Making sense of adoption: integration and differentiation from the perspective of adopted children in middle childhood

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Abstract

Adopted children must integrate into their adoptive families, but they also need to differentiate between their adoptive and birth families, and to make sense of their adoptive status. This research examines these issues using the perspectives of adopted children in middle childhood. Forty three English domestic adoptees who had been placed for adoption under the age of four (mean age 21 months) were interviewed when aged between 5 and 13 (mean age 8.6 years). Seventy percent had been adopted from the public care system, and most retained some contact with their birth family. Qualitative analysis revealed that almost all children felt fully integrated into their adoptive family, expressing positive feelings of love for and closeness to their adoptive parents. In terms of managing the tasks of differentiation, one quarter of children were not yet exploring the meaning of adoption, another quarter of children found these issues unproblematic, and half of the children had complicated emotions that often included feelings of loss, sadness or rejection in relation to their birth family. Over half of children reported experiencing uncomfortable questioning or teasing from other children about their adoption. The findings from this qualitative and exploratory research support the need for openness of information in adoption, the importance of preparing and supporting adoptive parents in helping children make sense of being adopted, and the need to help children manage their adoptive status in the peer group context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-416
Number of pages8
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Volume34
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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