Pre-Adoption Diversity and Self-Reported Behavioral Problems in 7 Year Old International Adoptees

My last post on ethics violations when using adopted person testimonials was important because it showcased how adopted person voices are sometimes inappropriately used in adoption advocacy and policy discourse. Amanda Woolston’s the Declassified Adoptee’s Blog post captures this issue. Adopted person voices, a diverse group, to be sure, need to be included in all aspects of adoption research and practice. And this needs to happen from a very young age.

In 2004 when I started my first research project examining adjustment outcomes for international adopted persons (IA’s) most of these publications reported on research with adolescent adoptees and their families. None, per my recollection, used evaluation measures to ask the adolescent participants’ perspectives on their adjustment. So I was pleased to find this 2012 Child Psychiatry and Human Development journal article.  The Canadian researchers, in addition to parental reports, also asked the seven year old participants in the study, to report their feelings and perceptions about their current adjustment in school and in their relationships with family and peers.  What to learn more? Please keep reading below.

Purpose of the study: Canadian researchers wanted to explore possible correlations between pre adoption adversity, height and weight growth, head circumference, and health upon adoption to current academic and relationship internalizing and externalizing problems.

Method: The research had 95 IA family participants, 69 of whom were girls. They were recruited, in part, from a different longitudinal study on international adoption. The children’s health and medical status and baseline psychological assessment information were gathered upon entrance to Quebec. At follow up evaluations, the mothers of the participants completed the French Child Behavioral Checklist (CBCL). The children completed the Dominic Interactive (DI), a pictorial, computer based, self report assessment tool that rates responses according to scales related to DSM -IV-TR disorders.

Results: Overall the research demonstrated the majority of the IA sample was well adjusted in comparison to the control group in the study. The IA group demonstrated higher levels of internalizing behaviors, most specifically, the development of specific phobias. The researchers hypothesized that intermittent and/or poor care giving pre adoption contributed to heightened sensitivity to development of anxiety symptoms, including specific phobias. They cited additional research that suggested that anxiety symptoms are exacerbated post adoption by intrusive and overprotective parenting styles. Additionally, as expected, weight/height ration at the time of adoption was negatively correlated with specific phobias, conduct disorder, and depression at the time of school age. Head circumference at time of adoption was also negatively correlated with conduct disorders at school age.

Summary: This study reinforced what other research has shown in regard to the impact of pre adoption institutionalization and poor caregiver exposure. This study is unique in that it reportedly is the first of its kind to utilize self assessment for seven year old adopted persons. This is important as it includes the perspective of the young children rather than completely relying on teacher and or adoptive parental reports.


Gagnon-Oosterwaal, N, (2012). Adoption diversity and self-reported behavioral problems in 7 year old international adoptees, Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 43, 648-660. doi: 10.1007/s 10578-011-0279-5