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