Assessing the Field of Post-Adoption Services: Family Needs, Program Models, and Evaluation Issues. Summary Report. 2.2.3 Child Characteristics


Whereas most adoptions have been successful, there is a growing body of evidence that they are also unusually challenging. Concern that adopted youth are at risk for psychological disorders has persisted for several decades, although there is certainly no consensus that adopted children have unusual levels of problems (Bohman, 1981; Haugaard, 1998; Zill, 1996). The research on whether children who have been adopted are at greater risk for emotional, academic, and behavioral difficulties than nonadopted youth is widely discussed in the adoption literature (Berry, 1992; Brodzinsky, Hitt, and Smith, 1993; Haugaard, 1998; Lindholm and Touliatos, 1980; Warren, 1992; Wierzbicki, 1993).

Age and behavioral/ emotional problems are the strongest predictors of disruption.

Problems in adoptions  whether manifested in troubled behavior or adoption disruptions  are highly associated with certain characteristics of adopted children. The predominant factor influencing disruptions is the childs current age. Numerous studies have supported the conclusion that the older the child, the more likely the risk of disruption (Barth and Berry, 1991; Festinger, 1986; Goerge, Howard, and Yu, 1996; Groze, 1986; Partridge, Hornby, and McDonald, 1986; Smith and Howard, 1991; USR&E, 1985). Older children, who are more likely to have been older when separated from their biological families, may have had more exposure to maltreatment, greater ties to their biological families, and experienced more disruptions in foster care (Barth and Berry, 1991).

Families in which children display behavioral or emotional problems are also more likely to disrupt, particularly when those problems are of an externalizing nature (such as violation of family norms, sexual acting out, defiance, cruelty, or physical harm of others) (Barth and Berry, 1991; Partridge, Hornby, and McDonald, 1986; Smith and Howard, 1994; Smith, Howard, and Monroe, 1998). One survey of states about their experiences with disruption found that children with emotional problems represented 19 percent of total placements but 39 percent of disruptions. This is in sharp contrast to the findings for children with physical or mental handicaps, who accounted for 21 percent of total placements but only 13 percent of disruptions (USR&E, 1985).

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