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The Concept of International Adoption Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 20th, 2019


International adoption is a situation where a person or a couple legally acquires the responsibility of becoming permanent parents to a child whose country of origin is completely different from that of the adopting parents (Brodzinsky & Schechter, 1990).

It is worth mentioning from the onset that those parents who are in the process of adopting across boarders are obliged to meet the adoption requirements of both their country and the country of the adoptee. Different countries have completely different laws governing this issue (Serbin, 1997).

Since the concept of international adoption is widely spread, this research paper will only concentrate on the effect on overall early life stage development to adoptees. For this reason, issues addressed include motor development delays as they are more prevalent, cognitive development, language development, emotional and social development.

According to Brodzinsky & Schechter, 1990 changing the environment to a new one that definitely affects adopted individuals. This is exactly what international adoption does, it takes children from the environment they are aware of to a new one that they are completely not familiar with; this is permanently.

For this reason, international adoption can take one of the two faces; a good thing for some or a long-term nightmare for others. Ideally, it has been argued that being adopted by parents from a different country contributes to making the adopted child feel unloved as well as insecure about themselves.

It has been shown that major change in the life of children can have a huge impact on how they developed through various stages. Since adoption is perceived to be one of the big changes in an individual’s life, those children adopted by parents especially from a foreign country have higher chances of being affected (Hollingsworth, 2002).

However, it is worth noting that the effects are usually determined by the age of the child, although other factors may play certain significant roles. For instance, a child who is a month old will be affected in a very different way compared to one who is 10 years old during placement.

Similarly adopted individuals lead lives similar to those of non adopted; the former have experiences which are unique as a result of being adopted by parents from another country thus having an impact on their lives at various stages of development.

History and statistic of international adoption in the United States of America

Historically, the United States of America started experiencing international adoption during the World War I, between 1939 and 1945. It is worth noting that those adopted were war orphans from Europe and Japan. On the same note, more adoptees were received between 1946 and 1949 from Greece (Serbin, 1997).

War is not the only factor making children from other countries to be adopted by U.S citizen; others include extreme poverty, deplorable living conditions as well as social upheaval.

Records show that between the years 1971 and 2001, American citizen adopted slightly over a quarter of a million children from other countries. Majority of adoptees are girls while approximately 90.0% of international adoptees are infants under the age of 5 years.

In 2008, the U.S adopted international children totalling 17, 440. When this figure is compared to those of the past four years, the number has continuously gone down. However, the number of international adoptees from Africa went up and stood at 13.0% in 2008 compared to 9.0% the previous year.

The attributing factors are indeed interlinked, for instance, when individuals are compelled to move due to war, they are unable to engage themselves in economically viable activities hence poverty creeps in leaving parents with no option other than to give up their parentage right to others through adoption (Johnson, 2002).

Effect of international adoption to child development

As it has been previously noted, internationally adopted children lead lives just like those who are not adopted, however there are situations where some will be comfortable with everything and their development enhanced while their are those who will be affected on their developmental stages. Similarly the age of a child during adoption greatly influences the degree of impact.

Generally, it has been held that whether a child is adopted as an infant or when older, whether they are full of health or exhibit physical or psychological problems, the whole process of adoption influences the child’s development (Rosenberg, 1992).

Motor development

There is no doubt that motor development is one process that is conditional. This means that activities such as crawling, climbing as well as walking exhibited by infants are nothing but a reflexion of biologically programmed reflexes which are environmentally influenced.

Having in mind that those parents who adopt their children from other countries are indeed different; there are those who will not deprive the child physical stimulation while there are those who will deprive the adopted child physical stimulation. Similarly Johnson, 2002 established that children provided with extra stimulation are in a better position to improve their motor behaviour in a rapid manner.

In situations where the adopting parents are willing to spend time with their child, provide them with physical stimulation, there is no doubt that the child will fully develop in terms of motor neural and respond timely to such issues as crawling and walking.

In fact, this has been the case in countries such as the U.S. where parents have enough resources to provide to their children that will enhance their motor development.

However, there are some parents who despite the fact that they were in dire of a child, do not have the knowledge and interest in ensuring that the child develops normally and for that matter will not make effort in providing the adopted child with physical stimulation (Rosenberg, 1992).

Additionally, some adopted children are not often carried and spend most of their times in cribs or strapped in seats; they have very few chances of testing their motor skills and capabilities thereby making them at risk of not developing adequately and successfully when compared to their counterparts who are provided with physical stimulations (Johnson, 2002).

Emotional and social development

Another important stage of child development is emotion, feelings as well as social development. Being adopted means that the child losses his or her birth parents setting a stage for serious feelings of loss as well as abandonment. As held by Grotevant, Dunbar, Kohler, & Lash Esau (2000), the degree of emotion is determined by the age of the child when adopted.

