Psychology in Russia: State of the Art
Volume 6, Issue 4, 2013
Psychological problems of late adoption as observed
in Brazil through a cultural-historical approach
Universidade Nove de Julho/IPAF Lev Vygotsky, São Paulo, Brazil
is work discusses certain cultural-historical concepts relating to late adoption. is
term is used for the adoption of children over 2 years old. Unfortunately most people do
not wish to adopt children over 2 years old. Generally they seek newborn babies, which
are a rare population, probably because of birth control campaigns. e children who
are available in orphanages are older children who are unwanted. is paper tries to
deal with this issue emphasizing that relationships are built within a family, transforming
those involved. It lays out principles for a successful adoption and illustrates this matter
with a case study. Relationships should be provided so that people can interact. is in-
teraction will lead to the transformation of all of those involved within the established re-
lationship, which constitute the human being. We intend to demystify the dicult matter
of late adoption, which is one of the key aspects concerning the return of the child to an
orphanage. e adaptation of late adopted children is said to be more dicult, but when
we believe that human beings can change and be modied through the relationships they
establish, we see a promising possibility for late adoption. Late adoption can be successful
when we view it from a relational point of view, stressing that relationships transform all
the individuals involved within the group.
Keywords: adoption, relationship, mediation, transformation, children, cultural-histo-
Adoption is dened in ECA (Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente,1994) as a mo-
dality of putting a person into a substitute family. It happens through a judicial
process in which the specic competence is of the Judge of Childhood and Adoles-
cence. It only occurs when all possibilities to return the child to the original family
have been considered.
erefore it is necessary for the biological parents to authorize ocially. is is
called destitution of parenthood. ECA (1994) says that adoption gives the condi-
tion of parenthood to the people who adopt. It promotes the insertion of the child
into the family environment in a denitive way. It is irrevocable. e adoptive par-
ISSN 2074-6857 (Print) / ISSN 2307-2202 (Online)
© Lomonosov Moscow State University, 2013
© Russian Psychological Society, 2013
Psychological problems of late adoption as observed in Brazil… 177
ents have to be at least 16 years older than the adoptee. e adopted child will have
the same rights that a biological child has.
Adoption is a theme that has been very thoroughly considered within cultural-
historical psychology, because it includes the issue of the relationship being funda-
mental for the constitution of the human being (Bock, 2002). We believe that the
individual only constitutes himself when in contact with another. When we talk
about this theme, we notice that relationships transform human beings, so when
an adoption happens, not only the adoptive parents but also the adopted child are
subjects of transformation.
In this way we believe that a late adoption is best analysed when seen from a
cultural-historical point of view. In contrast to other proposals, the cultural- his-
torical theory considers the human being as a subjective individual who develops
himself in an intrapersonal way when in contact with an interpersonal world of
relationships. (Vigotskii, 2001).
It is within the relationship with the other that the human being develops him-
self and internalizes the world around. In this case the chances of a late adoption
succeeding increase very much, because behavior and personality are capable of
being modied all the time within the relationship between an individual and the
world. People have an active and social interaction with society.
When we talk about a successful relationship, we consider the possibilities of
a bad result in a relationship and a possible return of the child to the shelter home
where he was living before. is is common particularity with older children who
are in the late adoption preparation period. But what is success or failure when we
talk about a relationship? Do we turn back a biological child? If so, to whom?
is work proposes a reection on the adoption universe. When we reect on
this subject we believe that a new door will open up to think more profoundly
about the issue of late adoption. We intend to look at this universe through the
cultural-historical theory, emphasizing that relationships can transform people.
Late adoption is a dicult and controversial theme to approach when we consider
adoptions in general.
Late adoption is considered when the child is older than two years and can per-
ceive himself as dierent from the other and from the world. e child should have
a certain level of independency to deal with his basic needs. It is important that the
child desires to be adopted. A slow approximation and a good preparation period
should be provided between the child and the adoptive family for better disclosure
of the adoption.
In late adoptions it is known that the more time the child stays at the shelter
home, the more risky it becomes for adaptation within an adoptive family. e
child frequently tests the love of the adoptive parents. Children who were turned
back aer a period of living together can have greater diculty in trusting and ac-
cepting a new family. e self-esteem of the child may be fragile because he may
be feeling guilty at having been abandoned, rejected, and turned back to the shelter
home. erefore careful psychological work should be done with these children for
a better adaptation to the new realities. is psychological work includes individual
sessions as well as technical orientation at the Forum.
178 C. Anauate
Adoption in Brazil
Since 2008 Brazil has had the Cadastro Nacional da Adoção, which formalized can-
didates for adoption and ordered them based on regions. In 2009, 4,253 adoptions
took place in São Paulo.
In Brazil most of the children are adopted before they reach 3 years old. Aer
this age things become more complicated. Most of the older children are either
adopted by foreigners or remain at shelter homes. Research (Weber, 1995) has re-
vealed that most adoptive parents believe they will have problems with late adop-
tion because of prejudicial factors such as:
sible with late adoption.
