ArticlePDF Available

Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers of Children with Special Needs

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

• Summary: Intensive interviews were conducted with 14 adoptive mothers, which identified 16 challenges adoptive mothers face when adopting children with special needs. The purpose was to specify and understand the issues these mothers of special needs children present when seeking professional therapy. The intent was also to increase awareness for professionals working in the field of adoption. • Findings: Findings indicated that these adoptive mothers were faced with a broad range of issues relating to societal, health, emotional, family, financial, and child behavioral factors. The prevalence of these issues was not influenced by differing demographics, by ages of the children at the time of adoption, nor by the types of adoptions. • Applications: Adoptive mothering of special needs children is different from other mothering and needs to be recognized with its challenges. Post-adoption support services that adequately and financially meet the needs of these mothers and their families can help to build strong healthy adoptive families. In doing so, there is a strong potential for a decrease in the number of adoption disruptions and an increase in the level of adoption satisfaction.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Issues Facing Adoptive
Mothers of Children with
Special Needs
HEATHER FORBES AND SOPHIA F. DZIEGIELEWSKI
University of Central Florida, USA
Abstract
Summary: Intensive interviews were conducted with 14 adoptive
mothers, which identified 16 challenges adoptive mothers face when
adopting children with special needs. The purpose was to specify
and understand the issues these mothers of special needs children
present when seeking professional therapy. The intent was also to
increase awareness for professionals working in the field of
adoption.
Findings: Findings indicated that these adoptive mothers were faced
with a broad range of issues relating to societal, health, emotional,
family, financial, and child behavioral factors. The prevalence of
these issues was not influenced by differing demographics, by ages
of the children at the time of adoption, nor by the types of
adoptions.
Applications: Adoptive mothering of special needs children is
different from other mothering and needs to be recognized with its
challenges. Post-adoption support services that adequately and
financially meet the needs of these mothers and their families can
help to build strong healthy adoptive families. In doing so, there is a
strong potential for a decrease in the number of adoption disruptions
and an increase in the level of adoption satisfaction.
Keywords adoption adoptive mothers children special needs
Introduction
The typical scenario of a young married couple adopting an infant from birth
has been redefined and changed dramatically in the latter half of the 20th
century (Glidden, 1991). Historically, a traditional adoption was defined as ‘a
301
Journal of Social Work
3(3): 301–320
Copyright
© 2003
Sage Publications:
London,
Thousand Oaks,CA
and New Delhi
www.sagepublications.com
Articles
1468-0173[200312]3:3;301–320;039412
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 301
healthy infant placed with an infertile, middle-class, usually white couple’
(Rosenthal and Groze, 1990: 475). Today, however, adoptions can be charac-
terized from a much broader spectrum. Many children being adopted today are
not infants but are older children of various races being adopted from either
the public foster care system or orphanages overseas. In 1998, 36,000 of the
approximately 120,000 children adopted in the United States were adopted
from the public foster care system. In 1999, the number of immigrant visas
issued to orphans coming to the United States rose to 16,396 (National
Adoption Information Clearinghouse, n.d.). These two groups consist of many
children who have suffered abuse, abandonment, and/or neglect.
Due to a history of trauma, these children are considered ‘special needs’
and require special parenting once adopted into permanent homes. The term
special needs is often associated with children within the United States’ welfare
system. Each state’s specific criteria may vary slightly, but in general, these
children are identified as special needs because they meet one or more of the
following criteria: 8 years of age or older, emotionally handicapped, physically
handicapped, a member of a sibling group, minority heritage, mentally handi-
capped, history of physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect (Florida Adminis-
trative Code, 2002; Groze, 1996). Previous studies using this term have also
identified the mental health issues of special needs children to cover a broad
spectrum. These include oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct
disorder (CD), reactive attachment disorder (RAD), post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), and/or depression (Federici, 1998; Forbes and Dziegielewski,
2002; Hughes, 1997; Keck and Kupecky, 1995; Smith et al., 2000). For the
purposes of this article, the use of the term special needs is used to identify
children in adoptive homes who meet one or more of the above criteria.
Due to their trauma histories, special needs children can be difficult to
parent. Adoptive parents of these children do not start with a clean slate; they
adopt not only the child of the present, but also the experiences of the child’s
past. The experiences imbedded in these children can make it difficult for them
to fully enmesh themselves into their new families, making adoptive parenting
a serious challenge for the adoptive parents (Smith and Howard, 1999).
Research in the area of infant adoption and special needs adoption has
focused primarily on two parts of the adoption triad: the birthmother and the
adopted child. Numerous articles and books have been written on the birth-
mother’s experiences. Studies have focused on the adopted child and the child’s
adjustment, characteristics and behavior (Priel et al., 2000). However, less
information is known about the outcomes of how adoptive parents function
(Priel et al., 2000). Most studies are centered on the problems of the adoptee
alone with solutions centered on how the adoptive parent can help resolve the
problems, not on the independent issues the adoptive parent may be experi-
encing (Wegar, 2000).
The purpose of this article is to identify and understand the challenges
adoptive parents of special needs children will face that extend beyond the
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
302
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 302
scope of normal parenting. Since the adoptive mother is generally at the epi-
center of the child’s negativity (Benton, 2000; Keck and Kupecky, 1995;
Thomas, 2000), she will remain the focus of this article. Furthermore, the intent
of this study is to increase awareness by professionals, particularly caseworkers,
adoption facilitators, therapists, lawyers, and up the ‘food-chain’ to adoption
administrators responsible for policy decision making. It is their ethical
responsibility to bring recognition and understanding to the adoptive mother’s
identified challenges. Current research is sparse and, to date, there has not been
a comprehensive study to explore and identify these specific issues facing
adoptive mothers of special needs children.
Issues in Adoption of Special Needs Children
Although adoptive mothers may face many of the same child rearing issues as
biological mothers, forming a family through adoption is different (Smith and
Howard, 1999). Adoptive mothers of special needs children often find that the
adoption alters the balance of the family system and results in stress and dis-
equilibrium, sometimes to the extent that the adoption is disrupted (where the
child is returned to foster care). Rosenthal (1993) evaluated previous studies
on the disruption rate for older special needs adoptions and found disruptions
to range between 10 and 15 percent. Research shows that less than 1 percent
of infant adoptions disrupt (National Adoption Information Clearinghouse,
n.d.), demonstrating that the issues facing these infant adoptive parents are
significantly less. Thus, this research will focus on special needs adoptions
where potential stressors are more prevalent.
Stigmatization of Adoptive Motherhood
Social stigma of adoption has a long history in our society, yet it was not until
1964 that one of the first studies by H. D. Kirk, Shared Fate: A Theory of
Adoption and Mental Health, demonstrated the existence of disparaging
community attitudes toward adoptive kinship (Wegar, 2000). Today, this view
continues as other studies such as the one conducted in 1997 by the Evan B.
Donaldson Adoption Institute continue to support the view that many Ameri-
cans still consider adoption as a second best to having children by birth (Wegar,
2000). This prevailing mindset continues to leave adoptive parents to experi-
ence social stigmatization in their everyday lives (Miall, 2000).
It is hypothesized that much of this stigmatization can be traced back to the
mid-1940s when adoption workers shifted their focus from the child onto the
adoptive mother. Gaining support from early psychodynamic theories,
adoption was related to ‘the negative psychological effect of childlessness on an
adoptive mother’s capacity to fully afford the adopted child her maternal love
... [pointing to] . . . the narcissistic mortification of her inferiority as a woman’
(Wegar, 1997: 81). This view of adoptive mothers has persisted and remained a
part of the adoption equation. DiGiulio (1988) writes that the adoptees’
Forbes & Dziegielewski: Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
303
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 303
emotional problems continue to be correlated to the adoptive mothers’ lack of
self-acceptance, unrealistic expectations, and latent hostility towards the
adoptee.
Some authors report that adoptive mother status in our culture does not
measure up to biological motherhood. Miall (2000: 364), who interviewed
infertile adoptive mothers in 1988, identified three significant themes: (1)
because a biological tie is assumed to be important for bonding and love,
adoptive families are considered second best; (2) because of their unknown
genetic past, adopted children are viewed as second rate; (3) because they are
not biologically related to their children, adoptive parents are not considered
to be real parents.
