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Dr. Jennifer Bliss Psy.D.


Navigating the Adoption Journey

How and When to Discuss Adoption With

Your Child
Preparing yourself for common questions and important
Posted Mar 31, 2017

Children’s curiosity about their adoption story is a normal part of growing up. Open and
informative discussions are crucial for the development of your child’s sense of self.

Infancy to Two Years Old

The first couple of years are about building positive feelings connected with the word adoption.
Make it a household word from the beginning. Your child should hear the word “adoption” even
before they know what it means. We never want them to have a memory of "the day they were
told they were adopted." Parents don't wait until children understand the words "I love you" to
start telling them, and the same goes for their child's adoption story.

Start practicing how you talk about their adoption and the story of how you became a family, so
when they are old enough to have a conversation with you about it, they sense your comfort in
discussing it and the pride you have in their story.

When those questions arise (and they will), if you are uncomfortable or avoid answering them,
you send the message that the subject of adoption is taboo and not a welcome topic of
conversation. We never want children to misinterpret your discomfort, wondering if there is
something wrong or bad with being adopted.

As we know, children love to hear stories about themselves, and that includes the one about “The
Way We Became A Family.” Create a personalized storybook using pictures from your match
and placement experience (Mixbook and Shutterfly have very user friendly programs) and
place the storybook on their shelf next to their other books, so your child can easily let you know
when they want to hear their story by choosing that one from their collection.

Many adoptive parents frame a picture of themselves with the birthmother before the birth, or
one of the birthmother with everyone together at the hospital. Even before your child is speaking,
you can refer to the picture and tell them about their birthmother, a special woman who grew
them in her belly and chose you to be their forever family.

Two to Four Year Olds

Think about how you would answer the question, “Did I grow in your belly?”

Children need to understand that they came into the world the same way as everyone else
(otherwise children might develop fears about being aliens). However, there are different ways
families are created.

It is important to say that you love your child just as much as if they had grown in your belly.
During preschool years, the goal is to build a foundation of positive self-esteem as it relates to

Young children need concrete information, and if they cannot see and touch it, it may not be real
to them. Direct contact with their birthmother makes adoption concrete and real. You can always
tell a child that their birthmother made this decision out of love, but eventually, they will
wonder, "If she loves me so much, how come she doesn't want to know me?"

If you think opening up communication with your child's birthmother would be helpful but you
don't have an established plan for direct contact, reach out to an adoption counselor for guidance.
Relationships between birth families and adoptive families can be beautiful and rewarding, but
they are also delicate, and an adoption counselor can help you create a foundation based on
mutual respect and understanding.

Remember, always be confidant and proud when you talk about their story and about their
birthparents. They know that they came from this person, and if they think that their birthparents
are bad people, they will wonder what "bad" they could have inherited.

Five to Nine Year Olds

Your child may start to ask questions that you are unsure how to answer. As much as you can
prepare yourself, inevitably, your child will come up with a question you had never thought of.
Additionally, children tend to have impeccable timing, and they will probably ask you
this question while you are at the checkout stand in the middle of paying for your groceries. If
you are not sure how to answer their question, it is ok to say, "Max, that is such a good question,
let me think about that one so I can give you the right answer" - and then call an adoption
counselor for advice. We can help you craft your answer in a way that is both honest and age
appropriate. However, it is crucial that you do circle back with your child within the next few
days to answer their question. Otherwise, you risk them concluding that you are not comfortable
talking about their adoption, and that it is a taboo subject.

Be prepared to answer the question, “Why didn’t my birthmother keep me?”

Talk about the circumstances surrounding their birthmother’s decision. Ask their birthmother
what she is comfortable sharing as her reasons and work together to ensure that your messages
are in sync.

Don’t overuse the example of financial problems. Most families have financial concerns at some
point, so when you talk about not being able to afford something, you don’t want your child to
worry about being placed for adoption with a different family. It is okay to talk about lack of
financial stability as a factor, but also focus on other circumstances that led to their birthmother
choosing adoption.

“What if she decides that she's ready to take care of me now?” Explain that their
birthmother picked you to be their forever parent(s), that she knew she was growing a baby for a
very special family, she just had to find them. Some families include in this theme in their
personalized storybook, "She searched and searched for the perfect family, and the day she met
us she knew, this was the family you were meant to be in." Stress the permanency of your family.
Adoption is forever.

If there is no direct contact with their birthmother, they may wonder if she regrets her choice.
Reassure them that she cannot change her mind and "get them back.' If your child is struggling
with these fears, and inviting the birthmother to visit is an option, you may want to consider it.
This will give your child an opportunity to see their birthmother's comfort in her decision
and witness her defer to you as their parent(s). Finally, they will see her come and leave, while
they remain with you. The visit will also reinforce the concrete relationship the birthmother has
in relation to your family, and the difference between the role of a birthmother compared to their

At this stage, they are also becoming aware of loss and realize that they are not biologically
related to you. For some children, this might make them sad. Allow them to have these feelings,
it is not a reflection of their lack of love for you, or a secret desire to live with their birthmother.
They are grieving the fact that they are not biologically related to you, and that is okay. Allow
your home to be a place where they feel safe having a range of feelings about their adoption over
the years. Reinforce the fact that you could not love them any more than you already do. Even if
they had grown inside you, the love is the same.

