Impact of Adoption on Adoptive Parents: Issues Related to the Type of Adoption or Age of Child

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

Issues Related to the Type of Adoption or Age of Child

Different types of adoption may raise various issues for adoptive parents that impact their identity as a parent and their feelings about the adoption.

Open adoption. There is a growing trend toward open adoption in which a birth parent or other birth relative continues to have some type of contact with the adoptive family after the adoption. It’s common for a birth mother to choose the family who will adopt her child and to meet and form a relationship with the prospective adoptive parents. It is also common for birth families and adoptive families to have open adoption agreements in mediated adoptions and in some adoptions from foster care. After the adoption, the extent of the communication can vary, but it may include the periodic exchange of letters and photographs between birth family and adoptive family, or it may be occasional, regular, or holiday visits with the birth mother, birth father, or other birth relatives.

Research shows that open adoption arrangements generally work well for all involved. They remove much of the mystery and fear that may accompany adoption. In fact, some studies have shown that openness is associated with better postadoption adjustment for adoptive parents as well as birth parents and adoptees.4 Initially, adoptive parents may be nervous about whether their child will understand “who is who” or feel fearful of birth family contact. However, parents can provide consistent, age-appropriate information to their child to help the child better understand about the adoption and birth family, and contact with the birth family can serve to support this information. Contact removes much of the mystery for the both the adoptive and the birth families, and it can help the child learn more directly about his or her history and identity. (See Information What is Open Adoption? for more information)

Intercountry adoption—limited information and cultural expansion. Children adopted from other countries come from a wide variety of situations. In some cases, they arrive as infants or toddlers who have spent time in foster homes in their native country. In other cases, they have been in orphanages or other institutions for months or years.

The children often come into care for the same reasons that children enter foster care in the United States—parental abuse or neglect, parental substance abuse, abandonment, and poverty. Often, there is little reliable information about the child’s background, relatives, or medical history. Parents should be prepared to deal with such unknowns and to accept the fact that their child has had previous experiences that the parents may never know about.

Parenting a child adopted from another country offers both the joys and the challenges that occur when two cultures come together. Many of the joys come from learning to love and celebrate the unique characteristics of each child; many of the challenges come from raising children in a society that may not always be welcoming or approving of transracial and transcultural families or of children from other countries. Parents may prepare themselves for the following experiences:

Helping the child develop a racial and cultural identity

Creating a family identity for the multiracial or multicultural family

Living a multicultural life

Dealing with racism and bias about race and culture

Adopting a child from another race or culture forces parents to examine their own lifestyle and community and to view them through the eyes of their child.

Adoption from foster care and the older child. Foster parents are the most frequent adopters of children from foster care.5 They have already established a relationship with the child, generally know something about the child’s background, and probably know members of the child’s birth family. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that there will be a seamless transition from foster care to adoption! Parents should not be surprised if the child acts out or continues to have issues stemming from past abuse or neglect after the adoption is finalized. The child may be dealing with the loss and adoption issues that all adoptees need to resolve at various developmental stages throughout their lives.

Some researchers have noted that children adopted from foster care may act out or misbehave in order to “induce” feelings of rejection, anger, pain, and abandonment in their parents. This testing behavior may actually indicate that the child feels comfortable enough with the parents to communicate his or her own true feelings. Parents should prepare for their own response, modeling understanding and appropriate reactions/discipline, if that occurs.

Parents who adopt from foster care without having served as the child’s foster parents may have similar experiences. Whereas the child’s visits may have been relatively calm, and the immediate postadoption period may have seemed smooth, the child may still act out after this early “honeymoon” period. This is a normal reaction for a child whose life has been filled with rejection, abandonment, abuse, trauma, and instability.

Parents who adopt from foster care may experience internal struggles regarding their child’s birth family. The parents know that, in most cases, it is important for their child to maintain ties with his or her birth siblings, grandparents, or birth parents, but they also know that some of these relatives are the same people who may have neglected or maltreated their child. Adoptive parents may even question their own identity in relation to the child (“Am I the parent?”) when their child visits or has other contact with birth family members. As with most parenting tasks, this is a case of putting the child’s needs first. Maintaining those ties may be important for the child’s identity, development, and long-term well- being, and the adoptive parent’s willingness to facilitate the contact provides a model of mature behavior for the child.

Finding help. Adoptive parents who seek help for themselves or their children or families may want to start with their adoption agency. Many agencies offer some kind of postadoption support and services. Some offer preservation programs dedicated to keeping the adoption intact by helping parents understand their child’s behavior and manage it appropriately. Research has shown that a good therapeutic relationship between adoptive parents and their social worker can also help during the postadoption phase.6

Any counselors or therapists that the adoptive parent or family uses should always be “adoption competent,” that is, they should have experience with adoption issues and knowledge about the adoption triad of adoptee, adoptive parent, and birth parent. Other adoptive families are often good sources of referral for therapists and other assistance. Other adoptive families can also offer their own support and experience as well as normalizing the experience. Local support organizations may maintain lists of adoption competent counselors and therapists. Visit Information Gateway’s webpage on Parenting After Adoption:

Read Information Gateway’s Postadoption Services:

For more information on resources for adoptive parents, refer to list of resources below.

Continue to Conclusion and Additional Resources

Return to Adoption Parenting


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4 See, for example, findings from the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project ( mtarp) as well as Ge et al.’s (2008) “Bridging the Divide: Openness in Adoption and Post-adoption Psychosocial Adjustment Among Birth and Adoptive Parents” from the Journal of Family Psychology 22(4).

5 According to statistics from the U.S. Children’s Bureau’s Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) for FY 2009, 54 percent of children adopted from foster care that year were adopted by foster parents.

6 Zosky, D. L., Howard, J. A., Smith, S. L., & Howard, A. M. (2005). Investing in Adoptive Families: What Adoptive Families Tell Us Regarding the Benefits of Adoption Preservation Services. Adoption Quarterly, 8(3).