Late adoptive parents normally have a specic prole (Francis,1997):
- The individuals are more stable emotionally
- Have good self esteem and a positive vision of themselves
- High maturity level
e theme of late adoption is being raised increasingly oen. Most of the can-
didates for adoptive parents want a child up to 2 years old. We have the following
- From 2008 onwards in Brazil:
- 36% only accept a white child
- 32% are indifferent to color
- 27% want a child younger than 1 year old
- 50% accept a child with physical problems
- 32% accept siblings
Camargo (2005) provides us with data that in recent studies children have been
abandoned by their biological families and ended up being raised in institutions.
Few children are adopted by families, the majority are excluded socially and end up
living on the streets. e author identies that in Brazil the model of adoption used
is still the classical one in which the reasons to adopt are related to the wellbeing of
the couple, and not of the child.
is reality has been changing. Updates in Brazil show that there is a new adop-
tion culture in which there is a search of families for children and not of children
for families. is new vision contemplates modern adoptions which include late
adoptions, adoptions of groups of siblings, adoptions of children with special needs
and/or with HIV, etc. e best interests of the child is the focus, and this interest
should be provided by a family and not an institution (Costa & Rossetti-Ferreira,
Puretz & Luiz (2007) assert that there is still a long way to go to minimize con-
cerns related to late adoption. e authors mention that all involved in this matter
need to be alert to possibilities of promoting the adoption of institutionalized chil-
dren. Arnold (2011 ) points out that it is very important to use a multi-professional
Psychological problems of late adoption as observed in Brazil… 179
working team to inform and educate people through means of lectures, which will
answer doubts and discuss matters relating to prejudice. Campaigns would also be
very helpful to inform the population and contribute to tackling prejudices and
myths on this matter, contributing to their prevention and solutions for abandoned
children. All professionals in the area should be present in order to promote new
visions and paths for late adoption.
Increasingly, we consider it highly important for preparations to include everyone
involved in the adoption process. Preparations include: interviews, psychotherapy
(principally for the child if he has already been turned back), visits to the Forum, in
the shelter home, and in the adoptive home. ere are support groups for adoption
in Brazil which are recommended to adoptive parents so that they can exchange
experiences and doubts.
A period of adaptation is fundamental — a being-together period helps to build
up parenthood bonds. ese bonds require eort, dedication, hard work and time.
Both parties — adoptive parents and the adoptive child — should invest in the rela-
tionship with love, to overcome diculties and dierences. Vygotsky (1994) points
out that it is essential to relate to each other because it is only within relationships
that one can constitute his inner self and modify himself and the other. erefore
the cultural-historical theory underlies this work and aims for successful adoption
when it emphasizes that people are in constant change when in relationships with
other people and the world around them.
Adoption is irrevocable, so this preparation period is fundamental for everyone
to get to know each other. A crisis always happens when a new member arrives in
a family, and there is an accommodation period to go through. In a crisis there are
always risks, but also opportunities for growth.
Campos (2010) pointed to some specic characteristics typical of the period of
1) Regressive behaviors appear in the child — it is as if the child becomes a
newborn baby and is ready to be born again.
2) Aggressiveness — the child passes through emotional outbursts. The adop-
tive parents should contain this anger and provide psychotherapy for the
3) Aggressiveness primordially towards the adoptive mother — the fear of be-
ing abandoned again brings out hostile attitudes. It is a form of protection
4) Quick rhythm of global child development.
5) Dealing with social prejudice — comments raise anxieties and fear towards
the adoptive parents.
6) Significant effort of the child to identify himself with new parental mo-
7) Build-up of parenthood bonds having to pass quickly through many sta-
ges — all the processes occur simultaneously.
180 C. Anauate
8) The parenthood bond can be done in a different way — everyone loves and
shows affection in a different way.
9) Acquisition of new habits — takes time to modify habits.
10) Acquisition of new food habits — children learn a lot through imitation, so
stimulate his sense of taste.
11) The child builds up a new identity.
12) Feelings of vulnerability, impotence and guilt — it is common to have am-
13) Mobilization of intense and contradictory emotions — bonds are created
depending upon how much they are nurtured.
14) The child presents himself as mature in some aspects and immature in oth-
Campos (2010) arms that it is dicult to be completely ready. It is important to:
Preparation course of adoption
In order to provide better preparation for parents that want to adopt a child, we or-
ganized a Preparation Course of Adoption focusing on these relational objectives.
Participation in this course is required under Brazilian law. Only those who partici-
pated of this course are able to ocially enter the Cadastro Nacional de Adoção. In
this way we suggest a format of this course that focuses on the Cultural- Historical
theory to potentialize human relations.
Preparation Adoption Course:
• Presentation of participants and the technical group promoting inter-
change aiming for development.
country where this course will take place.
ing speeches of adoptive parents and the technical group which works with this
specic theme. is lm aims to provide information. It is an instrument which
mediates specic actualized data about legislation, and presents case studies that
illustrate the facts.