10 and Up

As children’s ability to understand their circumstances increase, they will require more details
surrounding their adoption. Withholding information will threaten your ability to build a trusting
relationship during these formative years. Again, if you encounter a question you are not sure
how to answer, it is OK to call an adoption professional for advice before diving into the

Let your child know that they only need to share information they are comfortable with. Delicate
and personal details do not have to be shared with schoolmates if it makes them uncomfortable.
Encourage your child to think about what and how much they would like to share with others. If
your child would rather not share sensitive information, help them to create a version of his or
her story with the level of detail that feels right. Remember to explain that telling people a
sheltered version their adoption story is not dishonest, there is a difference between secrecy and
privacy. This is their personal story and they have the right to disclose however much they are
comfortable with.

Some children take great pride in sharing their adoption story, writing in-depth papers, or making
class presentations. However, your child should feel free to say, "I don't know about that" when
asked questions unrelated to their experience. They do not have to be an “Ambassador for
Adoption" unless they are individually motivated to do so.

Ultimately, it is important to show children that you enjoy talking about how you became a
family so they will have pride in their adoption story and feel confident that they are being raised
in the family they are meant to be with. Depending on your child’s individual personality, this
may mean creating situations that prompt their curiosity so they start to ask questions.

Throughout their childhood, your child will take cues from you as they form their feelings about
the world around them, that includes how they will feel about their adoption. Their basic beliefs
about adoption will be gleaned from their understanding of how you feel about the story of how
you became a family.


Children can benefit when adoptive,

biological parents share adoption stories
August 10, 2016
University of Missouri-Columbia
'Open' adoptions, or adoptions in which adoptive families have ongoing interactions with
the birth family are becoming more popular. Now, communication researchers are
studying the benefits of open adoptions. Their recent study shows that open adoptions in
which communication is encouraged, can benefit the child and their adoptive parents.

For most of the 20th century, adoptions were largely "closed," meaning birth parents placed their
child with an adoption agency and had no further contact unless the child sought them out later
in life. However, statistics show that a shift occurred in the 1990s when adoption practitioners
started to recognize the benefits of "open" adoptions, or adoptions in which adoptive families
have ongoing interactions with the birth family. Now, University of Missouri communication
researchers are studying the benefits and challenges of open adoptions. Their recent study shows
that open adoption relationships in which communication is encouraged, can benefit the child
and their adoptive parents.

"In the past, closed adoptions severely cut off any communication between biological parents
and the children they placed for adoption," said Haley Horstman, assistant professor of
interpersonal and family communication in the Department of Communication in the MU
College of Arts and Science. "Biological parents in open adoption relationships often feel more
secure knowing more about the parents who adopted their children. We found that the best
outcome for an adopted child is for adoptive parents and birth parents to jointly tell the story of
adoption, when appropriate. This open communication between birth parents and adoptive
parents has changed the nature of adoptions; birth parents have appreciated this new movement
toward openness."

Two years ago, Colleen Colaner, who also is an assistant professor of communication at MU,
traveled throughout Missouri making connections with adoption agencies and building a network
of adoptive parents interested in participating in research on open adoption. The list became
crucial to Colaner and Horstman's research into adoption entrance narratives, or the stories
adoptive parents tell their adopted children about who they are and how they fit into their new

Horstman said analyzing the adoption entrance narratives of 165 adoptive parents (mostly
mothers) revealed themes that help shape the ways in which adoptive and biological parents
communicate with their children.

"It's important to get a sense of what the adoptive parents are saying to birth parents and what
they are saying to the adopted child about their biological parents," Colaner said. "These
conversations are really shaping what open adoption relationships look like."

"The themes we discovered are about the process of storytelling," Horstman said. "As we
analyzed the process of communication, we found that adoptive parents are the 'gatekeepers' to
the relationships their adoptive kids have with their birth parents. Adoptive parents and birth
parents don't have to be the best of friends, but they can try to have a good relationship, even
though it can be challenging."

The study, "She chose us to be your parents -- exploring the content and process of adoption
entrance narratives told in families formed through open adoption," was accepted for publication
in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, and was funded by the University of
Missouri Richard Wallace Alumni Grant. Horstman and her colleagues will present two other
papers from this dataset at the National Communication Association conference during National
Adoption Month in November.

University of Missouri-Columbia. (2016, August 10). Children can benefit when adoptive,
biological parents share adoption stories. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 5, 2018 from
5 Things to Know about Adoption
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Nov 24, 2014

Sarah Catherine Williams,

Sharon Vandivere,

Karin Malm

November is National Adoption Month, when organizations across the

country come together to celebrate adoption and raise awareness for the continued need for
adoptive families for children in foster care. National Adoption Month is kicked off every year
by a Presidential Proclamation highlighting the campaign’s priority for the year, and culminates
in National Adoption Day, held every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This weekend
marked the 15th Annual National Adoption Day, as thousands of families gathered in
courthouses across the nation to finalize adoptions and commemorate the creation of their

forever families. For our part, here are five things to know about adoption

1. The number of children waiting to be adopted from foster

care is declining.
Children adopted from foster care, who make up 41 percent of all adopted children, are those
who were adopted after being removed from their homes by the child protective services system.
Children are considered to be “waiting for adoption” when they have a case plan goal of
adoption and/or the parental rights of their birth parents have been terminated. The number of
children waiting to be adopted from foster care has declined from 135,000 at the end of federal
fiscal year 2006 to 102,000 at the end of 2013. However, it is important to note that this group
does not represent all children at risk of aging out of foster care without a permanent family. It
does not include 16- and 17-year-olds with a case plan goal of emancipation, or youth older than
17, even if they cannot return to their birth families. One approach that has been shown to
increase the likelihood that a waiting child will be adopted is the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids
adoption recruitment model, recently evaluated by Child Trends.