Miall (2000) identified that two-thirds of the adoptive mothers interviewed
were negatively affected by the dominant society belief that adoptive mother-
hood is inferior. An adoptive mother, Jana Wolff, writes about her adoption
experience and how she did not ‘fit-in’ with other biological mothers: ‘By
adopting, I was not a full-fledged mother in their eyes. I hadn’t paid the price
of pregnancy, hadn’t earned the badge of labor or . . . delivery, and would
forever be an outsider – an associate member at best’ (Wolff, 1997: 95).
The United States legal system reinforces this stigmatization when an
adoption is legally finalized. After finalization, the adoptive parent is asked to
apply for a new birth certificate, implying that ‘the adopted child was “reborn”
as the child of the new family, with a new identity and a new identification in
the form of a birth certificate, executed exactly as if the adoptee had been born
to the adoptive parents’ (Pavao, 1998: 93). Hence, the birth certificate names
the mother of the child as the adoptive mother, implying that the adoptive
mother gave birth to this child. This modeling of adoption laws and practices
in imitation of biology reinforces to the adoptive mother that adoption is
inferior to biological parenting (Bartholet, 1993). It reflects society’s bias and
attitudes towards adoptive families (Pavao, 1998). Whereas this birth certificate
gives the adoptive mother equal legal status, it is also stating that in order to
have this equal legal status, a mother must be recognized as a birth mother.
Infertility
While some mothers adopt due to medical conditions other than infertility, a
large percentage of mothers come to adopt because of infertility struggles.
Infertility has a stigma attached to it and this stigma of infertility can haunt the
adoptive mother from the first stages of the adoption process to well beyond
the finalization of adoption. Society values fertility and considers childbearing
to be the principal source of mature femininity (Wegar, 1997). Some adoption
workers believed the adoptive mother’s resolution of infertility was the most
important precondition for the readiness to adopt. Further through the
adoption journey, infertile adoptive mothers often hear comments such as
‘Once you adopt, you’re sure to get pregnant and have a child of your own.
Even as the adoptive child becomes a secure and familiar part of the adopted
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
304
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 304
family, adoptive mothers often experience contradictory messages from social
service agencies, receiving comments such as ‘You are their real parents. When
will you tell them you aren’t?’ (Miall, 1996: 310).
Grief/Loss Issues
Adoptive mothers of special needs children in particular, go through their own
grieving process. They may experience feelings of shock, denial, anger, depres-
sion, and physical symptoms of distress and guilt. The adoptive mother’s dream
of the child she wished for or expected are soon replaced by the realities of her
new child. After a brief honeymoon period, the adoptive mother of a special
needs child may experience a shocking realization that her new child is
unhealthy, either physically or emotionally. Despite the information she was
provided prior to the adoptive placement, many adoptive mothers cannot
comprehend the full realm of the behaviors and difficulties of the child prior to
placement. Consequently, the mothers may experience being in shock and
having feelings of bewilderment and numbness. They may then start making
excuses for the child’s behavior and deny having a child with serious issues.
After living with a child who is unresponsive to the parents, anger and rage can
often surface. As the anger is not received or responded to by the child in
appropriate ways, many times the anger is then turned inward and adoptive
mothers can be left feeling depressed and in a state of isolation and despair. As
the stress continues, physical symptoms may develop such as ulcers, headaches,
nervousness, lack of sleep, shortness of breath, digestive problems, lack of
appetite, or uncontrollable eating. The adoptive mother may discover feelings
of guilt for not truly loving her adoptive child and for feeling ambivalent or
angry towards her child (Acord, n.d.).
Other loss issues that may further complicate the grieving process include:
(1) the adoptive mother, whether fertile or not, accepting the loss of not having
a biological child that reflects her genetic make-up (Wolff, 1997); (2) adjusting
to living with a new child in the home, particularly a special needs child; (3)
accepting the loss of the way the home used to function prior to the adoption;
and (4) feeling the need to process through the loss of not being the child’s
birthmother. In cases of special needs children with a negative history, the
adoptive parent many times mourns the loss of not being available to protect
and nurture the child in the way he or she needed the parent to do. Therefore,
the mother can experience grief for the neglect, abandonment, and/or abuse the
special needs child suffered prior to her care.
Extended Family Issues
Many times the biases of society are as strong, if not stronger, within the nucleus
of the immediate family and extended family. Adoption means adding to a
family children who do not share the same genetic make-up. As adoptive
mothers begin to integrate their adopted children into the entire family social
system, issues of rejection and discrimination, whether overt or passive, can
Forbes & Dziegielewski: Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
305
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 305
become stressors for them. Pavao (1998) stresses the importance of educating
the extended family about adoption issues and feelings that may surface and
including them as part of the pre-adoptive process for families. Rosenthal and
Groze (1990) found that the approval of extended family members was directly
correlated to the success of an adoptive placement. Conversely, Rosenthal
wrote in a later paper that a key predictor of increased risk for adoption disrup-
tion is ‘low levels of support from relatives or friends’ (Rosenthal, 1993: 81).
Therefore, it is important to realize that negative support from the extended
family can work to undermine the legitimacy of the adoptive placement for the
adoptive mothers.
Marital Issues
Adopted children can be powerful forces in upsetting even the most stable of
marital relationships. Many special needs children successfully disrupt the
relationship between the triad of the mother, the father and the child; they can
‘manipulate and triangulate, divide and conquer’ (Cline and Helding, 1999: 71).
Adopted children work at creating conflict between their parents in order to
improve their odds in the ongoing battle (Keck and Kupecky, 1995). Continu-
ous stress created by a difficult child can take its toll on a couple’s marriage and
can place excessive emotional demands on the marital relationship (Smith and
Howard, 1999). The Center for Adoption Support and Education lists intimacy
and relationship problems resulting in marital problems as one of the seven
core issues in adoption (Center for Adoption Support and Education, n.d.).
Todis and Singer (1991) discuss how families faced with such stress are at risk
of low marital satisfaction.
Behavioral Alienation from the Child
It is believed that early separations, discontinuity of loving care, and unre-
sponsive or abusive care have a lasting impact on a child’s attachment frame-
work (Forbes and Dziegielewski, 2002); and, from this perspective, many
adopted children have less than optimal beginnings (Juffer et al., 1997). With
the transition into parenting these children, the child’s internal stress (anger,
powerlessness, low self-esteem, fear) resulting from the poor early care can be
released through external anti-social behaviors (Smith et al., 2000). Trauma-
tized children may first perceive the adoptive parents’ love, not as a reward, but
rather as coercive and frightening (Nickman and Lewis, 1994). The child then
works to attain safety through avoidance of the relationship the parents are
working to develop (Hughes, 1997). These adoptive parents soon find that
conventional parenting techniques to control these behaviors are ineffective
with these children (Hughes, 1997) and remain at a loss as to how to handle the
child’s behavior (Cline and Helding, 1999). Furthermore, these pathological
attachment behaviors can then lead to the parents feeling emotionally replen-
ished and depressed. Parents who believe themselves to be psychologically
prepared for the children’s lack of responsiveness can soon find the situation
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
306
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 306
exhausting. An adoptive mother writes in her book that retraces the journey of
adopting her daughter that, ‘She [the adopted child] did whatever she could do
to cause disruption’ (Bosley, 2000: 19).
Internationally adopted children, raised in institutions, can also present
such relational problems for adoptive mothers. Mainemer et al. (1998) discuss
how these children do not initiate social contact, nor do they respond to it,
emphasizing the idea that these children have difficulty forming attachments to
people or objects. Furthermore, in a study by Rosenthal and Groze (1990) of
intact families of special needs adoptions, a strong correlation was found
between the parent–child relationship and the impact of adoption on the family.
Family of Origin Issues
Past traumatic experiences of the adoptive mothers can often resurface as the
adoptive mothers deal with the issues of their adopted children. For example,
if a mother experienced an unhealthy and hurtful relationship with her own
mother, often times this pattern resurfaces and is replicated with the adoptive
child (Broberg, 2000). Although family of origin issues are also likely to occur
with biological children or children who have not been traumatized, it is often
because the adopted child’s issues are so prevalent and so intense that they
serve as powerful and unavoidable triggers for the adoptive mothers (Smith and
Howard, 1999).