Older children will be negatively affected when they loss the connection they had with their parents especially their mothers. One big question that will linger in the minds of adopted individuals will be what happened so that they were adopted, was there something wrong with them. All these will continue to heighten the feeling of rejection and abandonment.

With the understanding that the parents they are living with are not their birth parents makes the child feel grieved since they have lost their real parents. Additionally. adopted persons usually feel betrayed by both the adoptive parents for withholding the truth and their birth parents who they perceive abandoned them (Trolley, 1995).

Depending on how the adopting parents handle the situation, the feeling of sorrow may disappear. In situations where the parents adopting a child are not concern with properly handling the emotion and associated grief of their child, the later will show their feelings through a number of ways such as expressing feelings of anger, numbness, depression, fear and anxiety.

It is worth noting that all these feeling can be expressed at any stage of the child’s live. Additionally, it has been shown that adopted individuals are more likely to suffer later in life in case they loss their spouse, parents either through divorce and death respectively; such a scenario awakens the previous bitter emotions and feelings of losing dear ones (Lifton, 2001).

On the same note, adopted person when they reach adulthood may or may not realize the connection between their present feelings as well as the past feelings with regards to loss of birth parents.

On the same line of thinking, adopted child usually experience secondary loss; this is loss of siblings, grandparents, other family members, pets, friends, school, neighbourhood as well as an environment they were familiar with.

All these issues at one time of their lives will trigger grief as well as impede other stages of development. Studies have shown that adopted children who are not well informed on how and why they were adopted will always exhibit some degree of low self-esteem compared to their non-adopted counterparts (Serbin, 1997).

On the other hand, there is no doubt that the social development of adopted children is largely affected by what they feel about the whole situation. When one has low self-esteem his/her chances of mingling with others are so minimal and such individuals will always perceive themselves as social outcast.

The manner which a child is raised or brought up with will actually impact on the ability to be social not only at home but also in school and at the working place (Lifton, 2001). Depending on how the parent interacts with the child, studies have shown that adopted children who are neglected and in particular boys show higher degree of anti-socialization and such individuals will remain unknown when in a group.

Another contributing factor that makes internationally adopted children less social is linked to their colour as well as other physical characteristics. Those who are black or show certain physical characteristics that are not inherent among peers and friends coupled with the feeling of abandonment makes the adopted child not actively engage with others (Kelly, Towner‐Thyrum, Rigby, & Martin, 1998).

It has been shown that children learn from not only peers but from adults who are around them. Considering the fact that not all adopting parents are the same, there are those who will exhibit some social behaviour that are weird. These behaviours include substance abuse, being violent among others, etc.

Similarly, Kelly et al. (1998) found out that adopted children when brought up in such a setting will definitely assume these kinds of characters later in their lives; for instance they will be violent against others making them to be shunned away.

In situations where the adopted child was between 3 and 7 years during placement and come from a different race, class as well as family than that of the adopting parents they will feel the urge to fit themselves into the new society.

However, having been brought up in another cultural setting, these individuals will feel that they are betraying their heritage. This makes these persons feel that they do not fit their current setting (Hollingsworth, 2002).

Language development

As suggested by Glennen, 2002, children adopted by foreign parents definitely acquire new parents, family, friends, surroundings, culture and more importantly a new language. Considering the fact that the adopting parents might not be very familiar with the language of the child they are adopting, things become very challenging for the child since the adopting parents stop using the language the child is used to.

The ultimate result is delayed in speech and language development. Ideally, it has been realized that the most predominant delay in general developmental stages of a child adopted internationally is language and speech. This is regardless of whether the child was born into or adopted into the new family.

The age during time of placement also plays a great role in dictating how long it will take for the adopted child to master the new language. Obviously, the older one was more difficult during time of placement and it would be more difficult for him or her to master the new language and speech.

It is worth noting that a delay in language and speech acquisition is not just as a result of the child being taken through a transition from one language to another but native language coupled by the change from one sound or language system to another. This is very adverse in situations where the adopted child had already mastered his or her native language.

For those children adopted and had mastered their native language, efforts to place them in English as a Second Language program will help in making them adapt to the new speech and language. As noted previously, one serious contributing factor for poor social development is poor mastery of the new language (Brodzinsky, Schechter, & Henig, 1992).

Cognitive development

According to Trolley, 1995 cognitive development entails the process by which the mental process allows the brain to retain and at the same time use information and knowledge. Hence, it encompasses the way human think, perceive and gain understanding of their environment; this is influenced principally by personal experiences and genetics.

It has been argued out that international adoption and for that matter any sort of adoption, provides the adoptees with an opportunity to live with parents who are committed as well as live in an improved surrounding; this ultimately makes the child heal physically, emotionally and socially.