2. Post-adoption contact with birth families is common.

Adoptions that are “open,” that is, in which the adopted child and/or family have continued
contact with birth parents and/or other relatives, became more common after the 1960s. Of
children adopted by non-relatives, 36 percent have post-adoption contact with their birth family.
Openness may play a role in the child’s ongoing well-being – perhaps an even more important
role in adoptions of older children, since the child most likely had a relationship with his/her
parents or other birth relatives prior to adoption. Some research findings suggest that open
adoption can diminish the loss and grief that occurs from separation from birth parents.

3. Sibling contact provides continuity for adopted children.

Recent federal legislation stressed the importance of continued sibling connections for children
who are in or were adopted from foster care. Children adopted from foster care have often
experienced a lot of instability, but staying with siblings can provide them with a sense of self-
worth and safety as well as natural supports to help them transition into an adoptive home.
Children placed with their siblings also experience emotional benefits, while exhibiting fewer
behavior problems compared with those who are separated from siblings. While it has
traditionally been challenging to find adoptive homes for larger sibling groups, it does not mean
that children are not frequently adopted with siblings. Thirty percent of children with known
siblings were adopted with at least one of their siblings. According to the AdoptUSKids website,
which provides services and resources to families considering adopting children from foster care
and to child welfare professionals, the majority (83 percent) of the families registered on their
site are open to adopting more than one child.
4. The number of same-sex couples with adopted children in
the home is on the rise.
The share of same-sex couples with adopted children in the home nearly doubled between 2000
and 2009, from 10 to 19 percent. This increase has been attributed to more widespread
acceptance of gays and lesbians, as well as to the continued need for adoptive families for
children. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children raised by gay or lesbian
parents in loving and nurturing households will develop the same—emotionally, socially, and
cognitively—as children with straight parents. The federal Administration for Children and
Families has recently begun to emphasize the important role that gay and lesbian couples can
play in providing loving, stable forever families for children in foster care. However, parenting
laws differ from state to state, and continue to pose a challenge for many same-sex couples who
desire to adopt. Currently 23 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, allow same-sex
couples to jointly adopt (meaning couples are allowed to adopt a child together), and second-
parent adoption (where a person adopts the child of his/her partner) is an option for same-sex
couples in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

5. Children and families benefit from post-adoption

Many adoptive families, both children and parents, need support as they adjust to their new life
together as a forever family. While many families that adopt children from foster care are
eligible for post-adoption subsidies through a federal Adoption Incentive Program, post-adoption
needs often go beyond monetary resources. Children are often dealing with feelings of grief and
loss, trust and attachment issues, identify formation, and are recovering from trauma experienced
prior to and in foster care. Adoptive parents also experience challenges resulting from new or
different roles as parents, changes in family dynamics, as well as any special needs their children
may have. A growing body of research shows links between positive outcomes and the receipt of
post-adoption supports and services, such as support groups, therapy/counseling, education,
camps, and social events. However, even though 17 states currently have substantial post-
adoption program supports, 13 do not offer any supports beyond the subsidy, demonstrating the
continued need to develop networks of post-adoption support. While we have an understanding
of what the needs of adopted children and their families are, more work is needed on how best to
address them.


 Who may adopt, be adopted, or Place a child for adoption?


Who can adopt and be adopted?

In Australia adoptions are the responsibility of the State governments. In South Australia, the
adoption process is governed by the Adoption Act 1988 (SA).

All adoptions of children by residents of South Australia are conducted through the Adoption
and Family Information Service (AFIS).

Because very few babies and children are relinquished for adoption in South Australia there has
been a marked increase in interest in adopting a child from overseas countries see Adopting an
overseas child.

Adoption is a legal process where the rights and responsibilities of the birth parents are
transferred to the adoptive parents. There are two types of adoption: local (i.e. from within
Australia) and inter-country (i.e. from other countries).

Private adoptions (i.e. adoptions where a child is placed with adoptive parents without the
involvement of an agency) are illegal in South Australia.

Who can be adopted

Only children up to 18 years of age may be adopted.

Where a person over 18 requires care and guardianship, a power of guardianship is the
appropriate solution. This is an entirely different legal process and is not an adoption, nor can an
adoption be undergone as an alternative.

Aboriginal children and adoption

Aboriginal children can only be adopted if, in the interests of the child, an adoption order is
preferable to a guardianship order. This is because the legal process of adoption conflicts with
Aboriginal culture, in particular, beliefs about family, kinship and the preservation of cultural
ties. As a result there are strict rules governing the circumstances under which adoption of
Aboriginal children can occur. An adoption order will only be granted where the applicant is a
member of the child's Aboriginal community and where, by Aboriginal customary law, they have
the correct relationship with the child. If there is no such person wanting to adopt the child, only
another Aboriginal person can adopt [Adoption Act 1988 (SA) s 11].

