group and feeling good about their ethnic background, they were less likely to have a strong sense of belonging to their ethnic group, despite identifying more strongly with it. They also were less likely than Whites to feel welcomed by others of their own race

Coping with discrimination is an important aspect of coming to terms with racial/ethnic identity for adoptees of color. The Korean respondents in our research were less likely than Whites to face discrimination based on adoption status, but more commonly confronted racial discrimination. Eighty percent reported such discrimination from strangers and 75 percent from classmates. Nearly half (48%) reported negative experiences due to their race in interaction with childhood friends. A notable finding was that 39 percent of Korean respondents reported race-based discrimination from teachers. It is clear that adoption professionals, parents and others - including schools - need more effective ways of addressing these realities.

• Discrimination based on adoption is a reality, but more so for White adoptees - who also report being somewhat less comfortable with their adoptive identity as adults than their Korean counterparts. Adopted people of all colors report that they experience discrimination, based on how they entered their families, in all settings of their lives - from classmates to employers to strangers. Most Americans probably do not perceive that adoption discrimination exists, per se, but this finding makes clear that stigmas and negative stereotypes linger in our culture and adversely affect adopted children and adults. When asked to identify the context of adoption-related bias, white respondents identified extended family as the most frequent source (for 40%). For Koreans, adoption-based discrimination was most common by strangers (31%) and classmates (25%).

• Most transracial adoptees considered themselves White or wanted to be White as children. Of those adopted from Korea, 78 percent reported they considered themselves or wanted to be White as children - a stark message to parents and professionals, even though the majority grew to identify themselves as Korean-Americans as adults. Analysis of their responses to open-ended questions demonstrates that integrating race/ethnicity into identity can be a complex process. While the most common reason cited for the shift was simply maturity, access to a more diverse community and affiliation with people of Asian background also facilitated the shift. For others, negative experiences such as racism or teasing led to reconsidering their identities and coming to terms with being Asian. A minority of respondents classified themselves as "unreconciled" --- that is, even as adults, they still long to look like their parents or members of the majority culture.

• Positive racial/ethnic identity development is most effectively facilitated by "lived" experiences such as travel to native country, racially diverse schools, and role models from their same race/ethnicity. any Korean adoptees were active agents in resolving identity struggles related to race/ethnicity, with 80 percent reporting that they tried to learn more about their ethnic group. Most had visited Korea (61%) and participated in adoption-related organizations or Internet groups. Korean adoptees offered practical suggestions to adoption professionals about actions that would have helped their shift in identity from White to Korean-American. Travel to the country of their birth topped the list. They also noted the importance of attending racially diverse schools and having child care providers, teachers and other adult role models of their race/ethnicity. One respondent poignantly described the loneliness of being in an all White community this way: "I was the diversity in my high school."

• Contact with birth relatives, according to the White respondents, is the most helpful factor in achieving a positive adoptive identity. When asked to name the experiences or services that are most helpful in achieving a positive identity as an adopted adult, White adoptees rate contact with birth relatives as the most important. A lopsided majority of the respondents - 86 percent - had taken steps to find their birth families. An unexpected finding was that a high percentage (49%) of the Korean adoptees had searched as well and 30 percent had experienced contact with birth relatives, despite the common assumption that those adopted from Korea have little access to information about their families of origin. For Whites, 45 percent reported having contact with birth relatives. This finding - like the one above - underscores the essential fact that adoptees, like their counterparts raised in their families of birth - want to know (as the cliché puts it) "who they are and where they come from." A deeper understanding of this reality has broad implications for adoption law, policy and practice.

• Different factors predict comfort with adoptive and racial/ethnic identity for Korean and White adoptees. This study sought to identify the factors that predict adopted adults' comfort with their adoptive identity, as well as with their racial/ethnic identity. The strongest predictor of comfort with one's adoption identity for White respondents was life satisfaction. For Korean adopted adults, three factors predicted comfort with adoption identity: gender (females were more comfortable with their adoption); satisfaction with life (higher satisfaction predicted greater comfort with adoption); and self-esteem (higher self-esteem predicted greater comfort with adoption).


kantmakm said...

Thanks for the link, malinda!

Raina said...

I think the site crashed! It's not working, not even if you Google it. Perhaps they weren't prepared for such a response!

Raina said...

It's working now!

Anonymous said...

To be labeled "white" without knowing any country of origin or history is mind-boggling and frustrating for "white" adoptees.

Heck, I'm listed as "white" but I have olive skin and my biological father was of an unknown race with dark hair, dark eyes, and medium complexion and then listed as being caucasion! WTF???

Healthy identity formation starts with NEVER TAKING A PERSON'S IDENTITY AWAY.

Anonymous said...

"Of those adopted from Korea, 78 percent reported they considered themselves or wanted to be White as children - a stark message to parents and professionals, even though the majority grew to identify themselves as Korean-Americans as adults"

Wow. That freaked me out. I am going to ask Sim what she thinks of that. No, I won't ask her that--I'll ask what/who she thinks she is in relation to me. Will let you know!

Victoria said...

Thank you so much for posting this and I look forward to reading the full report.

Anonymous said...

This is the same information that we have been hearing directly from adult adoptees for some time, maybe now those who still think their kids will be different will listen.