All these are excellent in ensuring that the child develops well cognitively. Among the cognitive abilities deemed to improve due to adoption include intellectual quotient, verbal, spatial, perceptual speed and memory capabilities.

Studies have shown that adopted children showed higher levels of intellectual quotient compared to their siblings or peers who are not adopted and left to live with their birth parents. Interestingly, adopted children academically outperformed their siblings and peers who were left behind (Glennen, 2002).

The attributing factors include having committed parents as well as a changed environment that fosters learning. With regards to learning problems, it is established that a bigger proportion of adopted children show delays in learning. To be specific the number of adopted children who are in need of special learning or education was twice as large as the percentage of non-adopted (Brodzinsky, Schechter, & Henig, 1992).

The major explanation brought forth is that these groups of children have suffered emotionally, physically and psychologically hence the need to boost their cognitive ability. Those advocating for international adoption hold that majority of those children adopted “do remarkably well, certainly much better than their siblings or peers who had to stay behind in poor institutions or deprived families” (Smyer, Gatz, Simi, & Pedersen, 1998, p. 95).

On the other hand, it has been shown that international adoption results in drastic environmental changes. This will negatively impact on their cognitive ability. Coupled with the fact that the child will still be full of remorse and perceive himself rejected and devalued, low self esteem eventually negatively impacts on his or her cognitive abilities.

Various studies conclude that adopted children outperform their siblings and peers left behind. The sole reason being the adopting parents do not just adopt any child but are keen in specific attributes that contributes to their ability to grow and develop in an excellent manner (Sharma, McGue, & Benson, 1996).

The ability of the adoptive parents to strive in securing attachment as well as being sensitive to the child’s needs contributes to positive undisrupted cognitive development.

Among the serious risk factors for cognitive development of adopted children, include easy temperament and disorganized attachments. Ideally, the major influences of cognitive abilities of adoptees are their age at time of placement, country of origin, maternal sensitivity, infant attachment as well as health condition (Grotevant et al., 2000).


From the review of the concept of international adoption, it is apparent that children are taken legally to live with parents from other countries different from where the child is born. Since the paper purely dealt with the impact or influence of international adoption to development stages of the adopted child, the findings are interesting since the facts collected hold varying views.

For instance when it comes to cognitive development internationally adopted children are in a better position to outperform their sibling and peers left behind in terms of IQ and academic performance. However they are in need of special education and treatment.

Concerning emotion and social development, this group of individuals suffer a lot with regards to feeling of being devalued followed by grief. This coupled with poor language and speech development; they see themselves as a misfit in their peers hence cannot socialize effectively.

With regards to language development and motor development, it has been shown that since adopted children are taken to a new environment, they will be met with new language and culture. This poses a greater challenge when it comes to language and speech mastery. Motor development is only realized when the adopting parents take time to carry their children and avoid stripping them on seats.


Brodzinsky, D.M., Schechter, M.D. ,& Henig, R.M. (1992). Being adopted: The lifelong search for self. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Brodzinsky, D.M., & Schechter, M.D. (Eds.)(1990). The psychology of adoption. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Glennen, S. (2002). Language development and delay in internationally adopted infants and toddlers: A review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11(2), 333-339.

Grotevant, H., Dunbar, N., Kohler, J.K., & Lash Esau, E.M. (2000). Adoptive identity: How contexts within and beyond the family shape developmental pathways. Family Relations, 49(4), 379-387.

Hollingsworth, L. (2002). Why are so many U. S. families adopting internationally? A social exchange perspective. Journal of Human Behaviour in the Social Environment, 6(2), 81-97.

Johnson, D. (2002). Adoption and the effect on children’s development. Early Human Development, 68(2), 39-54.

Kelly, M., Towner‐Thyrum, E., Rigby, A., & Martin, B. (1998). Adjustment and identity formation in adopted and non-adopted young adults: Contributions of family environment. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 68(3), 497-500.

Lifton, B. (2001). Shared identity issues for adopted people. In V. Groza & K. F. Rosenberg (Eds.), Clinical and practice issues in adoption: Bridging the gap between adopted people placed as infants and as older children, (pp. 37-48). Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

Rosenberg, E. (1992). The adoption life cycle: The children and their families through the years. New York, NY: Free Press.

Serbin, L. (1997). Research on international adoption: Implications for developmental theory and social policy. International Journal of Behavioural Development, 20(2), 83-92.

Sharma, A., McGue, M.K., & Benson, P.L. (1996). The emotional and behavioural adjustment of United States adopted adolescents: Part I. An overview. Children and Youth Services Review, 18(1-2), 83-100.

Smyer, M., Gatz, M., Simi, N.L., & Pedersen, N.L. (1998). Childhood adoption: Long-term effects in adulthood. Psychiatry, 61(3), 191-205.

Trolley, B. (1995). Grief issues and positive aspects associated with international adoption. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 30(1), 257-268.

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