Who can adopt

Only those people who are listed on the Prospective Adopters Register are eligible to adopt a
child. The Prospective Adopters Register lists all people who have expressed an interest in
adoption and who have satisfied the requirements under the Adoption Act.

Only couples in a qualifying relationship eligible to adopt

As of 17 February 2017 the requirement that only two people in a heterosexual relationship may
adopt has been removed and replaced with a qualifying relationship. This means that same sex
couples are no longer precluded from adopting a child. See the Department for Education and
Child Development's website for further information on the adoption process.

To qualify as prospective adoptive parents a couple must be in a qualifying relationship (i.e.

either married or de facto and either heterosexual or same sex) and have lived together
continuously for at least five years.

A relationship of less than five years may be considered if the court is satisfied that special
circumstances exist [Adoption Act 1988 (SA) s 12]. Normally, the Chief Executive cannot select
a person from the Adoption Register unless they have been cohabiting with another in a
qualifying relationship for a continuous period of at least 3 years [Adoption Regulations 2004
(SA) reg 19(3)(d)].

Circumstances under which only one person may adopt

Adoption orders in favour of one person can only be made in the following circumstances [s

 where the person is in a qualifying relationship with a birth or adoptive parent of the
child and has been living with that parent continuously for at least five years; or
 where the person is in a qualifying relationship with the birth or adoptive parent and the
Court is satisfied that special circumstances justify making the order; or
 where the person is not in a qualifying relationship with the birth or adoptive parent of
the child and the Court is satisfied that there are special circumstances justifying the
making of the order.

Who cannot adopt

Unless there are particular circumstances relating to the child to be placed and where those needs
can be best met by other applicants, a person will not be considered as a suitable applicant for
adoption if she or he:
 is under 25 or over 50 years of age
 is more than 45 years older than the child to be adopted
 has a child residing with her or him and the child has so resided for a period less than
the immediately preceding 2 years
 will or is likely to have any other child residing with her or him in the period of 2 years
following selection as an applicant for an adoption.


Who Can Be Adopted

Intercountry adoptions are governed by three different sets of laws: U.S. federal law, the laws of
the prospective adoptive child's country of origin, and the laws of your U.S. state of residence.
You can learn more about specific countries' eligibility requirements for children in our Country
Information pages. The federal agency responsible for adjudicating immigration petitions filed
on behalf of a child intending to immigrate to the United States through adoption is U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Convention Adoptees (Convention Countries)

A child habitually resident in a country that is a party to the Hague Convention on Protection of
Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention),
must qualify as a Convention adoptee under U.S. immigration law in order to immigrate to the
United States through intercountry adoption. Prospective adoptive parent(s) file a Form I-
800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative, with USCIS for a child
who habitually resides in a Convention country. The Form I-800 petition and supporting
evidence are required to determine the child’s eligibility for classification as a Convention
adoptee under U.S. immigration law. In order to file a Form I-800 petition with USCIS, you
must have an approved, valid Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to
Adopt a Child from a Convention Country. For more information about filing Form I-800A,
including suitability and eligibility requirements for prospective adoptive parents, see
our eligibility requirements for prospective adoptive parents webpage and the Form I-800A
instructions available on the USCIS website.

There are five primary elements to the Convention adoptee classification. In addition to other
applicable country-specific requirements, all of the following must be true for a child to be
eligible for the Convention adoptee classification:

1. The child is under the age of 16 at the time Form I-800 is filed on his or her behalf
(taking into account special rules on filing dates for children aged 15-16), or the child is
under the age of 18 and is a sibling of a child (under the age of 16) who has been or will
be adopted by the same adoptive parents;
2. The child will be adopted by a married U.S. citizen and spouse jointly or by an unmarried
U.S. citizen at least 25 years of age, habitually resident in the United States, whom
USCIS has found suitable and eligible to adopt (Form I-800A approval) with the intent of
creating a legal parent-child relationship. (Note: at this stage, the child must not have
been adopted yet);
3. The Central Authority of the child’s country of origin has determined that the child is
eligible for intercountry adoption and has proposed an adoption placement which has
been accepted, and the child has not yet been adopted or been placed in the custody of the
prospective adoptive parents;
4. The child's birth parents (or parent, if the child has a sole or surviving parent), or other
legal custodian, individuals, or entities whose consent is necessary for adoption have
freely given their written, irrevocable consent to the termination of their legal relationship
with the child and to the child's emigration and adoption; and
5. If the child's last legal custodians were two living birth parents who signed the
irrevocable consent to adoption, those parents must be incapable of providing proper care
for the child.

Generally, if the above requirements have been met, USCIS will provisionally approve the Form
I-800 petition and the consular officer at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will send an Article 5/17
letter to Central Authority in the child’s country of origin. This letter states that the parents are
suitable and eligible to adopt, that the child appears eligible to enter and reside permanently in
the United States, and allows the court to grant a full and final adoption or custody order. After
the adoption is completed, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will complete the final adjudication of
the petition. Generally, if the consular officer determines that the adoption was completed in
accordance with the laws of the child’s country of origin and with Convention requirements, and
there are no visa ineligibilities, the consular officer will issue final approval of the Form I-800
petition, issue either a Hague Adoption Certificate or Hague Custody Certificate, and an
immigrant visa to the child.