Post-adoption Services
As adoptive parents move through the adoption experience, many soon realize
that the ‘honeymoon’ is over and that the stress and tension in their families are
at a level in which outside help is warranted. However, adoptive mothers can
perceive asking for help as a failure. According to Todis and Singer (1991) many
adoptive parents do not initially seek outside support because they believe
others may see them as inadequate parents. As adoptive mothers turn instead
to friends for support, they soon realize that others cannot relate to their situ-
ation and that ‘the pain, rejection, distress, and abuse the child inflicts on them
are hard for the outsider to understand’ (Keck and Kupecky, 1995: 198).
When the decision is finally made to seek professional outside services,
many adoptive parents are challenged in understanding and utilizing the system
(Barth and Miller, 2000; Todis and Singer, 1991). In addition, Smith and
Howard (1999) discussed how adoptive parents were often dissatisfied with the
services available and used their own resources and experiences to educate the
professionals who were supposed to be helping them.
Barth and Miller (2000) identify three types of post-adoption services: (1)
educational and informational services, (2) material services and (3) clinical
services. Educational and informational services include requesting more
complete information about the child’s history; requests for literature
(pamphlets, books, articles) on adoption issues; and lectures, seminars, work-
shops, and classes focusing on adoption. Material services include adoption
Forbes & Dziegielewski: Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
307
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 307
subsidies, medical care, and special education options. Clinical services include
counseling for the child, couple, or family, and respite care. Research indicates
that the latter two have significant impacts on adoptive families and these are
discussed below.
Material Services
Todis and Singer (1991) discuss several studies where the stress associated with
raising a child with special needs could be either prevented or lessened if the
family had adequate financial support. As mentioned earlier, pre-adoption
expenses can be extreme in the case of international or private adoptions.
Perpetuating this financial strain are the continual demands of special needs
children after the adoption process. Adoption subsidies can help to reduce the
stress within an adoptive family. In a study of the outcomes of adoption of
children with special needs, Rosenthal (1993: 85) concluded that, ‘financial
adoptive subsidies may well be the most important post adoptive service’. Of
the families in the study receiving a subsidy, 95 percent rated this financial help
as ‘essential’ or ‘important’ (Rosenthal, 1993). This financial assistance
provided counseling services, adoption education seminars, respite care, school
services, and support groups (Rosenthal, 1993). Certainly on the other end of
the continuum, adoptive parents not receiving financial subsidies are finding
themselves either financially burdened with these needed services or finding
themselves doing without these services altogether. Berry and Barth (as cited
in Barth and Miller, 2000) concluded that families not receiving subsidies were
at a higher risk of adoption disruption.
Clinical Services
Research shows that finding qualified therapeutic help for adopted children is
an extremely difficult challenge itself. A complaint amongst adoptive parents is
that therapists do not provide appropriate psychotherapy for their children.
The therapists do not understand how to treat adopted children with complex
histories and therapists do not have a working knowledge of the relationship
between the adopted child and the adoptive parents (Nickman and Lewis, 1994:
754). ‘Sometimes parents had followed the advice of a physician or therapist
for months or years, only to be told later by another doctor that the treatment
had been useless or harmful’ (Todis and Singer, 1991: 7). Rosenthal and Groze
(1990) also found that individual and family counseling services for special
needs adoptions were less than adequate. They report that this is possibly due
to the fact that ‘families who seek these services often experience difficult
behavioral problems not easily remedied by any kind of intervention’ (Rosen-
thal and Groze, 1990: 500). Derdeyn and Graves (1998) warn that because these
children have been rejected or abandoned, they present a particularly difficult
therapeutic challenge.
Furthermore, therapists often blame adoptive parents for the child’s
problems with the real problem being a lack of or inadequate services (Keck
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
308
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 308
and Kupecky, 1995). This leads helping professionals toward unintentionally
undermining the relationship between the adoptive parent and the child by
collaborating with the child and blaming the parents for the child’s emotional
and behavioral problems. Many times therapists narrowly view the adoptive
family as pathological and go as far as to question the adoptive parents’ motives
for adoption (Smith and Howard, 1999). Due to these therapeutic approaches,
adoptive parents may feel scapegoated by both the child and the therapist
(Nickman and Lewis, 1994; Bosley, 2000).
These are not isolated examples of ineffective help for adoptive parents.
Smith and Howard’s research demonstrates how prevalent such ineffective
services are for adoptive parents. In their study, parents reported that, ‘indi-
vidual counseling with the child was rated as not helpful by 45% of parents, and
somewhat helpful by 46%, with only 9% rating it very helpful’ (Smith and
Howard, 1999: 30).
Adoptive Mothers, in Particular
Many times it is the adoptive mother that is at the epicenter of the child’s wrath.
Adoptive mothers particularly are often targeted with the fall-out of hostility
from the child’s pre-adoption pain and loss, and early mothering experiences –
or lack of them’ (Benton, 2000: 130). The child views the mother as the ‘main
target because, as an infant, the mother’s job is to keep them safe. As a baby
they were not kept safe’ (Thomas, 2000: 82). It is not uncommon for children
to alienate, push and hurt mothers more than adoptive fathers. Keck and
Kupecky (1995) explain that since it is the mothers who give birth and are often
the primary caretakers, the adopted child sees them as the ultimate betrayers.
Overall, it is hypothesized that this displacement of anger, targeted at the
adopted mother, stems from a combination of genetics, intrauterine events, and
character within the adopted child (Cline and Helding, 1999).
In reinforcing the idea that it is often the mother who is significantly
affected by the adoption, it is important to note the findings of this literature
review. Four books were located that gave accounts of adoption experiences –
all four were written by the adoptive mother, not the adoptive father. These
include The Limits of Hope: An Adoptive Mother’s Story by Ann Kimble Loux
(1997), We Adopted a Dusty Miller by Phyllis Bosley (2000), Secret Thoughts of
an Adoptive Mother by Jana Wolff (1997), and The Magic Castle: A Mother’s
Harrowing True Story of Her Adoptive Son’s Multiple Personalities – And the
Triumphs of Healing by Carole Smith (1998). These writings demonstrate that
there is a need to recognize and examine adoption from the perspective of the
adoptive mother.
Culmination of the Stress
Adoptive mothers of special needs children must work to resolve many of the
issues listed above (stigmatization of adoption, infertility, grief and loss, family,
marital, bonding, financial and family of origin), while simultaneously working
Forbes & Dziegielewski: Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
309
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 309
to cope with the adopted child’s issues (trauma, emotional, behavioral, attach-
ment, grief and loss, identity, and depressive). In some adoptions, few of these
issues surface while in others, an overabundance of these issues arise. Positive
and negative examples of adoptions of children with special needs range the
entire continuum. Yet, this research is intended to explore the end at which
mothers are suffering. The mothers at this end of the continuum can become
so overwhelmed and overburdened with the culmination of all these issues that
they themselves develop a negative working model of their own. Special needs
children can cause parents to feel like failures, doubting their parenting abilities
and fearing the adoption will fail. Many times they themselves avoid closeness
and stop reaching out to the child in order to be protected from further rejec-
tion (Smith and Howard, 1999). The mixture of these stressors is further
complicated by feelings of guilt and shame. These adoptive parents had dreams
of adopting a hurt child, nurturing the child, and integrating the child into a
stable family system. When this does not come to fruition, parents can experi-
ence disturbing feelings such as fantasies of hurting, or even killing, their child
(Keck and Kupecky, 1995), or projecting these feelings onto themselves,
instead, with thoughts of suicide (White, n.d.).
Research Questions
The exhaustive literature review emphasized 10 issues facing adoptive mothers.
These included issues relating to the following: (a) stigmatization of adoptive
motherhood, (b) infertility, (c) grief and loss, (d) extended family, (e) marriage,
(f) behavioral alienation, (g) mother’s family of origin, (h) post-adoption
services, (i) mother-directed behavior and (j) culmination of the stress. In
addition, these authors identified six other issues relating to special needs
adoptions. These additional issues were identified by monitoring four different
internet support groups centered on adoption-related challenges for a time
frame of one year. These include issues relating to the following: (a) develop-
ment of physical symptoms, (b) society’s lack of understanding of adoption,
(c) feelings of isolation, (d) financial stress, (e) feelings of intense anger and
(f) changes in self-image. These issues are listed in Table 1.
