|A 1 and 2 Year Follow-Up study of Adoptive Families and Special Needs Children|
Reviewed by Kate O'Brien,
The study focused on a random sample of subsidized, special needs adoptive placements. The sample was measured at intervals over a two-year period after the adoption order had been finalised.The aim of the study was to provide data re adoptive family functioning and dynamics, which could be compared with national data and assist scholars and practitioners in developing a better understanding of special needs adoption.The sample was selected at random from the special needs adoptions in the state of Iowa in 1990. Assessment surveys were sent to 280 adoptive families over a period of two years. The first survey elicited a 70% response, out of those that replied to the first survey 68% responded to the follow up survey. The sample therefore reduced in size, the reason for drop out was not established.The average age of children in the sample was 11.3 years; 83% were white and almost half were placed with some of their siblings. The sample was comparable with the whole population of special needs children placed for adoption in Iowa at this time.
Critical AppraisalAn American longitudinal study that has some advantages over a cross sectional study. The results from a cross sectional study sometimes having ambiguous interpretations with difficulties in distinguishing cause from effect. For example when comparing parental responsiveness with disruption, did the family distance themselves because of the children’s difficult behaviour, or were the children difficult because of lack of parental responsiveness?The disadvantages of longitudinal studies such as this are that the reason participants ‘drop out’ is unknown and may distort the findings. It is possible in this study that the 32% drop out rate between the first and second surveys concealed placement difficulties or disruptions.
Key FindingsThe families reported a slight increase in use of services between the first and second year, this may have been explained by extraneous factors e.g. it was noted that during this period the state of Iowa received an increased grant for post adoption services possibly explaining the increased ‘take-up’. It was significant that adopters reported a preference for parent support groups and contact with other adopters as opposed to therapy for the child.About half of all the children had some extra help at school and this remained constant over the study period.Behaviour problems were prevalent for a large number of the children. Comparisons between the first and second year post adoption showed the girl’s behaviour remaining constant; on average the older boy’s (over 11yrs) behaviour improved whereas the younger boys behaviour deteriorated.Measurement of parent-child relationships showed a high level of family cohesiveness in the first year, this reducing in time, with the emergence of increased levels of highly structured and rather rigid parenting styles. The author suggests these changes may have been a response to the child’s behaviour or because the families early need to form close relationships was relaxed with time.The reported quality of parent-child relationships remained fairly constant with 20 % reporting a deterioration, which the author suggested may have been associated with increased individuation as the children grew older.Adopting parents’ anticipation of problems varied and about a third of them found the experience more difficult than expected and about a third less difficult.
Practice ImplicationsThe study does not comment on disruption rates but provides some insight into the adjustment of adopting families over a two-year period.The findings show that adjustments and changes occur after the adoption order is finalised. In some case the adopters reported they found the children’s behaviour more and sometimes less difficult. The adopters’ expectations were sometimes realised but for some the adoption was more difficult than they anticipated. Parent-child relationships adjusted over time, this may have been due to the child maturing and not different to the changes observed in any family, but it may have been a reflection of the parent and child adjusting to the adoption.The study showed that adopters continue to need support services post order and that these services need to be sensitive to the adoption experience. The help provided should address the needs of both children and adopters, but also there needs to be recognition that both are part of an adoption system, which is influenced by the individuals earlier experiences, expectations of, and realisation of the adoption experience.
Policy ImplicationsFindings confirm that the high number of special needs children placed for adoption require ongoing services post adoption. Some of the children’s difficulties appear to increase; possibly a reflection of the children reaching adolescence or sometimes part of developmental recovery, as internal difficulties become externalised. It is therefore important that families adopting children with special needs continue to have access to a continuum of services from adoption sensitive professionals as well as support, including the possibility of respite care.