Orphan Status (Non-Convention Countries)

Children being adopted from non-Convention countries must meet the definition of orphan under
the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) before they can immigrate to the United States. U.S.
prospective adoptive parent(s) file a Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate
Relative, with USCIS to finalize the immigration process for a child from a non-Convention
country. The Form I-600 petition and supporting documentation are required to determine the
child’s eligibility for classification as an orphan under U.S. immigration law.

Like Convention adoptions, to immigrate a child as an orphan, USCIS must also find the
prospective adoptive parent(s) eligible to adopt. To be found eligible to adopt, you may file a
Form I-600A, Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition, with USCIS before you
file the Form I-600. Alternatively, in certain circumstances, you may file a Form I-600 petition
without an approved, valid Form I-600A at the time you file; in this scenario, USCIS will require
the necessary Form I-600A supporting documentation to assess your eligibility and suitability to
adopt before adjudicating the Form I-600 petition. Note: Petitioners residing in the United States
who plan to file a Form I-600 overseas must have a valid approved Form I-600A on record
before they can file a Form I-600 petition abroad. For comprehensive information about filing
Form I-600A, see our eligibility requirements for prospective adoptive parents and the Form I-
600A instructions available on the USCIS website.

To qualify as an orphan under the INA, a child must meet the definition of an orphan under U.S.
immigration law. In addition to other applicable requirements, all of the following must be true
for a child to be eligible for the orphan classification:

1. The child must be under the age of 16 at the time the Form I-600 petition is filed on his or
her behalf, or be under the age of 18 and a sibling of a child (under the age of 16) who
has been or will be adopted (by the same adoptive parents);
2. The child must either have no parents because of the death or disappearance of,
abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents; or have a sole or
surviving parent who is incapable of providing proper care for the child and has, in
writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption;
3. The adopting parents must have completed a final adoption in the child’s country of
origin or obtained legal custody of the child for purposes of emigration and adoption in
the United States; and
4. The child has been or will be adopted by a married U.S. citizen and spouse jointly, or by
an unmarried U.S. citizen at least 25 years of age, with the intent of forming a bona fide
parent/child relationship.

Prospective adoptive parents should be aware that not all children in orphanages or children’s
homes are adoptable. In many countries, birth parents place their child(ren) temporarily in an
orphanage or children’s home due to financial or other hardship, intending that the child return
home when this becomes possible. In such cases, the birth parent(s) have rarely relinquished
their parental rights or consented to their child(ren)’s adoption.

Please be aware that some jurisdictions where the Hague Adoption Convention is not in force
participate in a Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR) program with the United States. Such
participation may affect the order in which the adoption and immigration processes occur for
intercountry adoption from those jurisdictions. Please refer to our Country Information
Sheets for more information.

Important: Parents are urged to seek advice about the possibility that an adopted child might not
qualify as an orphan under U.S. immigration law before obtaining a final adoption or grant of
legal custody. If a child adopted from a non-Convention country does not qualify as an orphan,
the child’s ability to immigrate to the United States could be limited. Adoption service providers
involved in intercountry adoption, USCIS and the Department of State have information that
may assist you in addressing this serious concern.

In some countries, it is advisable to have the child examined by a physician of your choice before
accepting a referral. A number of medical universities and hospitals have international adoption
clinics that can be found online. This examination, along with its report, supporting documents,
tests, and videos, can be reviewed by a U.S.-based physician trained to evaluate such
information. Such an exam is separate from the routine medical examination required after
completion of the adoption for visa purposes.

Children in Conflict Areas or Natural Disasters

The Department of State receives inquiries from U.S. citizens concerned about the plight of
children in war zones and in countries afflicted by natural disasters such as hurricanes,
earthquakes, and tsunamis. Our office shares this concern for children in conflict areas and we
understand that some U.S. citizens want to respond by offering to open their homes and adopt
these children in need.

It can be extremely difficult in such circumstances to determine whether children who appear to
be orphans truly are eligible for adoption and immigration under U.S. laws. Children may be
temporarily separated from their parents or other family members during a conflict or natural
disaster and their parents may be looking for them. It is not uncommon in dangerous situations
for parents to send their children out of the area, for safety reasons, or for families to become
separated during an evacuation. Even when it can be demonstrated that a child’s parents have
died, children are often taken in to be cared for by other relatives.

During times of crisis, it can also be exceptionally difficult to fulfill the legal requirements for
intercountry adoption of both the U.S. and the child's country of origin. This is especially true
when civil authority breaks down. It can be very difficult to gather documents necessary to
establish that the child meets the requirements of U.S. immigration law, so prospective adoptive
parents may wish to consult with an experienced immigration attorney and take extra caution
when considering adopting or caring for a child under these circumstances.

The United States Department of Health & Human Services , Office of Refugee Resettlement,
operates an Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program. This program operates in various locations
throughout the United States.

 Effects to the Development and Welfare of the Child

Understanding adoption: A developmental


As children grow up, they develop a positive sense of their identity, a sense of psychosocial well-
being (1). They gradually develop a self-concept (how they see themselves) and self-esteem
(how much they like what they see) (2). Ultimately, they learn to be comfortable with
themselves. Adoption may make normal childhood issues of attachment, loss and self-image (2)
even more complex. Adopted children must come to terms with and integrate both their birth and
adoptive families.