To facilitate the exploration of these issues, several questions were
proposed. First, did the issues identified in the literature review appear valid?
Second, were the issues identified through ‘listening’ to adoptive mothers also
valid? Third, which issues presented with more frequency? Fourth, of the 16
issues identified in Table 1, what others were identified as important by these
adoptive mothers?
Methodology
The purpose of this exploratory study was to identify and understand the issues
that adoptive mothers face after they have adopted a special needs child. This
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
310
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 310
study was conducted in 2002 and utilized 15 adoptive mothers, either married
or single, who had in the past sought professional therapeutic help for their
adoption experience after the placement of their child. All ages of mothers were
accepted in the study and the child had to have been living in the adoptive home
for the time frame of at least one year. Participants were obtained through two
therapists specializing in the field of adoption as well as from internet support
groups dealing with adoption issues. The identified samples were then
contacted by e-mail or telephone and an address was obtained in order to mail
a consent form. The consent form was mailed to the identified samples with a
stamped addressed return envelope. Once the consent form was received for
each sample, a telephone interview was scheduled. A six-page interview
questionnaire was developed, based on Table 1, and used in the telephone
interviews. Each telephone interview lasted between 35 and 50 minutes. Each
completed interview was then analyzed.
Findings and Discussion
A total of 15 adoptive mothers from 9 different states across the USA were inter-
viewed for this study. The interview from one of the mothers, however, was not
used as it was realized after the interview that she did not meet the criteria of
seeking professional therapeutic help since adopting her child. The therapy her
family received was prior to the adoptive placement. Hence, the final sample
group consisted of 14 adoptive mothers. Six of these mothers were recruited from
therapists; eight were recruited from a ‘call for research participants’ posted on
four different internet adoption support groups. The mothers ranged in age at
the time of the adoption placement from 22 years old to over 50 years old.
Thirteen of the mothers were white and one mother was part American Indian
and part white. Income levels at the time of the adoption ranged from below
Forbes & Dziegielewski: Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
311
Table 1 Issues facing adoptive mothers of special needs children
Issues identified through:
Literature Review Internet Support Groups
a. Stigmatization of adoptive motherhood a. Development of physical symptoms
b. Infertility issues b. Society’s lack of understanding
c. Grief and loss issues c. Feelings of isolation
d. Marital issues d. Financial stress
e. Extended family issues e. Feelings of intense anger
f. Behavioral alienation f. Changes in self-image
g. Mother’s family of origin issues
h. Post-adoption services
i. Mother-directed behavior
j. Culmination of the stress
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 311
$19,000 to $120,000 and above, equating to a median salary range between
$40,000 and $49,000. This compares to the median American household income
of $46,300 of non-Hispanic white Americans (US Census Bureau, 2002). Five
of the mothers were single mothers at the time of the adoption.
Demographics and Issues of the Adopted Children
The adopted children of the sample group ranged in age at the time of the
adoption placement from newborn to age 9. Two of the children were adopted
internationally and 12 were adopted domestically within the United States. All
14 mothers reported that their adopted children suffered from emotional issues
and that they were dealing with behavioral issues. These children had been
diagnosed with disorders that included the following: attention deficit hyperac-
tivity disorder (ADHD), ODD, CD, bipolar, asperger’s disorder, dissociative
identity disorder, PTSD, RAD, depression, encopresis, enuresis, pervasive
developmental disorder, developmental delay and separation anxiety disorder.
The behaviors the children were exhibiting included self-injurious behaviors,
physically attacking the mother (kicking, hitting, hair pulling), abusiveness to
other children, avoiding eye contact, severe defiance, tantruming, screaming,
lying, stealing from family members, destroying the home (from ripping holes
in the carpet to punching holes in the walls), skipping school, using drugs, sabo-
taging family events, disrespecting behaviors and/or manipulating the mother
and others, raging outbursts, impulsiveness, smearing of feces, hoarding, and
running away. When asked how these problems, along with any medical,
academic or language issues had affected the household, 13 out of the 14
mothers said they had affected their household ‘severely’. At the time of the
interview, 2 of the 14 children were presently in residential treatment centers
due to the severity of their behaviors.
Identification of the Adoptive Mother Issues
A series of statements was given to the adoptive mothers to determine the signifi-
cance and prevalence of the issues identified in Table 1. The adoptive mothers
were asked to respond to these statements, using a Likert scale of (a) strongly
agree, (b) agree, (c) neutral, (d) disagree and (e) strongly disagree. These issues
were then grouped according to societal, health, emotional, family, financial and
child behavioral factors. A highlighted discussion of each of these groups follows.
Societal factors Three issues were identified that related to societal factors: (a)
stigmatization of adoptive motherhood, (b) post-adoption services and (c)
society’s understanding of adoption. Although the literature emphasized that
adoptive mothers feel inferior and stigmatized by society for their adoptive
mother status, these interviews did not confirm this. When asked if they felt
stigmatized by society for being an adoptive parent, 57 percent of the mothers
either disagreed or strongly disagreed. Other support questions validated this
response, as well.
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
312
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 312
Concerning post-adoption services, an overwhelming percentage of the
mothers (86%) felt that most professionals were lacking in their knowledge of
adoption-related issues, whereby most had responded with emphasis to the
strongly agree option. Seventy-one percent felt that their social workers were
not helpful with post-adoption support. One mother stated that one year after
the adoption, she contacted the agency that facilitated the adoption placement,
seeking help. She was blatantly told, ‘You adopted them; they’re your problem
now.’ Seventy-nine percent stated that finding a qualified therapist to help with
their child after the adoption was difficult. Many of the mothers stated that
although they have now found a qualified therapist, they must drive a great
distance. One mother stated that she drives 70 miles one way to go to therapy
once a week.
In determining society’s understanding of adoption, over 70 percent of the
mothers felt that they unnecessarily had to contend with inappropriate and
‘stupid’ comments from other people in regards to their adopted child. Many
mothers stated that not only were these comments inappropriate, but they were
hurtful as well.
Health factors The culmination of all the difficulties facing adoptive mothers of
special needs children was seen to affect the mothers both physically and
mentally. Ten of the 14 (71%) mothers stated that they had developed physical
symptoms they believed were directly correlated with the stress of their
adopted child. These included experiencing new physical symptoms such as
heart palpitations, secondary PTSD, headaches, hair loss, panic attacks,
insomnia, and gastro-reflux difficulties. Others reported that existing medical
ailments had been aggravated or intensified by the stress, including increased
difficulties with back pain, asthma, allergies and diabetes.
Mental health was also seen to deteriorate in many of the adoptive mothers.
Sixty-nine percent reported feeling depressed after their child was placed in
their home. Half of the mothers stated that they either were on or had been on
medications due to the stress of their child. These medications included Prozac,
Celexa, Zoloft, Xanax and Wellbutrin. Of grave concern was that 2 out of the
14 mothers stated that they had experienced thoughts of suicide due to their
adopted child. One mother expanded on this by reporting that she had been
hospitalized for her suicidal thoughts.
Thirteen of the 14 mothers (93%) stated that there were times that they
simply wanted to get into their cars and drive away forever. Although many may
argue that all mothers feel this at one point during their motherhood, nine of
these adoptive mothers selected the ‘strongly agree’ option for this statement.
One mother stated that she actually did get into her car and drove to Vegas.
Emotional factors The emotional issues identified included factors relating to
infertility issues, grief and loss issues, feelings of isolation, feelings of intense
anger, and changes in self-image. Issues relating to infertility in the sense that
Forbes & Dziegielewski: Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
313
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 313
the adopted child did not share the adoptive mother’s same biology were
insignificant. Only 29 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they felt sad that
they were not their child’s birthmother. Many of the participants reasoned that
they gave a positive response to this question more on the basis of wishing they
could have protected their child. Ten out of the 14 mothers (71%) either
strongly disagreed or disagreed that they wished their child shared similar
physical features with them. It is interesting to note that four of the mothers
stated that their children actually resembled them, despite being adopted.
