Experiences of School Bullying Among Internationally Adopted Children: Results from the Finnish (FINADO) Adoption Study

I selected this study because many of the families with whom I work have had incidents of bullying, either as the victim or as the victimizer, in school situations. The study pulled from a rich database as part of a larger national study. If it were to be replicated elsewhere I would hope it would examine the impact of being an adopted person, in addition to the other factors mentioned, as a target for bullying.

Purpose of Study: The researchers sought to use an already existing population of international adoptees (IAs) from the Finnish Adoption Study to examine the influence of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) diagnosis or symptoms at time of adoption to future bullying behaviors; either as the victim or victimizer. They hypothesized that the symptoms of RAD, such as lack of empathy or attunement to others’ feelings / emotions, would predispose IA’s to be victims of bullying or bully others themselves. The research defined bullying as when a child “is exposed to negative peer behavior that occurs repeatedly and involves an imbalance of power; that is the victim finds it difficult to defend himself or herself (p. 2)”.

Method:  364 IA boys and girls, ages nine to fifteen, participated in the study. They were also part of a broader study, the Finnish Adoption Study (FINADO), which recruited IA families that adopted through a legalized system from 1985 to 2007. The children and their parents were given the following self report assessments: Olweus bully/victim questionnaire, parent reported questionnaire in regard to adoption demographics, a  parental report questionnaire examining “symptoms suggesting RAD” as developed by the researchers  for the FINADO study, and the Five to Fifteen parental report evaluating at social skills, learning difficulties, and language skills. The sample was compared with a norm based group of Finnish children ages nine to fifteen from the Finnish public school system.

Results: As hypothesized the study found that those IA’s rated with mild to severe forms of RAD upon time of adoption had a greater likelihood to report experiencing bullying and bullying others , although statistically significant higher levels were only evident in 3rd and 4th grade and 7th and 9th graders.  Other results indicated that lacking social skills is also a factor in victimization for bullying.

Summary: The research has a large population from which to examine in regard to comparing IA’s to the norm population through its nationally sponsored FINADO study.  It’s cohort and longevity offers much to the IA adoption related research.  Despite this the RAD assessments have limitations as follows:  currently there are no valid and reliable assessment tools to diagnose RAD and parents completed a self report based on time of adoption, which can lead to inaccurate responses.  Although the FINADO researchers created a tool to evaluate RAD for this study, it would have been preferable for a different, non affiliated group to develop a RAD evaluation, to avoid the appearance of influencing the results to what they hypothesized.  RAD has long been the diagnosis of choice for adopted persons and/or persons in the child welfare system based on their early life experiences. However RAD is a broad based diagnosis that can be easily applied to a person without any formal diagnostic tool. It can be largely subjective. Despite these concerns this study is valuable in helping internationally adoptive families  be aware of the possibility of  and better prepare for bullying, both victimization and victimizer, and this knowledge is applicable in counseling diagnosis and treatment.

Raask,H., et.al (2012).  Experiences of School Bullying Among Internationally Adopted Children: Results from the Finnish Adoption (FINADO) Study, Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 43, 592-611. doi: 10.1007/s10578-012-0286-1