Children who were adopted as infants are affected by the adoption throughout their lives.
Children adopted later in life come to understand adoption during a different developmental
stage. Those who have experienced trauma or neglect may remember such experiences, which
further complicates their self-image (1). Transracial, crosscultural and special needs issues may
also affect a child’s adoption experience (2,3). All adopted children grieve the loss of their
biological family, their heritage and their culture to some extent (4). Adoptive parents can
facilitate and assist this natural grieving process by being comfortable with using adoption
language (eg, birth parents and birth family) and discussing adoption issues (5).

The present statement reviews how children gain an understanding of adoption as they grow
from infancy through adolescence. Specific issues relevant to transracial adoptions are beyond
the scope of this statement and will not be addressed.

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During infancy and early childhood, a child attaches to and bonds with the primary care-giver.
Prenatal issues, such as the length of gestation, the mother’s use of drugs or alcohol, and genetic
vulnerabilities, may, ultimately, affect a child’s ability to adjust. The temperament of everyone
involved also plays a role.
As a child approaches preschool age, he or she develops magical thinking, that is, the world of
fantasy is used to explain that which he or she cannot comprehend. The child does not
understand reproduction, and must first understand that he or she had a birth mother and was
born the same way as other children (2,5). Even though a child as young as three years of age
may repeat his or her adoption story, the child does not comprehend it (3,5). The child must first
grasp the concept of time and space, which usually occurs at age four to five years, to see that
some events occurred in the past, even though he or she does not remember them. The child must
understand that places and people exist outside of his or her immediate environment.

Telling a child his or her adoption story at this early age may help parents to become comfortable
with the language of adoption and the child’s birth story. Children need to know that they were
adopted. Parents’ openness and degree of comfort create an environment that is conducive to a
child asking questions about his or her adoption (3).

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Operational thinking, causality and logical planning begin to emerge in the school-aged child.
The child is trying to understand and to master the world in which he or she lives. The child is a
problem solver. He or she realizes that most other children are living with at least one other
biological relative (6). It is the first time that the child sees himself or herself as being different
from other children. The child may struggle with the meaning of being adopted, and may
experience feelings of loss and sadness (1,7). He or she begins to see the flip side of the adoption
story and may wonder what was wrong with him or her; why did the birth mother place him or
her up for adoption? The child may feel abandoned and angry (1,2). It is normal to see
aggression, angry behaviour, withdrawal or sadness and self-image problems (1,8) among
adopted children at this age. The child attempts to reformulate the parts of his or her story that
are hard to understand and to compensate for emotions that are painful (2). As a result,
daydreaming is very common among adopted children who are working through complex
identity issues (5,7).

Control may be an issue. A child may believe that he or she has had no control over losing one
family and being placed with another. The child may need to have reassurance about day to day
activities or may require repeated explanations about simple changes in the family’s routine (5).
Transitions may be particularly difficult. The child may have an outright fear of abandonment,
difficulty falling asleep and, even, kidnapping nightmares (1).

It is helpful to explain that the birth mother made a loving choice by placing the child up for
adoption, that she had a plan for his or her future. The child may need to hear this statement
repeatedly. There is some similarity between the symptoms of grief and symptoms associated
with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; care givers must be wary not to label a child with
attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder when, in fact, the child’s behaviour is consistent with a
normal grieving process (9). A parent’s patience and understanding are crucial at this point of an
adopted child’s life. Parents may be pro-active by educating school personnel about the natural
grieving issues related to adoption that their child is experiencing.
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The adolescent’s primary developmental task is to establish an identity while actively seeking
independence and separation from family (2). The adopted adolescent needs to make sense of
both sets of parents, and this may cause a sense of divided loyalties and conflict (7). In early
adolescence, the loss of childhood itself is a significant issue. The adopted adolescent has already
experienced loss, making the transition to adolescence even more complicated (1,7). This period
of development may be difficult and confusing. Adolescents may experience shame and loss of
self-esteem, particularly because society’s image of birth parents is often negative (2).

Adopted adolescents will want to know details about their genetic history and how they are
unique. They will reflect on themselves and their adoptive family to determine similarities and
differences. They will attempt to ascertain where they belong and where they came from (7). All
adolescents may have a natural reticence about talking to their parents, and adopted adolescents
may not share questions about their origins with their parents. They may keep their reflections to
themselves. Adopted adolescents’ search for information about themselves is very normal, and
parents should not see this as a threat. Instead, parents’ willingness to accept their child’s dual
heritage of biology and environment will help their child to accept that reality (7).

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Children’s interest in adoption varies throughout the developmental stages of childhood and
adolescence. As children progress from one stage to another, they gain new cognitive abilities
and psychosocial structures. They look at adoption differently and, often, have more concerns or
questions. Their questions may diminish until a new cognitive and psychosocial level is reached.
Parents can facilitate this developmental process by being knowledgeable and supportive, and by
continuing to retell their child his or her adoption story. The grief that their child experiences is
real and should not be denied or avoided. Support from knowledgeable health care providers is
invaluable in helping adoptive parents and their child. Although this statement has addressed
common issues that relate to a child’s perception of adoption, a psychological or psychiatric
referral is indicated if the child suffers from depression, or has symptoms that affect his or her
day-to-day functioning. Paediatricians and other professionals who care for children should
provide anticipatory guidance by counselling parents of adopted children about relevant issues
that concern their child’s understanding of his or her adoption.

