Are Studies of Adoptees Valid?

by Barbara Free, M.A., LPCC, LADAC, MAC

     Within the past several years, numerous studies have indicated that a greater percentage of adoptees show up in psychological treatment settings than their percentage in the general population. These studies have shown correlations, not proof of causes, and the validity of many of the studies may be questionable. Reports of such studies in the press generally have not focused on what the underlying issues were that were being treated, for instance.
     Now, a new study by DiAnne Borders, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, dismisses those studies by saying, “Previous researchers simply found what they were looking for...” Her study, on the other hand, “asked groups of adoptive and biological parents to evaluate their children’s development and found that they rated their offspring essentially the same. Non-adopted kids were just as likely to be unhappy or anxious, to lose their temper (sic), or to bully their classmates. At, the same time, adopted children were judged as cheerful, sociable and responsible as their non-adopted peers.” This is reported in the February 1999 issue of Psychology Today.
     Aside from the fact that adopted children are not technically the “offspring” of their adoptive parents, there may be other questionable facts about this study. One might ask how old the children were who were rated, how the parents were selected for this study, why the children were not asked about themselves, and how the researcher could expect parents’ ratings to be objective, accurate, or valid. How is this different from what she accuses other researchers of, “confirming their own bias (sic)” in drawing conclusions from a poorly designed study? One might also want to know Dr. Borders’ own adoption connections, or lack thereof. What was her particular reason in conducting this study?
     There is currently a strong political movement to make adoption easier (for adoptive parents), quicker, and to make it easier to terminate biological parents’ rights. The stated reasons for these proposed changes in policy are to get children out of the foster system at earlier ages (there is also an assumption that children past infancy are “unadoptable,” or only adoptable by second-choice parents), but there seems to be a resurgence in the movement of seeing biological parents as evil, threatening, and uncaring. Children are literally being advertised in the newspaper as if they were dogs at the pound. Interestingly, there seems to be no move to make the process of adoption cheaper, other than a new tax credit, which seems like a reward for rescuing such children. No one seems to be proposing financial help for on-going family counseling for adoptive families. And should these children be expected to be grateful for being so rescued?
     One may question, finally, if this new study is somehow part of the movement to once again pretend that there is no difference between adoptive families and biologically related families, and to discourage searches and reunions, and open adoptions. The study, as it is reported in Psychology Today, made no distinctions between open and closed adoptions, cross-cultural adoptions, adoption at birth or later on, or several other variables that could significantly alter the validity of the findings.

Excerpted from the April 1999 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 1999 Operation Identity