120,000 children are adopted each year in the United States.
Children with physical, developmental, or emotional handicaps
who were once considered unadoptable are now being adopted
("special needs adoptions"). Adoption helps many of these
children to grow up in permanent families rather than in foster
homes or institutions.
with an adopted child wonder whether, when, and how to tell
their child that he or she is adopted. They also want to know
if adopted children face special problems or challenges.
and adolescent psychiatrists recommend that the child be told
about the adoption by the adoptive parents. Children should
be told about their adoption in a way that they can understand.
are two different views on when a child should be told they
are adopted. Many experts believe the child should be told
at the youngest possible age. This approach provides the child
an early opportunity to accept and integrate the concept of
being "adopted." Other experts believe that telling a child
too early may confuse the young child who can't really understand
the information. These experts advise waiting until the child
case, children should learn of their adoption from the adoptive
parents. This helps give the message that adoption is good
and that the child can trust the parents. If the child first
learns about the adoption intentionally or accidentally from
someone other than parents, the child may feel anger and mistrust
towards the parents, and may view the adoption as bad or shameful
because it was kept a secret.
children will want to talk about their adoption and parents
should encourage this process. Several excellent children's
story books are available in bookstores and libraries which
can help parents tell the child about being adopted. Children
have a variety of responses to the knowledge that they are
adopted. Their feelings and responses depend on their age
and level of maturity. The child may deny the adoption or
create fantasies about it. Frequently, adopted children hold
onto beliefs that they were given away for being bad or may
believe that they were kidnaped. If the parents talk openly
about the adoption and present it in a positive manner, these
worries are less likely to develop.
go through a stage of struggling with their identity, wondering
how they fit in with their family, their peers, and the rest
of the world. This struggle may be even more intense for children
adopted from other countries or cultures. In adolescence,
the adopted child is likely to have an increased interest
in his or her birth parents. This open curiosity is not unusual
and does not mean that he or she is rejecting the adoptive
parents. Some adolescents may wish to learn the identity of
their birth parents. Adoptive parents can respond by letting
the adolescent know it is okay to have such interest and questions,
and when asked should give what information they have about
the birth family with sensitivity and support.
parents often have questions about how to deal with the circumstances
of adoption. These parents need support from mental health
and health professionals.
children may develop emotional or behavioral problems. The
problems may or may not result from insecurities or issues
related to being adopted. If parents are concerned, they should
seek professional assistance. Children who are preoccupied
with their adoption should also be evaluated. A child and
adolescent psychiatrist can help the child and adoptive parents
determine whether or not help is needed.
information see Facts for Families #4 "The Depressed Child,"
#5 "Child Abuse - The Hidden Bruises," #8 "Children and Grief,"
#24 "Know When to Seek Help for Your Child," #52 "Comprehensive
Psychiatric Evaluation," and #64, "Foster Care."
#15 Updated 4/99