While it is true that the vast majority of adopted individuals are well adjusted, there is an elevated need for psychosocial (as well as biological and experiential) supports ranging from factors that predate adoptive placement. And, these needs must be addressed in the appropriate ways in order for that individual to have a healthy development process. Some statistics taken from C.A.S.E.’s TAC training in 2021 include the following: “Adopted children are two to five times more likely to utilize outpatient mental health services than non-adopted children, four to seven times more likely to utilize inpatient mental health services or be placed in residential treatment centers (RTC’s) than non-adopted children, and in most recent survey, twenty-five percent to thirty percent of those in residential placement programs were adopted” (taken directly from slide twelve, module three, Training for Adoption Competency, Center for Adoption Support and Education, Cohort 4, April 2021). And, to me, this is why it is important to be as proactive and prepared as possible for what could become a journey in mental health healing for yourself as an adoptee or for your family as an adopted parent.
While the statistics continue to differ at times between types of adoptions (domestic, international, from foster care, etc), it does appear that individuals who experienced foster care in their histories may be at a higher risk of emotional and behavioral health problems. Some of the factors that contribute to this include the following: greater genetic risks (such as parents with addictions or mental illnesses), in utero exposure to harmful substances, histories of complex trauma, frequent changes in situations and living transitions, disrupted family relationships, inconsistent and inadequate access to mental health services, and over prescription of psychotropic medications. This is not to say that children adopted internationally, domestically as an infant or through private adoption, or kinship placements will not have experienced these factors, as many of them have as well.
Just to clarify, it isn’t exactly the act of the adoption itself that contributes to manifestation of mental and behavioral health problems, but it is likely a contribution of various factors that were occurring prior to the adoption. However, adjustment problems can also arise after the adoption takes place, especially if the adopted parent isn’t aware of the normative adoption issues or they don’t know how to respond appropriately to the normative adoption issues that will surface for the child they have adopted. Some examples of the ways adoptive parents may not be aware of or understand how to respond to those normative adoption issues include: not knowing how to communicate the child’s adoption information or not knowing how to share it in a developmentally appropriate way, not understanding the multiple facets of grief and how to support the child’s journey through the grief process, and not knowing how to support the child with or in finding more information about birth family and birth family connections. To summarize, adoption as the act is not the cause of mental health and behavioral health problems, but rather it is the factors that come before the adoption and how normative adoption issues are shared, communicated, and dealt with in the adoptive family. While an adoptive parent cannot control the factors that occurred prior to adoption (another issue that often leads to guilt and frustrations in which the adoptive parent may need to be supported by a therapist of their own) they can control how they deal with the normative adoption issues, even if this means seeking out professional help to have greater awareness and understanding or just support to deal with the hard stuff! We will look more at the core issues of adoption in the following blog post.