Adoption can be defined as the “placement of an abandoned, relinquished or orphaned child” (van IJzendoorn & Juffer, 2006). Adopted children may be vulnerable to various risk factors which can negatively impact their development, including an insecure attachment type, poor adjustment, and impaired cognitive functioning. This could be a result of the institutional care they receive early in their life (Vorria et al., 2006); for this reason, adoption is seen by some as a “wound”. However, adoptees have shown large developmental catch-up when compared with children brought up by their biological parents, implying that this “wound” can be “healed”. Alternately, others may view adoption not as a wound, but instead as a healthy alternative to the kind of care they may have received otherwise- such as foster or institutional, providing an opposing argument to this statement. This view encompasses the idea that adoption is not a wound, but a gift: it may be that the process of being put up for adoption and abandonment by birth parents is what can be described as a “wound”.
Support for this statement arises from the impact adoption has on children’s attachment styles. According to Bowlby’s (1982) attachment theory, children form secure or insecure attachments with their primary caregiver, and this bond influences other relationships in their life. A secure attachment is characterised by seeking contact from the caregiver when distressed and being easily comforted by them. Alternately, insecure attachments are categorised into avoidant, resistant, or disorganised, with disorganised being the most insecure type (van den Dries, Juffer, van IJzendoorn, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2009). It’s important for this attachment made early in life to be secure as it forms the basis for future relationships. Additionally, studies have found a link between a disorganised attachment style and behavioural problems (Lyons-Ruth, Easterbrooks, & Cibelli, 1997), emphasising the necessity of a secure attachment style.
Van den Dries et al. (2009) revealed that more adopted children held disorganised attachment styles than non-adopted children. Such results were attributed to the experiences these children had endured before being placed with an adoptive family. This finding lends support to the idea that adoption is a “wound”, as it suggests that adopted children are vulnerable to forming insecure attachments, which have been found to harm development. Nevertheless, discoveries also demonstrate that such a wound can be “healed”, with studies concluding that over time the negative impact of adoption can be dissolved. Judge (2003) reported that the amount of time children spend with their adoptive family is a predictor for developmental catch up. In line with this, Juffer and van IJzendoorn (2005) found that the children who had spent more than 12 years with their adoptive family displayed lower levels of behavioural problems. Both of these studies propose that although initially it seems adoption damages children’s functioning- a “significant wound”- over time this impairment can be “healed”.
Furthermore, Kaniuk, Steele and Hodges (2004) also provide support for the notion that the “wound” of adoption can be “healed”. In their longitudinal study comparing children placed at a younger age with those placed when they were older, it was found that those placed later had more insecure attachment styles. However, over time, the majority of the children demonstrated noticeable improvements in areas including emotional adjustment and school progress. Kaniuk et al. (2004) also monitored the attachment style of the adopters to see whether this influenced the outcome of the children; those who maintained insecure attachment styles themselves were found to be the mothers of the adopted children who failed to display any progress. These findings illustrate how it’s possible for the negative effects of adoption to diminish over time, however, this may only succeed if the adoptive parents have secure attachment styles themselves.
A second factor which provides support for this statement is maladjustment. In their longitudinal study, Bohman and Sigvardsson (1980) found that adopted children’s risk of developing adjustment problems decreased over time. They investigated children placed in adoptive families, foster homes, or brought up by their biological mothers despite formerly wanting to put them up for adoption. These groups were compared with a sample of non-adopted children. At age 11 all three groups were more likely than the controls to have symptoms of maladjustment, however, when followed up at age 15, the adopted children were no different from the control group in regards to severe adjustment problems. Contrastingly, the foster children and those reared by their biological mothers showed social maladjustment 2-3 times as frequently as controls. These results suggest that the “wound” of adoption can be “healed”, by demonstrating that adopted children can overcome their vulnerability to maladjustment.
Bohman and Sigvardsson (1980) proposed that the differences in outcomes between the adopted children and the other groups could be ascribed to the conditions they were brought up in. Adoptive families provide stability and support, as such parents have prepared to bring up a child for a long time. In comparison, the foster parents in this sample may not be as prepared, as the legal insecurity surrounding foster placement may cause concern, which could negatively affect rearing (Bohman & Sigvardsson, 1980). Additionally, biological mothers who once considered putting their child up for adoption may also display a sense of negligence when rearing their children as despite continuing to raise the child, their wishes to leave may persist. Although the process of adoption involves various stressors which may be a reflection of the children’s maladjustment at age 11, it’s clear that such complications are not a long-term hindrance and that the “wound” of adoption can be “healed”.
