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Emotional Issues and Adoption

Adoption is a legal process but it is filled with emotional issues for everyone involved, including the adopted child. Below we address the emotional issues of the adopted child.

Emotional Impact of Adoption on the Child

As all children grow and mature, each one goes through periods of adjustment and each faces important development issues. In addition to the typical growth and development issues, an adopted child faces some issues and concerns that are different than those faced by a child that has been biologically born into the family.

When comparing adopted children to non-adopted children, some studies suggest that elementary school age adopted children show no more psychological problems than their non-adopted counterparts. This suggests that the sources of problems in the elementary school years and even into middle school years are the developmental changes that typically take place and are not due to the fact that a child was or was not adopted. However, this issue is controversial since other studies show that adopted children in elementary school appear to have more personality and behavior problems than non-adopted children and that adopted children tend to be more fearful, dependent, and hostile.

This controversy exits less in later childhood and early adolescence when it appears that there are several developmental issues which can be more difficult for adopted children. These issues are related to feelings of loss and grief, issues around the development of identity and self-esteem, and issues involving the adoptee's genetic history.

Loss and Grief

At some point in their life, many adopted persons experience loss and grief related to feelings of abandonment as a result of not being raised by the biological family. The adoptee may question and fantasize about why the birth mother and birth father placed them for adoption and what they, the child, did to cause this. And the adoptee may grieve for the loss that they feel. Adopted persons, especially those adopted when they were older or were adopted from foster care, may also have to deal with the loss of real or imagined siblings as well as friends, grandparents, and familiar environments.

Development of Identity

For most children, adopted or not, questions and concerns related to identity typically develop in early adolescence. The task of identity development can be more complicated for an adopted child. Questions arise about why he/she was placed for adoption, who and what are their biological parents, what role will genetics play in who they are and turn out to be, who do they look like, and where do they really belong.


How a person feels about herself/himself is the person's self-esteem. Feelings of self-esteem are related to ones sense of identity, value and purpose, level of achievement and general feelings of being valuable. Many studies have found that adopted persons often score lower on measures of self-esteem and self-confidence than their non-adopted counterparts.

Genetic History

All too often an adopted child does not have access to genetic and biological family health information. This can be a problem in relation to receiving medical care and to the development of psychological and behavioral problems. It can also be an issue when the adopted child has grown and desires to have biological children of their own.

An adopted child may need help resolving their feelings about not growing up with their birth parents and about their feelings of loss and lack of clear identity. Needing outside help after adoption is normal, and many adoptive families seek post adoption assistance. The most frequent types of help are through friends, other adoptees, adoption support groups, using adoption reunion and search programs to find the biological parents, and through reading and other "educational" resources. However, outpatient therapy with a psychologist or other mental health professional who has experience with adoption issues may be necessary.

The different approaches to therapy are discussed in the links Adoption Therapy and Selecting an Adoption Therapist. It is important to select a therapist or treatment program where the therapist or program is sensitive to the unique dynamics of the adoptive family and who will not overestimate or underestimate the fact that a child has been adopted.

If you need or want some specific personal advice, contact your adoption agency social worker, pediatrician, clergy, local mental health center, state child welfare agency or state adoption contact for recommendations of appropriate professionals. You can also call Dr. Vince Berger, a psychologist and adoption professional.

Helping a Foster Child Transition to Your Adopted Child

Foster families who adopt a child face some special problems. While the adoptive parent(s) understand the change in role from being a foster child to a true son or daughter, this change is often misunderstood by the child. A good summary and a good source of helpful information is the Child Welfare Information Gateway article Helping a Foster Child Transition to Your Adopted Child.

Parent Network For The Post-Institutionalized Child

Parent Network For The Post-Institutionalized Child is a resource for those persons involved in an international adoption. It is a support network devoted to understanding the medical, developmental, emotional and educational needs of children adopted from hospital, orphanages and institutions throughout the world.

Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents

Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents looks at adoption and emotional issues from the standpoint of the birth parents. It discusses the emotional issues that biological parents face after making the decision to place a child for adoption and it looks at the emotional issues of parents whose children are permanently removed from them. This information can help an adopting person more fully understand the adoption process and its emotional ramifications.

Additional Information and Resources

Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons is Child Welfare Information Gateway factsheet addressing the impact of adoption on adopted persons who have reached adulthood.

For additional information about child development, please visit the link Adoption and Child Development Issues as well as Explaining Adoption and Adoption and Schools. You may also find help on the website Pregnancy And Children.

Please visit our home page to read about our commitment to assist adoptive parents like you as well as pregnant women and birth parents.

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