Saturday, December 5, 2009

Openness in International Adoption

I've been looking a bit more closely at some of the results of the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents that I blogged about last week. Since I'm working on an academic article about openness in international adoption, that's what I looked at first.

Table 18 sets out the data for openness in adoption, focusing on three measures of openness -- whether the child knows she's adopted, whether there was a pre-adoption contact agreement, and whether there has been post-adoption contact with birth family. The data are divided by type -- foster adoption, private domestic adoption, and international adoption.

The survey reports on the percentage of adopted children who know they're adopted, and the percentage is quite high. For children 5 or older, survey says . . . 97% know they are adopted.

The survey questions did not, however, ask directly when or how or who told the child she was adopted. The only question touching on the issue was this one:

W14. Overall, how do you think [S.C.] feels about being adopted? Would you say (S.C)… feels positive about it, feels mostly positive about it, feels mostly negative about it, or feels negative about it?

So, the data come from a question about how the child feels about being adopted, not a question about the child knowing she's adopted. And the result being for children 5 and older? Parents with children under 5 were not asked the question about the child's attitude toward adoption. So we don't know how many children under the age of 5 know they are adopted. And the published survey results do not identify at exactly what age these children age 5 or older knew they're adopted. After all, the survey included children from 0 to 17 years of age.

For internationally adopted children, 100% know they're adopted. That's partly explained, I'd think, by the fact that internationally adopted children are more likely to be of a different race than their parents -- 84% of the internationally adopted children were adopted transracially. The fact that parent(s) and child don't "match" makes it more likely that the child is told she's adopted, but there's still that 16% of internationally adopted children who are in same-race families. They also have been told they're adopted, though there is no "external" reason for doing so. So why do you think the figure is 100% for internationally adopted children being told they're adopted? I have a few ideas, but want to know what you think.

Since the survey didn't ask specifically about when or how the child knows about her adoption, it's no surprise that the questions were not explicit about what exactly adoptive parents told the child about being adopted. I know an awfully lot of folks who'll say, "My child knows she's adopted," but then reveal they've never mentioned birth parents, a prior family, or any idea that the child grew in another tummy. I don't think that qualifies as REALLY telling a child she's adopted! So while we're told 100% of internationally adopted children age 5 or older know they're adopted, we're not told what they actually know about their adoption.

Another measure of openness covered by the survey is pre-adoption agreements about contact with birth parents -- email, letters, photos, or in-person contacts. Not surprisingly, the response for international adoptions was significantly less than 1%, compared with 67% of private domestic adoptions (this is not to say that 67% have actually lived up to their agreements -- while the study reports that 68% of domestic adoptive families have had post-adoption contact with birth parents, those are not necessarily the same families who made pre-adoption agreements, nor is it clear whether the ones who made a contact agreement actually fulfilled all the terms of that pre-adoption agreement).

Still, despite the de minimus result for pre-adoption openness agreements in international adoption, 6% of international adoptive families report post-adoption contact with birth family. Though quite a bit lower than post-adoption contact by foster-to-adopt families (39%) and private domestic adoptive families (the aforementioned 68%), that figure was actually higher than I expected. From the international adoptive families you know, would you say that 6% have made some post-adoption contact with birth family?

I want to actually download the dataset for the survey, because I'm sure that more analysis would reveal some interesting things about ages at which children DON'T know they're adopted (though apparently not the ages at which they DO know!) and about post-adoption contact in international adoption, but I haven't managed to do so yet. If I do, and if anything interesting pops up, I'll share it here, of course!


Anonymous said...

Being told they're adopted: I think the figure might be so high for int'l because rarely is any child an infant. Sometimes these kids desperately miss their caregivers too. It's like they "know". For anyone not inclined to tell, this is a powerful reality check. I did, however, learn on another blog of a child who was told she was born in China but not told she was adopted because it would be "too much" for her (read: too much for the a-parents).

Openness: That means 6% of internationals have located the original family. Can't say for sure but it appears from one list I'm on that some people exit *with* original-family information. So there is always the possibility of openness. The rest of us have to search. That means in the US that out of the 140,00 kids adopted internationally since 1991 (that's a very rough approx), 8400 families have such contact. If so, I'm surprised we don't hear more from them and their experiences. This excludes many adoptees born in the 70s too.

triona said...

This is a fascinating analysis. Thank you!

art-sweet said...

If you are doing work on openness in int'l adoption, you may want to consider seeing if you can join the Guatemala birthfamilies yahoogroup, which is for families who are searching/have contact/or are thinking about making contact with their children's firstfamilies. I found it really helpful in a) making the decision and searching, and b) figuring out how to build a relationship across cultural divides