In the area of grief and loss, an overwhelming percentage (79%) felt sad for
not being able to protect and nurture their child before the adoption, indicat-
ing that the mothers do experience the pain of not being available to their
children prior to being adopted. Interestingly, 50 percent stated that they did
not agree with the statement that they wished their home could go back to the
way it was before the adoption.
Although feeling isolated was not emphasized in the literature, 79 percent
of the adoptive mothers indicated that they felt isolated in their struggles. One
mother stated that, ‘the lack of support really hurts. I’ve been ostracized
(outside of my immediate family) and made to feel as if I am the problem’.
Another mother stated, ‘Most of my friends are gone’ and another, ‘The friends
I had before my child changed gears. They didn’t believe me.
The anger many mothers described throughout the interviews was of great
concern. Seventy-nine percent stated that there where times when they had
experienced more rage and anger than they had ever experienced in their lives.
Five of the mothers ‘strongly agreed’ that there were times the anger in them
was so strong they felt uncontrollable. A total of 7 out of the 14 mothers talked
about the anger that presented itself to them with the adopted child. One
mother stated, ‘You can’t control it; you can’t overpower it; you can’t stop it.
Another mother stated, ‘My physical anger was the biggest surprise. I’m not a
physical person. I never had these feelings that I was capable of child abuse . . .
just to feel this to such a degree.’ And another mother described the anger to
be due to, ‘the total lack of respect and the chronic disregard for me as a parent.
It is about the continual – minute by minute of it all . . . the wearing down until
the anger surfaces in an intensity that is unfamiliar.
Changes in self-image were seen in 86 percent of participants who stated
that they had often questioned their ability to parent their child since adopting
him or her. It is important to note that these responses were not only from new
young mothers; several of the mothers who strongly agreed with this statement
were in their 40s and 50s, and some were experienced mothers with grown
biological children. Ninety-three percent felt that they had, at times, turned into
a hateful and miserable parent when parenting their adopted child. This feeling
was directly correlated to the feelings of intense anger. One mother stated, ‘I
was a stranger to myself.’ The struggles and challenges these adoptive mothers
faced have brought about positive change as well. Eighty-six percent stated that
they have become better persons since the adoption of their child.
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
314
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 314
Family factors Family factors identified related to (a) marital issues, (b) extended
family support and (c) the mother’s family of origin issues. Two of the 14
mothers reported that they had experienced either separation or divorce with
their husbands since adopting their child. One mother expressed that her
marriage was unstable at the beginning of the adoption but that it was without
doubt that the adoption of their child accelerated the break-up. The other
mother stated that her marriage was ending because her husband had refused
to participate in the type of family therapy their therapist was recommending
in order to help their child. Of the married mothers, 67 percent stated that their
adopted child created conflict in their marriage. Another mother was currently
active in marriage therapy due to the strain of their adopted child. She cited the
lack of intimacy in her marriage as a stressor.
The questions asked concerning extended family support indicated that at
the initial stages of adoption, only 43 percent of the adoptive mothers received
support for their decision to adopt, 21 percent did not. Yet, 72 percent stated
that their extended family was now accepting of their adopted child. Although
50 percent of the adoptive mothers stated that they received inappropriate
comments from relatives, some explained that the comments they received
were due to their extended family members’ concern over the difficulties they
were enduring and the comments were in regards to the behavioral issues of
the adopted child.
Many responses indicated that the mothers were working through past
issues related to their family of origin. Since adopting their children, 64 percent
of the mothers either agreed or strongly agreed that negative issues from their
own childhood had surfaced. One mother stated, ‘I wasn’t prepared to have to
address my own issues.
Financial factors Despite the fact that the majority of the adoptive mothers did
not incur direct expenses towards the adoption itself, 64 percent agreed that the
adoption has put a financial strain on their family. Much of the financial burden
came from out-of-pocket expenses related to post-adoption therapy. Some
mothers explained that the state agencies would not acknowledge the serious-
ness of their children’s issues and, thus, were denying additional subsidies to
fund needed therapy. One mother explained that she spent $40,000 in legal fees
in order to receive $20,000 of subsidy to pay for needed therapy. Another
mother stated that in one year she spent $18,000 out-of-pocket for needed treat-
ment for her child. Yet another mother explained, that due to the emotional
stress, she had lost productive days at work (self-employed) and had been
unable to reach her same earning potential as before the adoption.
Child behavioral factors The mothers reported that their child’s behavior worked
to alienate them and that the child’s behavior was mother directed. Less than
half (29%) of the mothers felt that their child worked with them to develop
their relationship. This was reinforced by 50 percent of the mothers who felt as
Forbes & Dziegielewski: Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
315
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 315
if their child did not respond to their authority as a parent. Nine of the 14
mothers (64%) felt as if their child was not accepting the love they were giving
to them.
Mother directed behavior from the children was overwhelming. Of the
mothers who were married, 100 percent of them agreed, and most strongly
agreed, that their child targeted them more than he or she did the father.
Ninety-three percent agreed or strongly agreed that their child projected his or
her anger towards the mother more than other family members. Ten of the 14
mothers agreed or strongly agreed that their child worked harder to hurt them
than anybody else in their lives. These statistics validate the practice literature
that states that the adopted child’s behavior is often mother directed.
Other Findings
Social services Several of the mothers identified their social service agency that
placed the child as one of the most prevalent sources of adoption stress. One
mother stated that social services ‘made it as hard as possible’. Another mother
stated that it took almost two years to uncover the history of her child. She
stated, ‘I was frustrated with the lack of information given . . . I was not given
full disclosure. They avoided the truth. They didn’t come forward with the
information; I had to ask for it piece by piece.
Level of commitment Despite the intensity of the issues identified, 64 percent
stated that they would do the adoption again, if they had to do it over. The level
of commitment was impressive given that 64 percent also said that they
disagreed (and most strongly disagreed) with the statement that they have
considered disrupting the adoption of the child. One mother stated, ‘I would
rather be miserable until she [the adopted child] is an adult, rather than give
her back and hurt her again.
Additional comments The telephone interviews allowed for candid discussions and
explanations of the difficulties these mothers have and continue to face with their
adoptions, beyond the structured questions of the written interview. In terms of
the comments these mothers gave to the question of ‘What has been the single
biggest emotional surprise with this adoption?’ one mother stated that the
biggest surprise came when ‘she [the child] said she was going to kill us and cut
our hearts out with a kitchen knife’. Another stated that, ‘She was a wild animal
when she came to me. I’ve taught special education for 22 years and had never
seen anything like this. She tore me to pieces. Several other threads that ran
through these conversations with the mothers were: (a) the mothers were not
prepared for the challenges, (b) the anger that surfaced was unfamiliar and more
intense than they ever imagined and (c) post-adoption support services in
regards to financial assistance and qualified therapists were painfully lacking.
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
316
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 316
Conclusion
This study focused on adoptive mothers who had already initiated professional
help for their adoption-related struggles. The intent was not to determine the
prevalence of the difficulties amongst all adoptive mothers, but rather to
identify exactly what difficulties these mothers seeking professional help were
presenting. Collectively, these 14 adoptive mothers expressed feelings of frus-
tration, isolation, alienation, exhaustion and anger.
The categorized groups (societal, health, emotional, family, financial and
child) in which these emotions surfaced showed a broad range of stressors.
From a societal perspective, the stigmatization of adoptive motherhood was not
overtly present. Yet, the adoptions were not supported through adequate post-
adoption services and comments adoptive mothers received reflected an ignor-
ance of the understanding of adoption in general, so perhaps a stigmatization
of adoption still exists at some covert level. Health issues related to the stress
included both physical and mental symptoms, including thoughts of suicide.
Emotional factors prevalent in this study included stress related to working
through grief and loss issues, feeling isolated, having intense surges of anger,
and experiencing changes in self-image. Family factors identified showed that
the adoptions placed strain on the marital relationships and were in some cases
associational connections to the mother’s family of origin issues. Financial
stress was prevalent in many of the adoptive homes, as well. The adoptive
mothers agreed that the children’s behaviors worked to polarize their relation-
ships and that the behaviors were targeted towards the mothers. The refresh-
ing conclusion, however, was that a large number of these mothers
demonstrated a strong commitment to their children as well as their role as
mother, despite the severity of the issues they had endured.
