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"Only by moving away from preconceived notions about adoption and entering the world of the adoptees, can researchers [adoption professionals and parents] ever hope to understand their experience and be helpful to them when needed.” (Brodzinsky, 1993) [emphasis mine].
An estimated 120,000 domestic adoptions take place each year in the U.S. Additionally, In 2004, nearly 23,000 children from abroad were adopted by Americans with Illinois ranked sixth among states with the largest population of inter-country adoptees. Despite the significant and progressively growing number of adoptions, a need remains for on-going, post-adoptive supportive structures that address the arising and changing needs and issues specific to adoptive families.
While outcome studies often present conflicting results regarding the well-being and adjustment of adoptees, it is generally agreed that the multifaceted issues inherent in adoption pose unique challenges. Adjustment to adoption is a process that is influenced by children’s perceptions of themselves and their families. Self and familial perceptions are also affected by societal messages as well as pre-adoptive history, experiences, and developmental maturity. Incorporating past ambiguous relationships and histories, coming to terms with adoption related losses, reconciling fantasies with facts, and securing a sense of familial belonging are just a few of the complex issues adoptive children encounter.
Families who talk about adoption openly and non-defensively support positive adjustment in their children. Yet, talking about adoption may not come easily. Feeling unskilled in facilitating adoption related conversation can hinder parents from engaging in important and meaningful dialogue with their children. Additionally, parents may be unaware of how developmental maturity influences children’s knowledge about adoption and perceptions of themselves as adoptees.
Middle childhood is often the period when being adopted is first seen as a problem realize[s] there’s a flip side to his beloved adoption story - that in order to be “chosen,” he first had to be given away.” (Brodzinsky, 1992)
At what age can a child most benefit from exploration of their adoption status and related adoption issues? Clinically and empirically based information strongly suggests middle childhood (6 to 12 years) is an appropriate time given greater cognitive capacity, more mature verbal expression, increased self-awareness, and the emerging ability to think abstractly about relationships and ideas. While younger children benefit from familiarity with adoption language spoken in loving terms, children in middle childhood use emerging abstract thinking and reasoning skills to try to logically make sense of their world. Newly acquired problem solving skills are actively applied to all facets of life, including the interpersonal.
Middle childhood is also a time when ambivalent or negative perceptions, feelings, and realities related to loss through adoption may surface and may conflict with the joyful adoption story relayed by parents.
Prior to middle childhood, children may have easily accepted information about their adoption told to them by parents. In many cases information may be little or fragmented given ambiguous or complex pre-adoptive histories. During latency, children can feel a strong desire to make sense of this preliminary information surrounding their origins and subsequent adoption. They may experience themselves as a mystery. Uncovering, understanding, and sharing one’s unique adoption story is an important passage for children attempting to come to terms with the meaning of being adopted. Putting together the pieces of one’s adoption story is a challenging developmental task.
Within the family, qualitative changes in the parent-child relationship also occur during middle childhood as well. Increased independence, full-day school schedules and greater investment in social relationships and activities can result in less familial communication, especially related to adoption matters. Thus, the need for supportive adoption dialogue during middle childhood is critical. Sensitively addressing children’s emerging thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to adoption can assist in providing a firm foundation for further healthy identity development and a more secure adoptive family. Open, empathic dialogue within a supportive milieu can facilitate this process.
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