“History of Early Neglect and Middle Childhood Social Competence: An Adoption Study” by Dr. Tony Effect of Initial Rejecting Behavior, Age, & Neglect on Emotional CompetenceXing Tan. Adoption Quarterly, 9(4), 57-72 (2006) 

Early Neglect, China adoption, Initial Rejecting Behaviors Toward the Adoptive Parents

This study examined 1110 girls (6 to 8 years old at the time of the study) adopted from China before the age of two to determine whether history of neglect in infancy was associated with middle childhood competence. Competence was measured by participation and performance in Extracurricular Activities, quality of Social Relations, and Academic Achievement. Of the 1110 girls, 31 experienced neglect pre-adoption; the remaining 84 had not.

I wondered how this adoption research would determine “neglect” since this information is seldom available from the adoption records. To overcome this problem the adoptive parents were asked to report whether they felt that their children were neglected (yes, no, not sure). For parents who chose yes, they were then asked to substantiate their claim. Acceptable evidences included professional assessment and conclusions of severe delays in areas of physical, cognitive and social-emotional development, unmet basic needs (e.g., strap marks on thighs indicating that child was tied to the chair for extended period of time, untreated ear infections). Those adopted Chinese girls whose parents did not provide evidence to substantiate their claim of neglect were excluded, so were those whose parents chose “not sure”.

History of neglect significantly predicted lower scores on Extracurricular Activity, Academic Achievement and Overall Competence. Age at adoption did not affect scores. Neglect did not lower the scores on Social Relations.

I was particularly interested in this study because it is the first that I know of that looks at initial rejecting behaviors toward the adoptive parents. We all hear of the situations where a newly adopted child has strongly rejecting behavior towards a parent. It is heart breaking for the parent and for the child. I have wondered about the long term impacts of this behavior and when I interviewed Dr. Tan on the Aug. 6, 2008 Creating a Family show he mentioned this study.

The first interesting result from this study was that initial rejecting behavior towards a parent was not greater in those girls that experienced neglect pre-adoption. The second interesting finding was that initial rejecting behaviors predicted significantly lower Social Relation score in middle childhood (6-8 years old). This seemed to indicate that early relationship with the mother might serve as a learning model in the adopted girls’ subsequent socialization. On the other hand, the mother’s perception of rejection from the child might also influence her subsequent parenting. This type of analysis was beyond the scope of thisadoption study. The study apparently did not distinguish between rejecting behavior toward the adoptive mother or toward the adoptive father. I look forward to subsequent analysis and study, which I believe is underway.

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