On the other hand, further research on maladjustment may also provide conflicting evidence for this statement. Studies have reported adopted children to have increased mental health problems both in childhood and as adults, compared with non-adopted children, suggesting that the “wound” of adoption cannot always be “healed”. Adoptees are overrepresented in mental health populations (Brodzinsky, 2011), as they’re more likely to have mental health difficulties than non-adopted children (Bramlett, Radel, & Blumberg, 2007). These maladjustments have been found to continue into adolescence and adulthood; Westermeyer, Yoon, Amundson, Warwick, and Kuskowski (2015) studied personality disorders and discovered them to be more prevalent among adoptees, while Keyes, Sharma, Elkins, Iacono, and McGue (2008) revealed adopted adolescents had an increased risk of developing certain externalising disorders. As well as this, Miller et al. (2000) found adolescents who were adopted were more likely to receive mental health treatment than those who weren’t adopted. These findings infer that the “wound” of adoption cannot be “healed”, as the detrimental effects persist throughout the adoptees’ life, therefore offering partial support for the statement.
Furthermore, other literature indicates that the behavioural problems of adoptees persist rather than diminish. Stams, Juffer, Rispens, and Hoksbergen (2000) reported an increased prevalence of problem behaviours within 7-year old adoptees as reported by their parents- a trend which has been seen to progress through to adolescence. Miller, Fan, Christensen, Grotevant and van Dulmen (2000) tested various forms of problems between adolescents who were adopted and those who weren’t, discovering that more problems were found within the adopted sample. Additionally, Verhulst, Althaus, and Versluis-Den Bieman (1990) studied 10-15-year-old international adoptees and found that they had more externalising problems when compared to a non-adopted control sample. When Bieman and Verhulst (1995) followed up the same sample of adopted children aged 14-18, their behavioural problems had increased. These findings highlight the idea that the “wound” of adoption cannot always be “healed”, as it instead perseveres through to adolescence and potentially adulthood.
However, it’s possible that the elevated risk of mental health disorders in adoptive samples may derive from the actions of the parents rather than the adoptees. As adoptive parents are generally of a higher socioeconomic status than non-adoptive parents, it’s possible that they’re better able to afford mental health care, therefore diagnoses are more readily available. Moreover, adoptive parents might feel an implicit sense of rejection from their adopted child, which could trigger them to react in a maladaptive manner. This behaviour could reflect onto the child, causing them to manifest it in their own conduct (Grotevant & McRoy, 1990). Alternately, the overrepresentation within mental health settings may be due to the biased referral of adoptive parents. Adoptive parents may essentially have lower thresholds for referring their children for psychiatric treatment (Warren, 1992), which consequently could mean they refer their children more often (Haugaard, 1998). These findings shed light on the idea that adoption is a “wound”, however, one which is caused by the parents rather than the adoptees themselves. This puts forward the idea that some negative impacts of adoption cannot necessarily be “healed”; as opposed to other issues- like attachment security- the mechanism which serves to repair the problem is actually what is causing it: parenting style.
Turning to the research indicating the increased behavioural problems within adoptees, there are flaws which suggest the findings should be taken lightly. Bieman and Verhulst (1995) recognised that their study involved children who were subject to many early-life adversities which meant they may have adapted aggressive behaviours in order to survive when living in institutions. This means their conclusions may not be very generalizable as their sample cannot be applied to all adoptees. In keeping with this, Brand and Brinich (1999) found that after removing influential cases from their results, most adopted children were similar to non-adopted counterparts in terms of behaviour problems. This demonstrates how adoption differs from one case to another, with the extreme ones having the potential to stereotype adoptees as maladjusted. Therefore, while some studies have found adopted children to show more behavioural problems, these findings should not be overrepresented within the wider literature. It’s more appropriate to conclude that the majority of adoptees are “healed” by the “wound” of adoption in terms of adjustment, with the exception of extreme cases.
