Book Review: Promoting the Best Interests of the Child Through Adoption Practice Informed by Research
Reprinted from PsycCRITIQUES and Reviewed by Judith Gibbons
International Advances in Adoption Research for Practice
by Gretchen Miller Wrobel and Elsbeth Neil (Eds.) Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 338 pp. ISBN 978-0-470-99817-5 (hardcover); ISBN 978-0-470-99818-2 (paperback). $130.00, hardcover; $50.00, paperback.
Child adoption is widely accepted as a valid way of creating a family and promoting the well-being of children in need. However, the experiences, meanings, practices, and social, political, and cultural contexts of adoption vary greatly. Many nonindustrialized societies recognize traditions of adoption or fosterage (Bowie, 2004). For example, among the Baatomu of Benin, the foster parents who raise a child rather than the biological parents are considered to be the real parents (Alber, 2004).
Within modern industrialized societies, adoption has a long history, but that history is fraught with stigma and secrets that have sometimes impeded the conduct of good research (Carp, Chapter 2). Currently, two thirds of people within the United States report having had personal experience with adoption, and many say they have, themselves, considered adopting (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2002). Adoption has flourished across international borders as well, with 30,000–40,000 intercountry adoptions taking place annually for the past few years (Selman, 2009).
But it is evident that misunderstandings and abuses have occurred in the name of rescuing children (Bergquist, 2009; Roby & Matsumura, 2002). Adoption practices that promote the best interests of the child need to be identified on the basis of research findings.
The state-of-the-art collection edited by Gretchen Miller Wrobel, the former editor of the journal Adoption Quarterly, and Elsbeth Neil, the organizer of the Second International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR2), advances that goal and provides a selection of the latest discoveries in adoption research. Ten of the 14 chapters are based on keynote addresses from the ICAR2, held in Norwich, England, in 2006. Each is written by a prominent researcher in the adoption field, including Michael Rutter, Femmie Juffer, David Reiss, Hal Grotevant, David Howe, Elsbeth Neil, Ruth McRoy, Jesús Palacios, Miriam Steele, and E. Wayne Carp, along with their collaborators.
International Advances in Adoption Research for Practice is structured in two sections: the first looking at the context of adoption, and the second presenting results of research studies. Most chapters conclude with recommendations for practice.
One of the most important findings, presented in Chapter 8, is that there are huge gains in adoptees’ physical, emotional, and cognitive development as revealed by the meta analyses of Femmie Juffer and her colleagues. Although intercountry adoptees may not completely catch up to their nonadopted peers in domains such as physical development, they benefit enormously from being adopted, and adoption is shown to be an efficacious intervention for improving children’s lives.
Studies by Michael Rutter and his colleagues, presented in Chapter 7, have looked at the consequences of severe institutional deprivation among Romanian adoptees to the United Kingdom. The developmental catch-up in cognition and in height and weight following adoption was profound. Nonetheless, some persistent developmental lags were identified.
Those included lesser scholastic attainment (attributed to inattention and lower IQ), quasi-autism, disinhibited attachment, inattention and overactivity, and emotional disorders.
Undernutrition did not seem to account for the deficits, and a critical period for adoption was identified at about six to 12 months of age. Children adopted before six months of age were much less likely to show psychological impairments than were those adopted later.
An important question that has received little attention is the process by which catchup occurs. Although adoptive parents tend to have more economic and educational resources than do biological parents who make an adoption plan, variation in outcome has rarely been studied. Research presented by Miriam Steele and her colleagues in Chapter 9 reveals some characteristics of adoptive parents that promote emotional recovery in children who were previously maltreated. In a longitudinal study the researchers showed that as soon as three months following placement, children adopted by parents who themselves had secure attachment representations were less likely to show negative themes (aggression, death, catastrophes) in their narratives. Those findings are potentially of great utility in the selection of adoptive parents.
The volume also presents research on other underrepresented topics, including birth parent perspectives (Chapter 11), adolescent adoptees’ curiosity about their adoption (Chapter 10), and post adoption contact between adoptive and birth families (Chapter 12).
Strengths of this book are the clear introduction and the summary chapter by the editors. In the final chapter, titled “Connecting Research to Practice,” Wrobel and Neil point to four themes: (a) “success of adoption as a child welfare intervention” (p. 318), (b) “maintaining an ethical climate in adoption” (p. 319), (c) “the case for expertise in adoption practice” (p. 323), and (4) “the contribution that practitioners can make to practice” (p. 325). Those are, indeed, important emerging themes of the adoption field.
Readers who want to explore adoption research further might look at the excellent website from ICAR2, which provides abstracts or summaries of the many papers and symposia presented at the conference. The Third International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR3) will take place in 2010 in the Netherlands and promises to advance adoption knowledge further. In addition, a collection on international adoption from the anthropological perspective has recently been published (Marre & Briggs, 2009), and a special issue of The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology (Vol. 14, No. 1) addressed adoption in Latin America. The complex issues surrounding intercountry adoption were also presented in a recent special issue of International Social Work (Vol. 52, No. 5).
In any collection, it is impossible to be comprehensive. However, it would have been useful to elaborate upon ethical issues to include more in-depth discussion of how and whether the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (Hague Conference, 1993) adequately protects children from trafficking. In addition, more information is needed on what Bronfenbrenner referred to as the macrosystem-level variables (discussed by Jesús Palacios in Chapter 4), especially cultural dimensions that affect the conceptualization of adoption and adoption practice.
Specifically, do cultural traditions in the emerging sending countries for intercountry adoption, such as Ethiopia (Selman, Chapter 3), lead to misunderstandings or even exploitation by agencies in receiving countries? And because adoption attitudes do not exist in a vacuum distinct from other social attitudes, how do views of adoption reflect, influence, and intersect with social attitudes about race, poverty, age, and gender? For example, one of the interesting implications of the Romanian study by Rutter and colleagues is that the age limits for adoptive parents may be arbitrary: They found that adoptive parents who would have exceeded typical age limits for domestic adoptions were successful in parenting children from Romania who had suffered profound deprivation.
In summary, International Advances in Adoption Research for Practice is an important volume, composed of research that can be used to inform adoption practice.
Adoption researchers and practitioners, as well as developmental psychologists, will benefit from the knowledge presented in this volume.
Alber, E. (2004). “The real parents are the foster parents”: Social parenthood among the Baatombu in Northern Benin. In F. Bowie (Ed.), Cross-cultural approaches to adoption (pp. 33–47). New York, NY: Routledge.
Bergquist, K. J. S. (2009). Operation Babylift or Babyabduction? Implications of the Hague Convention on the humanitarian evacuation and “rescue” of children. International Social Work , 52, 621–633. doi: 10.1177/0020872809337677
Bowie, F. (Ed.). (2004). Cross-cultural approaches to adoption. New York, NY: Routledge.
Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. (2002). National Adoption Attitudes Survey research report. Retrieved from http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/survey/survey_intro.html.
Hague Conference. (1993). Hague Conference on Private International Law: Final act of the 17th session, including the Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of International Adoption. International Legal Materials, 32, 1134–1146.
Marre, D., & Briggs, L. (Eds.). (2009). International adoption: Global inequalities and the circulation of children. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Roby, J. L., & Matsumura, S. (2002). If I give you my child, aren’t we family? A study of birthmothers participating in Marshall Islands–U.S. adoptions. Adoption Quarterly, 5, 7–31. doi:10.1300/J145v05n04_02
Selman, P. (2009). The rise and fall of intercountry adoption in the 21st century. International Social Work, 52, 575–594. doi:10.1177/0020872809337681