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The Informed Parent

The Cognitive And Emotional Outcome of Adopted Children

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Feb. 27, 2006

According to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry research has shown that the overall cognitive and emotional outcome of children who are adopted is quite favorable. A child's fate, however, highly depends on the child's pre-placement experience, as well as the age in which he is placed. Adoption may actually have a protective factor, especially when these children are placed in two-parent homes. These can be compared with the fate of children who are institutionalized, who remain with their mothers, or who are placed in foster placement and then returned to their mothers.

Despite the common belief that a better outcome is associated with earlier placement, research has shown that both boys and girls who are adopted are at an increased risk of behavior disorders. It does not seem to make a difference whether the child was adopted before age two or much later.

Happily, research shows that adoptive parents on the whole tend to have a deep attachment to their adopted child. This may be attributed to early adoption, which gives these parents an opportunity to form a storing early attachment. Children who are chosen at a later age, and especially boys, are more likely to have their placements disrupted. This may be due to later adopted children having been more traumatized from their early experiences. These children are more likely to have suffered prenatal malnutrition, drug or alcohol exposure, losses of biological or foster parents, social instability, or stigmatization.

Factors which appear to predict a positive adoptive outcome include:

  1. relatively young age at the time of placement
  2. the adoptive child being female
  3. the adopted child being placed with biological siblings
  4. adoption by the child's foster parents or a parent with storing parenting skills.

In our next article we will look at outcomes resulting from the more recent trend of nontraditional adoptive placements.

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