Additionally, Miller et al. (2000) note that although their findings suggest adopted children have higher levels of behavioural problems, this should not deter people from adopting. They stress that in comparison to alternative methods of care such as foster or institutional, adoption is the most beneficial for children in the long-term. In fact, it’s commonly thought that as opposed to a “significant wound”, adoption is instead an “effective intervention” for children who are unable to be looked after by their birth parents (van den Dries et al., 2009). Christoffersen’s (2012) findings show adoption to be a large advantage for children rather than being placed in foster care, orphanages or institutions. Adoptees had higher IQ scores, better school performance and lower behavioural problems than their counterparts who remained in institutional or foster care. This demonstrates how adoption is an intervention rather than a wound, as it serves to improve a child’s life rather than damage it.
Moreover, in some domains adoption may be advantageous for children who would otherwise be brought up in adverse conditions. Fergusson, Lynskey and Horwood (1995) stated that adoption is a process of upward social mobility which exposes adoptees to experiences they would not be introduced to if they weren’t adopted. They listed a number of benefits of adoption, which included more educational opportunities and better health care. This finding disagrees with the statement that adoption is a “wound”, as it instead suggests that adoption is a positive and valuable process – at least in certain aspects. Contrastingly, Borders, Black and Pasley (1998) conducted a study examining differences between adopted and non-adopted families and found none. The measures they looked at included well-being and perceptions of the child’s behaviours by the parents, and they discovered no significant differences between adopted and non-adopted children. This also disagrees with the initial statement, as it instead lends support to the notion that adopted families are no different from non-adopted families, therefore adoption is neither a “wound” nor a blessing; it is simply a lifestyle.
Furthermore, a third aspect which challenges this statement is IQ. There is a wealth of research in favour of the opinion that adoption is a successful intervention rather than a “wound”. Early research by Dennis (1973) first noticed the vast difference in IQ between adopted children and those left behind in institutional care. This finding was replicated by Tizard and Rees (1974) in their study comparing the intellectual ability of children who were adopted with those restored back to their birth mother or raise in institutions, discovering the adoptees to be more intellectually advanced. More recently, van IJzendoorn and Juffer (2005) carried out a meta-analysis comparing adoptees with their non-adopted siblings or peers who remained in institutional or foster care, as well as with their non-adopted siblings or peers brought up by their birth parents. When comparing adopted children with their counterparts left behind, the adoptees showed considerable advancement in terms of IQ scores and school performance. However, compared to their current counterparts they showed similar scores in IQ tests but their school performance was slightly worse- although this effect size was small. This finding illustrates how adoption is not a wound in some respect, as it allows children to gain better school performance and IQ scores than they would have if they weren’t adopted. On the other hand, this research may support the statement partially as compared to non-adopted children the adoptees did lag behind slightly in regards to school performance.
Van IJzendoorn and Juffer (2005) stated that the age at which children are adopted is an important factor influencing their cognitive development. They suggested that children adopted earlier on are advantaged as they receive the positive effects from their environment at an important part of their lives. In keeping with this, Johnson (2002) noted that time spent in an institution was a large influencer on cognitive ability. Those who spent longer than two years within an institution had lower IQ scores than children adopted before age 2. This conveys that the care they receive before being adopted is what may be described as a “wound” with regards to cognitive functioning, not adoption itself. Therefore, it could be argued that the statement is incorrect, as adoption is actually a healing process and the “wound” is what is experienced before being adopted; in this respect, adoption may instead be referred to as a blessing.
To conclude, it’s clear that there’s evidence both for and against this debate, depending on the way you look at it. When comparing adopted children with their counterparts left behind who are no longer looked after by their biological parents but instead within institutional or foster care, it’s clear that adoptees are largely advantaged in terms of development. Therefore, adoption in this sense is not a “wound” but is actually a remedy. Contrastingly, if you compare adoptees with children brought up by their biological parents from birth, there’s strong empirical support for the notion that although they are initially disadvantaged, this impairment can be alleviated – the “wound” can be “healed”. Despite this, it’s important to consider several factors which facilitate the “healing” of the “wound”, namely: age at adoption, rearing style, and attachment security of parents.