The issues identified through this research need to be recognized through-
out the adoption community and there is a great need for awareness, knowl-
edge and understanding of adoptive mothers. Further research on a larger scale
and on a longitudinal basis merits investigation in this area. At the end of one
interview with an adoptive mother, she concluded by saying, ‘Thank you for
doing this study. It is very needed!’ In addition, one mother pointed out that,
‘There needs to be research on what works with these children. What parent-
ing strategies are other parents doing? A “tool kit” for adoptive mothers is
needed to deal with the day-to-day issues.
Funding needs to be allocated in this area to support necessary post-
adoption services such as therapy, respite care, and parent support groups.
Even with pre-adoption preparation and training, a full understanding of the
challenges that accompany the adoption of a special needs child can be almost
impossible. It is an event that has to be experienced in order to be wholly
comprehended. ‘I didn’t imagine it could be so difficult,’ stated one mother. ‘I
was surprised at how one child can turn an entire household upside down, even
the cat,’ stated another. Adequate and readily available funding needs to be in
Forbes & Dziegielewski: Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
317
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 317
place on the backside of the adoption process for these mothers and their
families.
A mother summed up the type of character needed to be an adoptive
mother in her article entitled, ‘It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Child’. In
short, she states that it takes ‘the tenacity of a bulldog’ (Lindsay, 1996: 4). Along
with this, it takes the backing of researchers, the knowledge of therapists, the
understanding of policy makers, and the support of the ‘whole village’ in which
these mothers and their children reside.
References
Acord, M. (n.d.) ‘The Nine Stages of Grief in Parents with RAD Kids’, KC Connections
Newsletter. http://www.syix.com/adsg/articles/9stages.htm (accessed 22 June 2001).
Barth, R. P. and Miller, J. M. (2000) ‘Building Effective Post-adoption Services: What is
the Empirical Foundation?’, Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied
Family Studies 49(4): 447–55.
Bartholet, E. (1993) Family Bonds: Adoption and the Politics of Parenting. New York:
Houghton Mifflin.
Benton, A. (2000) ‘Towards the Reality of Reunion: An Adoptive Mother’s Journey
through the Fantasies and Realities in Adoption and Birth Mother Reunion’, in
A. Treacher and I. Katz (eds) The Dynamics of Adoption, pp. 129–144. Philadelphia,
PA:Jessica Kingsley.
Bosley, P. K. (2000) We Adopted a Dusty Miller. Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press.
Broberg, A. G. (2000) ‘A Review of Interventions in the Parent–Child Relationship
Informed by Attachment Theory’, Acta Paediatr Suppl 434: 37–42.
Center for Adoption Support and Education (n.d.) 7 Core Issues in Adoption.
htttp://www.adoptionsupport.org/coreap.html (accessed 3 September 2001).
Cline, F. W. and Helding, C. (1999) Can This Child Be Saved? Solutions for Adoptive
and Foster Families. Franksville, WI: World Enterprises.
Derdeyn, A. P. and Graves, C. L. (1998) ‘Clinical Vicissitudes of Adoption’, Child and
Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America 7(2): 373–88.
DiGiulio, J. F. (1988) ‘Self-acceptance: A Factor in the Adoption Process’, Child Welfare
67: 423–9.
Federici, R. S. (1998) Help for the Hopeless Child: A Guide for Families. Virginia:
Hennage Creative Printers.
Florida Administrative Code, 409.166 (2002) ‘Special Needs Children: Subsidized
Adoption Program’.
Forbes, H. T. and Dziegielewski, S. F. (2002) ‘Reactive Attachment Disorder’, in S. F.
Dziegielewski (ed.) DSM-IV-TR in Action, pp. 143–68. New York: Wiley & Sons.
Glidden, L. M. (1991) ‘Adopted Children with Developmental Disabilities: Post
Placement Family Functioning’, Children and Youth Services Review 13: 363–77.
Groze, V. (1996) ‘A 1 and 2 Year Follow-up Study of Adoptive Families and Special
Needs Children’, Children and Youth Services Review 18(1/2): 57–82.
Hughes, D. A. (1997) Facilitating Developmental Attachment: The Road to Emotional
Recovery and Behavioral Change in Foster and Adopted Children. New Jersey: Jason
Aronson.
Juffer, F., Hoksbergen, R. A., Riksen-Walraven, J. M. and Kohnstamm, G. A. (1997)
‘Early Intervention in Adoptive Families: Supporting Maternal Sensitive
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
318
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 318
Responsiveness, Infant–Mother Attachment, and Infant Competence’, Journal of
Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines 38(8): 1039–50.
Keck, G. and Kupecky, R. (1995) Adopting the Hurt Child. Colorado Springs, CO:
Pinton Press.
Lindsay, S. (1996) ‘It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Child’, Public Welfare 54: 4–7.
Loux, A. (1997) The Limits of Hope: An Adoptive Mother’s Story. Charlottesville:
University of Virginia Press.
Mainemer, H., Gilman, L. C. and Ames, E. W. (1998) ‘Parenting Stress in Families
Adopting Children from Romanian Orphanges’, Journal of Family Issues 19(2):
164–80.
Miall, C. E. (1996) ‘The Social Construction of Adoption: Clinical and Community
Perspectives’, Family Relations: Journal of Applied Family & Child Studies 45(3):
309–17.
Miall, C. E. (2000) ‘Adoption as Family Form’, Family Relations: Journal of Applied
Family & Child Studies 49(4): 359–62.
National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (n.d.) http://calib.com/naic (accessed 14
April 2002).
Nickman, S. L. and Lewis, R. G. (1994) ‘Adoptive Families and Professionals: When the
Experts Make Things Worse’, Journal of the American Academy of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry 33(5): 753–5.
Pavao, J. M. (1998) The Family of Adoption. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Priel, B., Melamed-Hass, S., Besser, A. and Kantor, B. (2000) ‘Adjustment among
Adopted Children: The Role of Maternal Self-Reflectiveness’, Family Relations 49:
389–96.
Rosenthal, J. A. (1993) ‘Outcomes of Adoption of Children with Special Needs’, The
Future of Children 3(1): 77–88.
Rosenthal, J. A. and Groze, V. (1990) ‘Special-needs Adoption: A Study of Intact
Families’, Social Service Review 64: 475–505.
Smith, C. (1998) The Magic Castle: A Mother’s Harrowing True Story of her Adoptive
Son’s Multiple Personalities – and the Triumphs of Healing. New York: St Martin’s
Press.
Smith, S. L. and Howard, J. A. (1999) Promoting Successful Adoptions: Practice with
Troubled Families. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Smith, S. L., Howard, J. A. and Monroe, A. D. (2000) ‘Issues Underlying Behavior
Problems in At-risk Adopted Children’, Children and Youth Services Review 22(7):
539–62.
Thomas, N. L. (2000) ‘Parenting Children with Attachment Disorders’, in Terry M. Levy
(ed.) Handbook of Attachment Interventions, pp. 261–77. San Diego, CA: Academic
Press.
Todis, B. and Singer G. (1991) ‘Stress and Stress Management in Families with Adopted
Children who have Severe Disabilities’, Journal of the Association for Persons with
Severe Handicaps 16(1): 3–13.
Wegar, K. (1997) ‘In Search of Bad Mothers: Social Constructions of Birth and
Adoptive Motherhood’, Women’s Studies International Forum 20(1): 77–86.
Wegar, K. (2000) ‘Adoption, Family Ideology, and Social Stigma: Bias in Community
Attitudes, Adoption Research, and Practice’, Family Relations 49: 363–70.
White, B. (n.d.) ‘Depression and Parenting a Child with Attachment Difficulties’,
Forbes & Dziegielewski: Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
319
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 319
http://www.attachmentcenter.org/articles/article014.htm (accessed 3 September
2001).
Wolff, J. (1997) Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother. Kansas City, MO: Andrews and
McMeel.
US Census Bureau (2002) ‘Current Population Survey: 1988 To 2002 Annual
Demographic Supplements’ (chart), http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/img/incpov01/
incomeeconchrt.jpg (accessed 24 March 2003).
