Research on Health of Adoptive Families

Dawn Davenport


A recent study reveals a lot about adoption in America and the health of adoptive families.

A recent study reveals a lot about adoption in America and the health of adoptive families.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I opened the newly released National Survey of Adoptive Parents.  I felt my geeky heart begin to flutter in ways usually reserved for Brad Pitt and Matthew McConaughey when I saw the words “first-ever survey ” combined in the same sentence with “representative information about the characteristics, adoption experiences, and well-being of adopted children and their families in the United States”.  Oh yes, when we get the power and force of the US government and their money behind a survey like this, we are definitely in shock and awe territory.  So my friends, pull up a chair and enjoy the feast.

The survey was part of the National Survey of Children’s Health and was based on information obtained with a sample of adoptive parents in a 30-minute telephone survey.  In 2007, about 2 percent of all U.S. children in the US were adopted. Although the percentage is small, their actual numbers are sizable– nearly 1.8 million children under the age of 18.   Children adopted by step parents were excluded from this number.  The survey was more extensive than I could should cover in this blog, so I’ve cherry picked the information that was the most interesting to me.  You can thank me for my brevity later; or better yet, just send money.

Who Is Adopted and Who is Adopting

Twenty-five percent of adopted kids in the US were adopted internationally, 38% were private domestic adoptions, and 37% were adopted from foster care.  The racial distribution of children varies by type of adoption, with children adopted from foster care most likely to be black (35 percent) and those adopted internationally least likely to be black (3 percent). Fifty percent of children adopted privately from the United States are white, while only 19% of children adopted internationally are white.  Not surprisingly, 59% of internationally adopted kids are Asian. The percentage of adopted children who are Hispanic does not vary by type of adoption.  You can see a chart of this data in the report at Figure 6.

Transracial Adoptions

Transracial adoptions have been in the news as of late because of the media focus on the adoption of Haitian children and because of the rising popularity of Ethiopian adoption, but transracial adoptions both with international and domestic adoptions have been around for awhile.  Forty percent of all adoptions in the US are transracial, but the breakout between international and domestic is striking.   Eighty-four percent of children adopted internationally are being raised by a family of a different race, while “only” 28% of adoptions from foster care and 21% of private domestic adoptions are transracial.

Perhaps not surprisingly considering the cost of international and private domestic adoptions, adopted kids tend to live in more affluent and educated families.  Families that adopt from foster care have less money and education, but still 70% have education post high school and 25% have incomes exceeding four times the federal poverty threshold.  Adopted kids on the whole are about as likely to be raised by two married parents as the general population; however, 59% of kids adopted through a private domestic adoption are being raised by a single parent.

Many adopted children are being raised as only children.  In total 38% are the only child under the age of 18 in the house, but a whopping 48% of children adopted through private domestic adoption are only children.

How Are Adopted Kids Doing?

Physical Health

The majority of adopted children are healthy. Specifically, 85 percent of adopted children have parents who rated their health as “excellent” or “very good.”  Ninety-three percent of kids adopted internationally were rated “excellent” or “very good” in health, as compared to those adopted from foster care or privately from within the United States (81 and 84 percent, respectively).

Mental Health

Twelve percent of adopted children have ever been diagnosed with attachment disorder; however, 64% of those parents report having a “very warm and close” relationship with their child.  Only 4 percent of adopted children both have been diagnosed with attachment disorder and have a parent who reported the relationship as not being very warm and close.  The survey did not ask about the severity of the attachment issues.

Fourteen percent of adopted children ages 6 and older have been diagnosed with moderate or severe ADD/ADHD.  Eight percent of adopted children ages 2 and older have moderate or severe behavior or conduct problems, according to their parents. Parents of 2 percent of adopted children report their child has been diagnosed with depression and currently has symptoms that are moderate or severe.

A really cool finding is that adopted children are more likely than children in the general population to have parents who read to them, sing to them, and tell them stories.  They are also more likely than children in the general population to eat meals with their families.