Good, common sense resources are available to parents. Lois Melina’s Making Sense of
Adoption: A Parent’s Guide (5) is an excellent, practical source of adoption information for
parents. Joyce Maguire Pavao’s The Family of Adoption (7) looks at the entire family’s adoption
experience throughout the family life cycle. Also, “Talking to children about their adoption:
When to start, what to say, what to expect”, is a brief, yet informative, article for parents that was
published in the Adopted Child newsletter (6).
Effects of Adoption on the Child’s Health


1. Physical Health

A Dutch meta-analysis by Marinus H. van IJzendoorn and Femmie Juffer of Leiden University
found that when adopted children are initially placed in a new family, regardless of their age,
they tend to lag very significantly in height and weight behind their non-adopted same-age
peers.1) After some time in their families they do close the gap, massively outperforming their
non-adopted birth peers, though not totally catching up with their peers in the general population.
Children adopted before twelve months of age close the gap the most.2) This meta-finding can be
seen also in the results of a study in California of 83 African-American adoptive families: One
third of newly adopted children were rated less than “very healthy” at the time of adoption, but
had later improved significantly.3) The same is found in international adoptions.4)

One health anomaly is worth noting: Internationally adopted children, particularly girls, are at
increased risk of early puberty, which in turn contributes to shorter height in adulthood. Girls
who are most underdeveloped when they are placed for adoption and who then catch up quickest
are at greatest risk of reaching puberty early. Though precocious puberty is very rare for boys,5)
one study showed that 30 percent of internationally adopted girls experienced precocious
menarche (on average, at 10.5 years of age).6) Many girls adopted from other countries
experience this because they suffered from chronic malnutrition before their adoption occurred.7)

Adoption has the power to restore health even in drug-exposed children. This is illustrated in a
longitudinal study of such children exposed in utero to crack cocaine, other kinds of cocaine,
heroin, marijuana, and PCP. According to adoptive parent surveys administered immediately
after adoptee placement and four and eight years later, drug-exposed adoptees generally
functioned normally. Sixty-three percent were reported to be doing “well with few problems.”
They were almost identical in most outcomes to adopted children who were not exposed to
drugs. Over 97 percent of the parents of these adoptees said they felt very close to their

2. Mental Health A study by Anthony Burrow of the department of psychology at Loyola

University, Chicago, and colleagues shows that there are no significant differences in
psychological adjustment or physical health between adolescents who were adopted and those
who were not.9) Adopted children do exhibit lower self-esteem than children from intact families
but their self-esteem is not significantly different from that of children from separated or
divorced families.10) Though some adoptive children experience affective difficulties such as
depression and unhappiness, behavioral problems present the greatest challenge by far,
especially among children who were older at the time of their adoption, or who have special
needs.11) The development of a clear sense of self by the adopted child is influenced by early
experience, adjustment within the family and community, and social attitudes toward adoption
(among a number of other factors). This explains the adopted child’s difficulties in combining a
sense of self with other non-familial spheres of social identity.12)
Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons

The Benefits of Adopting a Child

When it comes to adopting a child, it’s hard to put into words what you will gain from making
this decision. Every parent is unique, and the benefits will vary from family to family. From the
feeling of fulfillment experienced knowing that you are providing a home to a child in need to
the joy of becoming a parent, the rewards that come with adopting a child are innumerable. Here
are some of the biggest benefits, both big and small, of child adoption.

Fulfilling lifelong dreams of raising a child

For many single parents and couples, there is no greater dream or desire in their adult life than to
raise a child. When you adopt a child, you become a parent. All of the moments you spent
playing with dolls as a child, the daydreams you had about playing catch with your child in your
front yard — all of those dreams become potential realities the moment you become a parent. A
world of opportunities and memories becomes available to you.

Experiencing the joy and blessing of adding a child to your family

While the adoption process is sometimes arduous, the results are immeasurable. Whether you’re
bringing your first child into your family, or adding to a growing brood, the feeling of joy is the
same. Your days will be a little brighter, and your future a little more promising when you add a
new bundle of joy to your life.

Building new meaningful relationships

Oftentimes, one of the most rewarding parts of the adoption in California process for future
parents is being able to form a relationship with their future child’s birth parents. This is truly a
special bond. If you are fortunate enough to have a positive interaction with your future child’s
birth mother or birth parents, it may help bring even more sentiment to your experience of
adopting a child.

Conversely, some birth parents prefer to have little interaction with adoptive parents and put the
pregnancy and adoption behind them. Regardless, having an understanding of the birth parents
and the situation your adoptive child is coming from will help provide you with insight and
preparedness to create a loving home environment.

Another positive outcome of adoption that is sometimes overlooked is the impact it may have on
the birth mother. While you welcome the newest member of your family with open arms, she
may be receiving a second chance at receiving an education or fulfilling her goals. She will rest
assured knowing that her child will be raised by a loving family who will raise her baby as their

Adopting a more regular schedule

Creating routines is essential for children, especially if you foster-to-adopt a child. Routines
provide children with “a sense of security, and help them develop.” According to Aha!
Parenting, by creating an environment of stability, you allow your child to feel safe, and to
develop a sense of mastery in handling their life. Children, like adults, handle change best if it
occurs within the midst of a similar routine.

