New Study Looks at
Adult Adoptees and Culture

      We have received a summary of a new large study, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, called “Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity in Adoption.”
     This study, conducted by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, looked at online surveys completed by 468 adopted adults, making it the largest study ever conducted of adopted adults in the U.S., focusing on identity.
     For the purposes of comparison, the summary paper concentrates on 179 respondents born in South Korea and adopted by two white parents, and 156 Caucasian respondents born in the U.S. and adopted by two white parents. Those two groups, which constituted over 70 percent of the respondents, were chosen in order to make two fairly homogenous groups for comparison purposes.
     South Koreans do make up the largest group of internationally adopted persons in the U.S., and intercountry adoption from Korea has a longer history than from any other nation. One in ten Korean American citizens came to the U.S. through adoption.
     Although this particular group is featured in the study, a review of literature, as well as the Institute records, indicates that many of the observations and conclusions in the paper may also apply to other domestic and internationally adopted persons and families.
     The study used several standardized measures about family functioning, ethnic identification, socialization, adoptive parent-child relationships, and current psychological well-being. There were questions about background, challenges in identity formation, and experiences or services that were most helpful in developing a positive adoption identity.
     Similar to many other studies of adoption, the respondents were, by definition, a self-selected sample, in that they chose to answer the survey and were aware of it in the first place.
     The study is titled "Beyond Culture Camp" because they recognize that parents adopting across race and culture, and the professionals who guide them, have developed mechanisms such as culture camps and festivals to help children maintain connections to their culture and countries of origin. The study indicated that such activities are important but are not enough in and of themselves for an adoptee to develop a healthy, positive sense of self. The major findings of the study include:
•     Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults.
•     Race/ethnicity is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for those adopted across color and culture.
•     Coping with discrimination is an important aspect of coming to terms with racial, ethnic identity for adoptees of color.
•     Discrimination based on adoption is a reality, but more so for white adoptees—who also report being somewhat less comfortable with their adoptive identity as adults than do their Korean counterparts.
•     Most transracial adoptees considered themselves white or wanted to be white as children.
•     Positive racial/ethnic identity development is most effectively facilitated by "lived" experiences such as travel to native country, attending racially diverse schools, and having role models of their own race/ ethnicity.
•     Contact with birth relatives, according to the white respondents, is the most helpful factor in achieving a positive adoptive identity.
•     Different factors predict comfort with adoptive and racial/ethnic identity for Korean and white adoptees.
     There are many surprising facts in this study. Of those in the study, 86% had taken steps to find birth families. Forty-nine percent of the Korean adoptees had searched, and 30% had had contact with birth relatives, despite the common assumption that internationally adopted persons, particularly Korean, have little access to information. For whites, 45% had contact with birth relatives.
     The Korean adoptees reported that their feelings of being discriminated against was more about their ethnicity, while the White adoptees reported discrimination (largely from extended family) was because of their adoptive status.
     The study makes several recommendations for parents and professionals, including:
•     Expand parental preparation and post-placement support for those adopting across race and culture.
•     Develop empirically based practices and resources to prepare transracially and transculturally adopted youth to cope with racial bias.
•     Promote laws, policies and practices that facilitate access to information for adopted individuals.
•     Educate parents, teachers, practitioners, the media and others about the realities of adoption to erase stigmas and stereotypes, minimize adoption-related discrimination, and provide children with more opportunities for positive development.
•     Increase research on the risk and protective factors that shape the adjustment of adoptees, especially those adopted transracially/culturally in the U.S. or abroad.
     This study is so important, many readers will want to read it in detail. Go to: www.adoptioninstitute.org for more information. Send your comments to us at O.I.!

Excerpted from the January 2010 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2010 Operation Identity