HEATHER FORBES is an adoption social worker and family therapist for a
national adoption agency in the United States. Her specialty is working with
adoptive families with children diagnosed with attachment disorder. She trains,
and has been trained, with prominent therapists in this field. Much of her
experience and insight on how to deal with attachment issues has come from her
direct mothering experience with her own adopted special needs children. Her
most recent publication is a book entitled DSM-IV-TR in Action (2002) in which
she is the first author of a chapter on the subject of reactive attachment disorder.
SOPHIA F. DZIEGIELEWSKI is a professor in the School of Social Work,
University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL. Throughout her social work career she
has been active in health and mental health clinical practice. She supports her
research and practice activity with over 70 publications and 5 books in the area of
health and mental health. In addition, she has also conducted hundreds of recent
workshops and community presentations on health and mental health assessment
documentation and treatment planning in today’s managed care environment.
Address: Dr Sophia F. Dziegielewski, School of Social Work, PO Box 163358,
Orlando, Florida, 32816–3358, USA. [email: Sdziegie@mail.ucf.edu]
Journal of Social Work 3(3)
320
04 JSW3-3 Forbes (JB/D) 26/11/03 11:52 am Page 320
... La producción científica sobre las tradicionalmente denominadas «adopciones especiales» y, específicamente, sobre las consideradas «tardías» o de niños en edades mayores tiene una larga tradición en países anglosajones (Barth, 1991;Forbes y Dziegielewski, 2003;McRoy, 1999;O'Dell et al., 2015;Julian, 2013;Leung et al., 2005). Existe bastante unanimidad respecto del rol crítico que desempeña la edad del niño al momento de su colocación, siendo muy disímil la definición de cuándo se es un «niño mayor». ...
... Bajo estos argumentos subyace un paradigma biogenético del parentesco y un conjunto de ideas negativas o estereotipadas acerca de los niños adoptables que son diferentes a los inicialmente esperados (Brind, 2008;Bunt, 2013). No obstante, la investigación ha mostrado que un adecuado proceso de clarificación de expectativas y formación, así como la disposición de recursos de apoyo post-adoptivos, es clave para el éxito y el incremento del nivel de satisfacción en estas adopciones (Forbes y Dziegielewski, 2003;O'Dell et. al. 2015). ...
Article
Full-text available
Las políticas y prácticas adoptivas establecen explícita y tácitamente un matching entre niños y solicitantes con determinadas características. En el caso de las adopciones monoparentales de niños mayores y/o con otras necesidades especiales, ambas partes suelen ubicarse desde un inicio en una posición de menor prioridad. A partir de los resultados de dos investigaciones cualitativas realizadas en Chile y España con adoptantes monoparentales, analizamos sus heterogéneas motivaciones y preferencias respecto de los perfiles de los niños que esperan adoptar y las estrategias que desarrollan frente a los criterios técnicos, discursos e intervenciones profesionales, especialmente en los procesos de evaluación de idoneidad y asignación. Discutimos la necesidad de desarrollar enfoques, criterios e intervenciones centrados en las capacidades y recursos de sujetos que son a priori considerados más vulnerables o estigmatizados en los procesos adoptivos, así como la necesidad y obligación política e institucional en la provisión de apoyos y recursos de acompañamiento en la fase pre y post-adoptiva.
... Diversos estudios que exploran la percepción del estigma social desde el punto de vista de las propias familias adoptivas, han mostrado que madres y padres adoptivos se sintieron afectados negativamente por la creencia social dominante de que la maternidad adoptiva era inferior a la biológica (Miall & March, 2000). Dicha ideología continúa dejando a los padres e hijos adoptivos expuestos a diferentes grados de estigmatización social en su vida cotidiana (Forbes & Dziegielewski, 2003). Muchos padres y madres adoptivos hasta el día de hoy se sienten estigmatizados en tanto continúan considerando que la sociedad percibe a la configuración adoptiva, como menos deseable que la basada en lazos biológicos (Rodríguez-Jaume & Jareño Ruiz, 2015). ...
... Estas situaciones en la gestión cotidiana de padres/madres adoptivos son justificadas por las características atribuidas a la identidad chilena en general, marcada por dificultades con el trato hacia las diferencias, además de la poca información respecto de la diversidad familiar actual. Más allá, de las atribuciones a rasgos propios de la chilenidad que realizan los padres respecto de las conductas estigmatizantes, el sentimiento de estigmatización social aún vivenciado por los padres y madres adoptivas está en línea con los hallazgos de investigaciones realizadas en otros contextos y geografías (Miall & March, 2000;Forbes & Dziegielewski, 2003;Rodríguez-Jaume & Jareño Ruiz, 2015), mostrando ésta como una condición que atraviesa o trasciende la idiosincrasia nacional. ...
... They reported feelings of being judged and not listened to or believed. These challenges to effective services can perhaps be partly understood in the broader context of global practices based on theoretical models of child and adult welfare that are now considered less valid in the light of evidence from neuroscience and research into the traumatic impact of adverse childhood experiences (Bunting et al., 2018;Forbes & Dziegielewski, 2003;O'Neill, 1997;Selwyn & Meakings, 2016). ...
Article
Full-text available
Context Adoption can provide a lifetime of benefits for children. Some adoptions however, experience severe challenges resulting in disruption, with children leaving home prematurely. Method This qualitative study in Northern Ireland used interviews with parents from thirteen families whose adoptions had disrupted, to explore their perspective on the experience. Findings Key findings focused on issues relating to firstly, the adopted child; secondly, adoption services; and finally, the parents and other family members. The impact of early adverse experiences on the children (developmental trauma) played out through behaviours, often violent, that their parents found extremely challenging. These increased as the children aged and had serious effects on family life. The adoptive parents thought they could have been better prepared through the adoption process to face challenging behaviours and more appropriately supported to prevent disruption. When their adopted child was admitted to state care, the parents typically felt initial relief but also guilt and loss. After the child had left home, they generally wished for more involvement with him or her despite the difficulties experienced. Discussion This study confirmed previous findings about the extent of trauma experienced by some adoptive children, and the challenges that this may present to the adoptive parents. It highlighted how the manifestation of the trauma experienced by the child may lead to adoptive parents themselves experiencing primary or secondary trauma or compassion fatigue (defined in the Discussion section below) or a combination of all three. The preparation of adoptive parents should include greater awareness of possible challenges, and how to cope with these. The development of trauma-informed approaches to practice and service delivery is required to support families with adopted children more effectively. Co-production models for service development may assist in addressing the types of issues identified in post-adoption support services.
... Considering the number of challenges associated with post-institutionalised children, children adopted from orphanages might be considered having special needs. Although criteria qualifying children to "special needs" status varies between provinces and countries, some of the criteria of children identified as special needs regarding adoptive placement often include children who: are older, have an emotional, physical or developmental disability, are members of a sibling group, minority heritage, or have history of physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect (Forbes andDziegielewsh, 2003, Pinderhughes, 1996). In view of the challenges adoptive families of post-institutionalised children often encounter, most are considered as special needs adoptions (Gindis, 2000). ...
Preprint
Full-text available
The experience of parents in forming a relationship with their older adopted children from Russia or other former Soviet Union countries.
... W systemie wsparcia nie powinno zabraknąć tego skierowanego do samych rodziców adopcyjnych/zastępczych (Forbes, Dziegielewski 2003). Według Laurie Kramer i Doris Houston (1999) ciągłe wspieranie rodziny po przyjęciu dziecka ze specjalnymi potrzebami powinno być standardem. ...
Article
Full-text available
The phenomenon of joint attention, i.e. the ability to coordinate attention between the objects of joined attention and another person, is important for the social, cognitive, and emotional development of a deaf and hearing child. A deaf child enters episodes of joint attention differently than a hearing child: a deaf child cannot simultaneously receive language communicates and direct the sight towards the object of joint attention. Deaf mothers adapt to the specific needs of deaf children during the episodes of joint attention by using the sequential schema of dividing attention as well as various strategies of proper division of attention. However, hearing mothers encounter problems during early interactions with deaf children.
Article
Although adoption is a widespread phenomenon in the United States, little research has examined the effects on biological siblings. This article uses two representative datasets to compare educational attainments of individuals who grew up with an adopted sibling and those that did not. We find large heterogeneity (based on sex, family income, and cohort) in the outcomes of those with an adopted sibling. Brothers appear more influenced than sisters. For brothers, we find that family income moderates differential associations, where males from low-income families have lower education if they have an adopted sibling, but males from higher-income families do not. Our results have implications for our understanding of family dynamics as well as how sex shapes educational attainments of children.