And the effects of an organized home life cannot be underestimated when raising a child. One
study on the effect of household chaos (defined by disorganization, lack of routine, excessive
noise, crowdedness, lots of coming and going, or an overly fast pace) found that that the more
chaotic a family’s life is, the more likely their children are to encounter a number of issues,
including more stress, worse overall health, and higher levels of attention, aggression and
conduct problems (PBS.org).

By committing to a routine of stability to improve the quality of life of your adopted child, you
may find your own life and daily routine changing to become more productive and peaceful as a

Experiencing new cultural traditions

For many adoptive parents, oftentimes international adoption is the best fit for their needs or
timeline. If you do choose to adopt internationally, you will inherit several unique
responsibilities. According to AdoptiveFamilies.com, family members must incorporate
“elements of the child’s original culture, including friendships with people of the child’s
ethnicity” into their everyday lives in order for the child to develop self-esteem and pride.

This may mean exposing your family to a host of new and exciting cultural traditions, as well as
versing yourself in other education and history that’s pertinent to your child’s home country.
There is a great opportunity to turn this into a culturally enriching experience for your whole

Exposing yourself to new activities and interests

All children are different, but they have one thing in common no matter their age, size or gender:
children dream big. Think back to what you wanted to be when you “grew up” — maybe a
firefighter? A ballerina? An astronaut? When you adopt a child, you are also adopting a whole
new set of dreams and aspirations. Each child has unique talents and interests, and the best way
to assist them in uncovering these gifts is to try more things.

As Parents.com suggests, “Do not underestimate the power of unstructured play.” Adopting a
child will require you to think outside the box and try new activities. Stepping outside your
comfort zone can benefit you both in the long run, and allowing your child to see you trying
something new may inspire him or her to do the same.

So, you may end up at the ballet studio, on the sidelines at the soccer field, or sitting in the
auditorium during a piano recital on your child’s journey to finding their gifts and hobbies. And
you’ll grow along the way because of it.

Continuous learning and growth

There is something to be said for having a core set of beliefs. However, adopting a child and
bringing a new member into your family can challenge those beliefs, and oftentimes lead to

You may also learn about yourself from helping your child to learn as they grow, specifically
when it comes to broadening your horizons on what you can and cannot accomplish. People with
a fixed mindset are usually reluctant to take on challenges because they believe their
achievements come from innate abilities. Those with a growth mindset are usually more willing
to face challenges with hard work because they believe in always learning new skills

In addition, you may learn something about your own learning style by adopting a child.
Everyone learns differently, and you need to be open to the fact that your new son or daughter
may be a different type of learner than you are. From auditory, to visual, to musical, to
kinesthetic, there are multiple different learning styles. By adopting a child who is likely to have
a learning style quite different from the one you are used to, you will certainly be presented with
some challenges (especially when it comes to helping with homework!), but you will also learn a
lot about yourself and your child too.

Improving your quality of life

Since so much of a child’s development and growth is dependent on routines and positive
reinforcement, it is probable that your home and family will improve after adopting a child.
Praise and encouragement play a key role in a child’s growth and development, although this
facet of home life is often undervalued. In fact, “according to a research study at the University
of Iowa, the average 2-year-old child hears 432 negative statements per day but only 32 positive
statements each day” (SheKnows.com)
By making positivity and encouragement a focus of home life, you will create an empowering
atmosphere for both your new child and other members of your family. This new habit may even
bleed into your social and work lives; you know what they say, positivity is infectious!

In addition, while many assume that childless couples have a better quality of life than people
with kids living at home, that is not always the case. “People with kids living at home tend to
have more money and are more highly educated, more religious and in better health”

One key difference between parents and non-parents when it comes to quality of life are the
extremes; parents tend to experience more highs and lows, and to a greater degree than those
people without kids. So, parents may experience more stress, but in the end, they have more joy
in their lives– Not a bad trade-off!

Improved physical health and well-being

We would be remiss not to mention the purely physical benefits of bringing a child into your life.
A focus on cooking at home and providing healthy meals, enforcing bedtime rules, and
allocating time for play and rest for your child are just a few of the innumerable areas where your
life will be inevitably shaped (for the better) by the rules you apply to your child’s life. You want
the best for your child, so you will likely make some lifestyle changes that are conducive to
fostering good health and well being. And your adopted child won’t be the only one who will
benefit from those positive lifestyle changes.

Adoption Assistance

Raising a child is not inexpensive. In fact, according to the USDA, parents are projected to spend
$235,000 to raise a child born in 2013 (for food, housing, childcare and education, and other
child-rearing expenses up to age 18).

However, there are also significant tax benefits from adopting a child. For instance, there is an
adoption tax credit available for adopted children who are under 18 years. Qualified adoption
expenses for this credit are defined as “reasonable and necessary expenses directly related to the
legal adoption of a child under 18 years old, or physically or mentally incapable of caring for
himself or herself.” These expenses may include adoption fees, travel expenses, meals and
lodging, and more (Huffington Post).

Of course, there are some additional limitations on who can claim the adoption credit and how
much credit they qualify for. There are also different stipulations for Special Needs Adoptions
and International Adoptions. In addition, many employers also provide paid leave or financial
support for foster-adoptive families.

CHILDREN’S BUREAU https://www.all4kids.org/2016/11/15/benefits-adopting-child/