International Adoption Research Paper Starter

International Adoption

(Research Starters)

Adoption has existed since the ancient cultures. There are multiple reasons for adoption, which include preserving the family line, offering children to childless couples, and supporting children who have been orphaned. The relatively recent phenomenon of international adoption exists for similar reasons, which will be explored in this article. Both sending and receiving countries impacted by adoption will be discussed, and applications and issues surrounding the impacts of international adoption will be presented. For examples, the impacts of ethnic identity, economic, social, and attitudinal circumstances and resulting practices will be explored. An overview of potential issues will also be offered.

Keywords Adoption; Birth Country; Ethnic Identity; International Adoption; Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; Transracial Adoption



History of International Adoption

Kadushin (1980) indicates that adoption has existed from ancient days in every culture. In previous cultures the main purpose of adoption was to offer childless couples the ability to raise male heirs in order to preserve families (Sokoloff, 1993). Hollinger (1991) pointed out that the family line could avoid dying out by adopting abandoned offspring. However, several other reasons support adoption. Sokoloff (1993) writes that one major interest in adoption, especially infant adoptions in the United States since the 1920s is the changed perception that environment, not genetics, is one of the primary factors in child development and outcomes. From a global perspective, approximately 151 million children have lost at least one parent, and millions of other children are defenseless and vulnerable because of poverty, conflict, and disease (Voigt & Brown, 2013).

Daughterty-Bailey (2006) revealed that in 2001, an estimated 34,000 children from over 50 countries were adopted on an international scale, reflecting a rise of 79% from previous statistics (UNICEF, 2003). However, between 2004 and 2011, international adoptions in the top twenty-three nations declined, from 45,299 to 23,626; in the United States the number dropped from its 2004 peak of 22,884 to 8,668 in 2012. The decline is partly related to stricter international adoption laws in countries such as Russia and China. Between 2003 and 2011, approximately 160,000 children have been adopted internationally into the USA (Voigt & Brown, 2013).

The Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 were international policies that advanced the practices that guided international adoption principles worldwide. Moreover, international adoption from developing countries seems to be an increasing trend in adoptions, not only in the United States, but also in North America and Europe (Freundlich, 2002). To better understand the phenomenon of international adoption it is highly important to understand the ethnic identity, economic, social, and attitudinal circumstances that impact adoption practices (Silk, 1990).

Ethnic Identity

One of the major ethnic groups impacted by international adoption is orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, which has orphaned 12.3 million children; orphan numbers were projected to rise to nearly 20 million by 2010 (UNAIDS, UNICEF, & USAID, 2004). Overall infection rates for AIDS reached 38 percent in some areas (UNAIDS, 2004). Arguably, the AIDS pandemic has impacted young children the most. Nearly, 80 percent of the world's AIDS orphans come from this area and are then placed for adoption (Roby & Shaw, 2006, p. 203). Many researchers have indicated that racial and cultural identity for children in the adoption experience is very important (Freundlich, 2000; Kim, 1978; Melone, 1976; Serbin, 1997). As a result, transracial adoptions have been disapproved of by some child advocates in the United States. The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) vehemently opposed transracial adoption in the early 1970s, resulting in a dramatic decline in adoptions from Africa (Carter-Black, 2002; Hollingsworth, 1997).

From this perspective, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) policy declaration on adoption and foster care states: "the placement of choice should be within the child's family. If no relatives are available, every effort should be made to place a child in a home with foster parents of a similar racial and ethnic background to the child's family" (NASW, 2003). Arguably, one major issue among international adoptive families is the sustainability of an adopted child's cultural heritage and ethnicity. To support ethnic sustainability, parents are encouraged by multiple sources, including adoption agencies, other adoptive parents, and adoption family support groups that ethnic and cultural information should be transmitted in order to educate parents regarding their child's birth culture (Pertman, 2000). In order to understand potential ethnic identity issues in other countries, additional research should be done in this area.


It should be noted that issues pertinent to adoption can never be separated from class, income, or race. In many cases, parents are unable to afford to spend large sums of money to adopt children when their parents are unable to care for them. One researcher stated, "official data are unhelpful, but the broad outlines are clear enough. Poor countries export children to rich ones, black parents to white, poor parents to better off" (Pascall, 1984, p. 16). In reviewing adoption policies, additional work should be considered in designing a system that constructs homes for all children that meets their material and emotional needs. Not only would this create a fair and affordable adoption system, but the development of policies to provide families with additional support should also be created that would help care for dependent children.

Social Impacts

From a social perspective it can be argued that international adoption is an exploitative act that takes advantage of unjust social structures in the "sending" countries from which children are offered for adoption. Many times, the biological families have not had the access to freedoms that children from advantaged countries enjoy. On the other hand, alternative perspectives indicate that families who choose to adopt internationally are making a deliberate choice to reach out to a child in need, rather than vie for the limited number of healthy infants available domestically. Second, international adoption offers a way of solving poverty problems and institutionalization for children who may be otherwise subjected to horrible injustices. Finally, international adoption potentially offers opportunities for children traumatized by their circumstances to grow up in a safe environment (Hollingsworth, 2003, p. 210). Additional research should be done in this area to better understand the social impacts on both sending and receiving countries as well as potential long term effects.

Attitudinal Issues

From a behavioral perspective, a small group of international adoptees demonstrate difficulties at home or in school (Bimmel, Juffer, Van IJzendoorn, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2003; Howard, Smith, & Ryan, 2004; Verhulst, 2000). Moreover, in a comparison with non-adopted children, international adoptees seem to have more behavioral problems at home and in school, and many are referred to mental health services twice as often as with non-adopted children (Juffer & Van IJzendoorn, 2005). Juffer (2006) indicated that children adopted from Sri Lanka and Colombia seemed to have more behavior problems than domestic adoptees. Moreover, children in middle childhood seemed to understand the concept of adoption and this awareness made these children especially vulnerable to stress. As a result of these stressors, it can be argued that parents and internationally adopted children should be adequately supported (p. 20).

Other research that examined the impact of transracial adoption by white parents indicated that beginning in the 1970s heated criticism occurred regarding the placement of black children with white adoptive parents. The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) argued against transracial adoption on the grounds that white adoptive parents were incapable of "teaching their Black children how to resist and undercut potentially devastating and ubiquitous racial stereotypes and racist ideology" (Patton, 2000, p. 13). Moreover, adult Korean adoptees have also recently begun to speak out, some critically, about their experiences being raised in white communities (Cox, 1999; Robinson, 2002; Trenka, 2003). All of these factors indicate the many complexities in international and transracial adoption.


Two countries where research has been done regarding the implications of international adoption are Korea and China. Historical applications, a statistical overview, and legal implications are presented.


Since the mid-1950s, there have been more than 210,000 adoptions in Korea. Approximately 150,000 children were adopted by families in outside of Korea, and an additional 60,000 children were adopted by Korean families. These adoptions began as part of the effort to provide permanent homes for Korean War veterans (Seo, Cho, Park, & Ahn, 2004). Simultaneously, Korea went through dramatic economic, social, and cultural transformation. Unprecedented economic development occurred during this time. Since the early 1970s, the per capita gross national income has increased from below $300 to around $22,000 in 2012 (Korea National Statistical Office, 2005; World Bank, 2013). According to Lee (2007), Korea has "now developed...

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