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How Are International Adoptees Doing?

Study Shows Fewer Behavioral Problems for Children Adopted Internationally
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WebMD Health News

May 24, 2005 -- More than 40,000 children a year are adopted internationally, with about half coming to the U.S. So how are they doing?

Pretty well, according to a review of studies that compared behavioral and psychological issues among adopted and nonadopted children and adolescents.

International adoptees exhibited fewer behavioral problems than children who were adopted domestically. And they were also half as likely as domestic adoptees to have mental health issues that required treatment.

Study researchers concluded that most international adoptees adapt well to their new families and are well adjusted. The findings are published in the May 25 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The positive message is that these children tend to do extremely well, especially when you consider the circumstances from which they came," researcher Femmie Juffer, PhD, tells WebMD. "Most of these children missed out on a lot of attention and a lot of love early on."

Not All Good News

Juffer and colleague Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, PhD, of Leiden University in the Netherlands did find that internationally adopted children were about twice as likely to seek treatment for depression and other mental health problems as children being raised by birth parents.

International adoptees also tended to have identity issues earlier than other adopted children, at ages 6, 7, or 8, rather than in adolescence.

Most of the adoptions included in the studies were interracial, and Juffer says it makes sense that children who don't look like their parents and many of their friends will have identity issues before kids who do.

"Parents need to be alert to signals that their child is questioning his or her identity or that they are feeling different," she says. "This may come much earlier than they think it will. The child could be more withdrawn or he may be exhibiting more aggressive behavior."

'Adoption Nation'

More than 300,000 children from other countries have been adopted by parents in the U.S. over the last three decades, and international adoptions have more than doubled in the last 15 years.

Roughly a quarter of the children brought to the U.S. from other countries come from China, with another quarter coming from Russia. The rest come from other countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and Central America.

Because of the Chinese government's one-child policy, most of the adoptions from that country are girls.

Adoption researcher Adam Pertman tells WebMD that the boom in international adoptions is largely responsible for a fundamental shift in the way Americans perceive families.

Pertman wrote the book Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America, and he is executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

"This is pretty monumental," he says. "Our ideas about what families are, of what they should look like, and how they form are literally changing every day. And the impact goes way beyond the family."

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