Educated Wealthy Parents Have Problems in Adoption – Say What?!?

Dawn Davenport


In an interview on a Creating a Family Radio Show Dr. Richard Barth, Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, said something that startled me.

The more educated the parents and higher their socioeconomic level, the greater degree of problems with their adoptions.

Do educated middle class or wealthy parents struggle more with adoption issues in parenting?

Hmmm… As a BS, MS, JD educated, middle-income adoptive mom that certainly gave me pause.

“Problems” were defined as psychiatric placements (in a Swedish study) and adoption dissolutions (in a US study). In short, what we used to call “blue collar” families are a more robust adoptive placement for kids.

Why Do Wealthier More Educated Adoptive Parents Struggle

According to Dr. Barth, an explanation for these research findings is that people in higher socioeconomic levels are accustomed to hiring out services rather than doing things themselves. The business of parenting, especially parenting kids who have experienced abuse and neglect, is very personal and very time-consuming. These families are perhaps less accustomed to putting in the time and effort themselves.

I can see some problems with his reasoning. First, I have some trouble making generalizations based on income and education. Also, other studies have indicated that adoptive parents as a whole are better-educated and put more effort into raising their kids, as measured by things like eating family meals together, providing the child with books, and getting involved in their schools.

mom with sone and daughter smiling at apple ipad

Parenting is all about relationships and relationships take time–sometimes lots of time.

In fact, higher income could lead to more time for one parent to devote to the child/children to meet the needs of the child and to take them to their various appointments and activities. It also seems to reason that higher educational levels could lead to greater willingness to prepare pre-adoption and continue to get educated post-adoption, although I would be the first to admit that educational level does not always reflect the desire to get educated.

However, putting my defensiveness aside, I have to admit that Dr. Barth was quoting real research findings whether I like them or not. This research provides us with valuable information on how to prepare ourselves.

What is the Take Home Message?

All children take time, but kids who have experienced abuse and neglect, prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs, or poor prenatal environments take more time. Parenting these children is not a task that we can delegate. Oh sure, therapists can and should be hired, doctors seen, and babysitters used, but the day in day out job of parenting must fall to us.

Listen to this great interview on the Long Term Effects of Prenatal Exposure.


Parenting is all about relationships and relationships take time–sometimes lots of time.

The question we must ask before we adopt is, do we have the time? Are we willing to alter our life and lifestyle to make the time?

Have you adopted a child who experienced abuse/neglect/prenatal exposure? Did the amount of time involved surprise you?

I LOVED this interview with Dr. Richard Barth, Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and a prodigious adoption researcher and author. He was full of insight and presented it in such a matter of fact, easy to understand way.


Originally published in 2016; Updated in 2019
Image credit: marcus eubanks

24/07/2019 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 12 Comments

12 Responses to Educated Wealthy Parents Have Problems in Adoption – Say What?!?

  1. Avatar Angela says:

    As a post-adoption consultant, I have to agree that education is indeed a factor. More so if it is a highly-educated stay at home mother. Karen Foli has found higher education is a factor as well in depression after adoption. However, I don’t see it as an issue about hiring out the work of parenting. It’s an expectation of the self issue. “I am successful; therefore my parenting will be successful.” When the child’s behavior or progress does not reflect positively on the parent and reinforce their self-image and identity as a career parent, the parent may shut down or scapegoat the child. It’s ten times worse when the child is responsive to the spouse.

  2. Avatar Julie Yelverton says:

    I wonder if blue collar families have better support systems than more highly educated families. Highly educated people are likely to have had to move away from their families and communities in order to get their education. Then after finishing school, they are likely to have to move somewhere else to start their career. Very specialized careers are likely to require a long-distance move with every change in employment. Not having family and long-term commuunity around while raising challenging children is really rough. I can totally believe that it would lead to less successful families.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Those are excellent points, regarding how mobile educated families might be to follow career opportunities. Thanks for sharing!

    • Avatar Angela says:

      Support system accessibility is key but we have found a couple of trends. Good but small support systems like immediate family are quickly burned out when utilized for too many support roles. For example, if a parent’s mother is their respite and the person vented too, they can become part of scapegoating the child. Then when the parent invests in new approaches to the child or therapy, their parent is now jaded. We encourage families to use this tool and not double up on roles with any one person.

      The other trend is support systems identifying with the child. We all know family systems work in a reciprocal way and these crises situations are complex, but sometimes support people, on the outside looking in, see the parents as the problem and become frustrated with their opinion, venting, scapegoating of the child. Then, the parents feel abandoned because no one is “on their side.”

      • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

        I’ve heard great things about the Circle of Support tools. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts on the trends. Are you part of our online support community? You’d likely enjoy sharing and learning over there – it’s a great tool for parents! Come check us out:

  3. Avatar Beth says:

    Looking forward to listening to the interview. I’ve got a BS and my husband has a JD and I would consider ourselves middle class, and we’ve got two adopted daughters. When I first read the headline my first rationale was different than his. I find that sometime more education can be a disadvantage to a parent. with enough internet surfing you can totally convince yourself that your child has problem x, or syndrome y. I have found that less educated parents have a greater tendency to just say my child does x y strange things it that’s okay. Where more educated parents especially adoptive parents, need to know why and be able to change a behavior rather than just accepting it. In other words more education can sometimes lead us to see problems where others wouldn’t.

  4. Avatar amorowa says:

    I must agree – the level of your personal involvement and copious amount of time that it truly takes to therapeutically parent a child of trauma is so important and you must ask yourself those questions before you adopt “Do I have the time? Am I willing and prepared to alter my life and lifestyle to make the time?”. I have seen such better results with behavioral issues and bridging developmental delays giving them that consistent foundation and presence. As much as a break is desired, daycare and babysitters were not the answer in my case and I saw so much better results with me – what these children need most to heal especially in the beginning in you, the forever parent. I believe the sacrifice of putting that in for at least the first year will yield so much better results and if you do that, you will slowly begin to see them actually step out, leaving the fear, etc. behind more and more. THEN you will be able to gradually get them more involved in caregivers outside of you and it won’t cause constant set-backs that you have to work through to bring them back to the progress level that they were at prior.

  5. Avatar Anon AP says:

    I have to admit that I haven’t listened to the story yet. My first question was whether they accounted for differences in training. Adopting from foster care vs. agency DIA vs. private DIA have very different profiles wrt training and preparation. Would that even out the data?

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