Chapter
Guided by the lens of psychodynamic theory, Ford (2015) investigated the challenges faced by adoptive families of traumatized children. Fifteen families were randomly selected to participate in this study from a group of 30 parents who adopted traumatized children in Arizona. Thematic categories were drawn and summarized. Textual descriptions evolved from the thematic groups acknowledging their experiences and how these lived experiences guided their decision to adopt a traumatized child. Verification techniques, data mining, journaling, clustering, brainstorming, and peer reviews were used to ensure the quality of data. Emergent themes emphasized the need for adoption-focused training specific to traumatized children. Ford's (2015) study revealed that these adoptive families desired to be equipped with specialized therapeutic training before and after their adoptions.
Preprint
Full-text available
Background In addition to the major problems that a child with mental disorder, the family, and society are faced with, mental disorders in children cause several problems and care pressure on the parents in particular. While the parents suffer the highest damages by their child’ disease, they tend to hide their pains, sufferings, and needs from others. The present study is an attempt to elaborate on psychosocial needs in the parents of children with mental disorder. Methods The study was carried out as a qualitative study using content analysis method. To this end, 21 parents of children with mental disorder at age range 10-18 years took part in the study. The participants were selected through purposeful sampling and after signing an informed letter of consent, deep semi-structured interviews were conducted with them. The interviews were recorded with the consent of the participants and the data was analyzed using conventional content analysis. Results Analysis of the interviews revealed 302 codes, 16 subcategories, seven categories, and two themes. The theme “psychological needs” was comprised of categories the need for assurance, the need for emotional support, and the need for being accepted. The theme “social needs” was comprised of categories the need for social support, the need for welfare, the need for information support, and the need for family support. Conclusion Given the changes in their lives caused the disease of their children, parents of children with mental disorders deal with several needs and challenges. The needs categorized in mental and emotional fields and social and information supports were the main needs.
Article
Attachment theory affirms that one’s partner is vital to fostering support and security. It is important for adoptive couples to be mindful of this support because it is at the forefront of healthy family functioning. With a sample of adoptive couples (n = 166), this study examines the influence of attachment style on conflict resolution and sexual satisfaction. Significant findings indicate that an avoidant attachment style is directly associated with lower conflict resolution and sexual satisfaction. Better conflict resolution significantly predicts greater sexual satisfaction. These findings demonstrate the importance of establishing a more secure romantic attachment in clinical work with adoptive couples.
Chapter
Guided by the lens of psychodynamic theory, Ford (2015) investigated the challenges faced by adoptive families of traumatized children. Fifteen families were randomly selected to participate in this study from a group of 30 parents who adopted traumatized children in Arizona. Thematic categories were drawn and summarized. Textual descriptions evolved from the thematic groups acknowledging their experiences and how these lived experiences guided their decision to adopt a traumatized child. Verification techniques, data mining, journaling, clustering, brainstorming, and peer reviews were used to ensure the quality of data. Emergent themes emphasized the need for adoption-focused training specific to traumatized children. Ford's (2015) study revealed that these adoptive families desired to be equipped with specialized therapeutic training before and after their adoptions.
Article
Full-text available
In the last 15 years there has been a change in adoption patterns toward the adoption of children with special needs. A major problem with this type of adoption is the disruption rate. The purpose of this study is to provide multivariate analysis on the characteristics of families and the characteristics of children that can be utilized to predict successful adoptions of these children. Data were collected from a private, nonprofit agency in a large southwestern city that specializes in special-needs adoption by analysis of home study reports, supervision reports, and information accompanying a child for families that have adoption finalized or disrupted by this agency (N = 91). Several factors were found to influence adoption outcome , including age of the child, presence of other children in the home, placement number, age of the woman, family income , and type of placement. The reasons for these findings and their implications are briefly discussed.
Chapter
Parents of a Reactive Attachment Disordered (RAD) child often silently carry bruises where their child has inflicted pain on their bodies and their hearts, yet they still seek answers and solutions rather than turn away. In order to understand and have a well-defined perspective of the solutions, one must clearly see the problem. Until the child can see the way out, feel safe enough to try and have someone love them enough to lower a steady ladder, the disturbed child will find ways to remain isolated. As the loving caregivers lower the ladder of skills that require trust and the child grabs hold of the concepts and climbs, each step brings him closer to the top. The parents' feet must be on solid ground and steadied before they can reach out to their child. They then can lower a ladder with the steps to success necessary for the child to succeed. Parents need to prepare by—resting, gaining power through knowledge, gathering a support system, reestablishing authority, and facing the problem. As the child reaches for each of the rungs of the ladder and continues the ascent they become stronger. As the child attains new strength he or she becomes more able to handle more privileges. When parents are clear that this child is now on steady ground and ready to move forward with his or her life, then returning some of those items or activities that were enjoyed together is a possibility. Adding them too soon may sabotage their progress.
Article
Prior to 1970, most children with special needs who could not live at home would not have been considered for adoption and would therefore have grown up in out-of-home placement. The term "special needs" refers to barriers—older age, developmental problem, physical disability, behavioral problem, need for sibling group placement—that delay or prevent timely placement in an adoptive home. On balance, adoption outcomes for children with special needs are distinctly positive. About 10% to 15% of adoptions of children 3 years of age or older end in disruption, that is, termination prior to legal finalization. In those adoptions that remain intact, about 75% of parents are well satisfied with their adoptive experience. Predictors of positive adoptive outcome include younger age of the child at the time of placement, the absence of behavioral problems, the provision of complete background informa-tion regarding the child, adoption by the child's foster parents, and the child's not having been sexually abused prior to placement. Although associations of sociode-mographic factors to outcome are weak, lower-income families, families of modest educational attainment, and minority families have experienced particularly good outcomes. Financial adoption subsidies may be the single most important postadop-tive service for special needs families.
Article
This article is a preliminary exploration of community attitudes toward adoption. Although clinicians view adoptive families as second best to biologically related families, a random sample of 150 Canadian respondents did not differentiate between the functioning of adoptive and biologically related families or children. The respondents focused on experiences of family life, not reproductive processes, and stressed the importance of commitment in families. Family research and practice that emphasize quality of family experience, not biological relatedness, is advocated.
Article
Parenting stress was evaluated in families that adopted children who were institutionalized for at least 8 months in a Romanian orphanage (RO group) and two comparison groups: families with Canadian-born, nonadopted children (CB group) and families that adopted Romanian orphans who had spent less than 4 months in Romanian orphanages (RC group). Parenting stress, assessed using parent reports on the Parenting Stress Index (PSI) (Abidin, 1990), was found to be higher in the RO group than in the comparison groups. Predictors of parenting stress in the RO group included aspects of child behavior such as attachment security and number of behavior problems, as well as family factors such as income, mother's age, and number of Romanian children adopted. Of the various predictors, the relationship between parenting stress and behavior problems was particularly strong. The findings are discussed with respect to their implications for special needs adoptions.
Article
This article explores representations of birth and adoptive mothers in the United States from the 1940s to the 1990s. In contrast to previous feminist research on adoption, which primarily has focused on the predicament of birth mothers, the feminist approach advanced in this article emphasizes the interplay of gender and power in the social and scientific construction of both birth motherhood and adoptive motherhood. The article shows that both birth and adoptive mothers in the clinical adoption literature have been depicted as deviants who, at least potentially, fail to conform to dominant definitions of true womanhood and good mothering. In conclusion I examine the feminist response to the on-going sealed records controversy and call for a broader and more balanced feminist definition of motherhood and kinship.
Article
Investigated sources and methods of dealing with stress in 6 families with adopted children (aged 0–20 yrs) who have severe developmental or multiple disabilities. Participant observation was used with families; unstructured interviews were conducted with parents and professionals involved with the adoption process. Interactions with school and medical personnel and other professionals were stressful for all families, as were the difficulty in accessing appropriate services and concern about availability of future services. Parents identified medical crises and crises resulting from adolescents' behavior problems as time-limited stressful situations. Effective stress management techniques were identified. A positive appraisal of life circumstances appeared to contribute to families' successful adjustment to potentially stressful situations. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)