The Process

Nearly nine out of ten adoptive parents were satisfied with their adoption attorney or agency; and more than nine out of ten believe that the agency disclosed all important information prior to the adoption. Children adopted from foster care are slightly less likely to have parents who were satisfied with the adoption agency or attorney, but the majority also felt that all important information was shared prior to the adoption.

A cautionary statistic, at least from my perspective is that three out of four adopted children have parents who have some prior experience with or connection to adoption  friends or relatives who’ve adopted or they themselves were adopted.  Whether we like it or not, we influence other people’s attitudes about adoption.  And last but certainly not least, 87 percent of adoptive parents say they would “definitely” make the same decision to adopt again if given the chance.  But heck, I could have told you that.

Image credit: Duncan Brown

06/04/2010 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 11 Comments

11 Responses to Research on Health of Adoptive Families

  1. Avatar Lori, Open Adoption Examiner says:

    Thanks, Dawn for sorting through all that data for the salient points! Worth a few dimes, at least.

    I’m curious how some of the mental health issues compare with the population as a whole.

    Thanks for the link, too.

  2. Avatar Janice Short says:

    The center for disease control and prevention has great statistical data on the diagnosis and treatment of children in the US with ADD and it’s three different types it is portrayed in kids in the US. It looks like the average is higher for children adopted through foster care. It did state that they have correlated it’s prevalence to be higher in children exposed to drug/alcohol use inutero, low birth weight…and a few other things. This may be part of why these children have a higher rate of this disorder.
    Interesting read. I’m looking forward to reading the whole article myself.
    Thanks Dawn for all you do. I really look forward to your emails in my inbox every week.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Janice, thanks for your kind words. Yes, I suspect that in fact the prevalence of ADHD is higher due to in utero exposure and also because there is a genetic connection. I know that some experts I’ve spoken with have said that they believe that the incidence of ADHD is higher in adopted children at least in part because they think that women and men who have unintended pregnancies that may result in adoption are more likely to have ADHD; therefore, their children would have a higher likelihood of ADHD. I don’t remember seeing any research on this, but it makes sense.

  3. Avatar Amy McManus says:

    Thanks Dawn – this was great to read!

  4. Avatar Eva Lee says:

    Thanks for your post!

  5. This was so awesome, Dawn, thank you!!

  6. Avatar Wishing4One says:

    This is really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Avatar Amy says:

    This was really fun to read! As someone who was adopted at birth and who is now trying to adopt a toddler, I have long wondered about how adoption affects people. I have talked to many other adoptees, and everyone’s experience is so different. Because of this, it is really difficult to get any sense of how adoption affects most people. I have wondered and worried about how adoption might affect the toddler we are trying to adopt, knowing that I can share my own adoption experiences with him, but also knowing his own experiences will be unique.

    Another reason I am excited about this report is, for people wishing to adopt, the results will be powerful information to give to family and friends who are skeptical or unsupportive, believing all adopted kids to be troubled and messed up. I hope this great first effort will eventually be followed up with research that is more narrow in scope. It would be really interesting to know, for instance, how people adopted in the 70’s compare to people adopted in the 2000’s. Or how mental health is affected as a result of how and when adoptees discovered they were adopted. Those kinds of more specific questions would be fascinating and would help guide the raising of adopted children.

    Thank you, Dawn, for summarizing this report. And thank you for everything you do. I cannot tell you how helpful all your work has been to me!! I have often felt so in the dark throughout our adoption process, feeling like my only option was to blindly follow the instructions of our adoption agency. It is such an overwhelming process (we are adopting internationally) and it can be very difficult to find accurate, concise information. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  8. Avatar Geri says:

    We’re obviously the “odd” family as our oldest child has both an attachment disorder and AD/HD!! But we would be one of the families that reads together, tells stories, sings together and eats together!! We also make it a point to play games (board games) at least once a week and play outside together. I wonder how this compares as my sister (who lives in Europe) has two biological children never played with her children when she visited here. When I tried to play with her children, they didn’t know what to do with me!

    Thanks for this information. I found it very, very interesting!

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