• Commentsabout the lm andaboutgeneraladoptionmatters.isdis-
cussion will be followed by the psychologist and Social Assistant emphasizing the
importance of listening to others, the meaning of adopting a child, and the state of
being parents. It is important to give an opportunity to everyone present to express
their sensations and perceptions on the content presented on the lm. According
to the cultural-historical theory, this promotes the development of the people in-
volved, through a process of internalization.
Psychological problems of late adoption as observed in Brazil… 181
tance to break down pre-established barriers of prejudice against adopting older
children. e couple tells the group about experiences related to the relationship
they have with their late adopted child. ey focus on what their expectations were
before adopting the child and what actually happened aer they started to live to-
gether, and adopted ocially. e aim of this speech is to show the group that, ac-
cording to Bock (2002), people modify, and modify the other, when in relationship
with the other.
home because of inadaptation. is recorded speech will serve to help to make the
future adoptive parents aware of the emotional results that occur aer an unsuc-
cessful preparation period. It is important to focus on the fact that this child is
a human being with subjectivity and emotions, who has already suered on one
or more occasions the abandoning of a parent. Subjectivity, within the cultural-
historical theory is built up in a process of interrelations, so providing good quality
relationships among adoptive parents and children is the aim of this preparation
goal of ensuring that the future adoptive parents observe the reality of the children.
Observation of the environment and how care givers look aer the children. is
proposal has the objective of promoting the opportunity to spend a day with chil-
dren who live in shelters and to promote relationships. Vygotsky (1994) arms
that within relationships, the interpersonal becomes intrapersonal. erefore this
will be a moment of reection — are these future adoptive parents prepared for the
future adoptive parents and children can interact for a period of time. is interac-
tion is a crucial moment needed to relate and to transform concepts.
• Asnackcanbe oeredbythefutureadoptiveparentsto the childrenso
they can have more time to talk and be together in an informal setting. is is also
an opportunity, as pointed out by Aguiar (2002), to “objectivate subjectivity and
ect at home about the two days of the course, and bring to the next meeting a item
(a drawing, poem, text, etc.) to discuss with the whole group. is gives the future
adoptive parents a chance for reection. ey will be able to reect on their feelings
and emotions through an artistic production and share this with other participants
to promote a moment of sharing thoughts and reassessing realities. According to
the cultural-historical theory, this item should reect the process of internalization
of all experience so far lived through.
notions on various possibilities for adoptions: late adoptions, inter-racial adop-
182 C. Anauate
tions, adopting a sick child, adoption of siblings, etc. is lm will provide the op-
portunity for participants to get information and open their minds to other forms
of adoption. e aim is always to stress that relationships transform everyone in-
volved in the process.
• Eachcouplewill presentanitembroughtfromhome(a drawing,poem,
text etc.) relating to impressions on the rst and second day, and discuss it with the
group. e process of exchanging experiences in an interpersonal matter promotes
sistant will conduct this closing sessions, allowing all the participants to say how
they rst arrived for the course, and how they are now. If the course has in any way
changed their vision of adoption and the expectations of all participants, this is an
opportunity to externalize emotions and changes that occurred in this interper-
• At the end, the Psychologist and the Social Assistant will make specic
comments of their expertise, help the participants going through last-minute
doubts, and give support. ey will also ask the participants to give feedback on the
Cultural-historical theory and late adoption
Under the cultural-historical theory according to Bock (2002), man is constituted
through the relationship that he establishes with his social world and the people
around him. It is contact and exchange that permits the development of a human
being. erefore the child will be brought up through the relationship that he has
with other people. People are a result of the relationships they experience. Subjec-
tivity is socially constituted.
In this matter he will internalize the world and constitute his subjectivity by
means of the relationships and the life he will live. González Rey (1995) considers
that the constitution of individual subjectivity is a singular process that emerges
from the person in contact with the actual environment. e social world becomes
subjective when it is converted into something relevant for the development of the
Parents are the mediators between the child and the world. e parents will
provide interaction which permits the child to develop as a human being belonging
to the universe. Vygotsky (1995) infers that through contact with the world of rela-
tionships, the child internalizes the instruments, actions and relationships that are
presented to him by others, permitting the development of superior psychological
functions. In this way the child will grow as a social and active human being.
Aguiar (2002) points out that man is in a constant relationship with the world,
intervening in it and at the same time being aected by it, and internalizing and
registering it. erefore the psychological world is constituted from the relation-
ships of man with the objective, social and cultural world. Man constitutes his psy-
chological world within the relationship he has with the world, objectivating sub-
jectivity and subjectivating objectivity.
Psychological problems of late adoption as observed in Brazil… 183
Vygotsky (1994) arms that such instruments, actions and social relationships
are presented to the child, in the rst place, on the interpsychological and social
level, and only aerwards in an intrapsychological, internal and subjective level,
through the process of internalization.
e initial relationship of men with their external environment is mediated:
the child needs to manipulate objects, live situations, and establish relationships
with other persons in the social environment to be able to appropriate, internalize,
and mentally represent objects, events and relationships. is process of relational
experience of the child is the driver for the development of superior psychological
functions (Vygotsky, 1995).
I will illustrate this work with a case study of two children: a brother and a sister:
the boy is four years old and the girl is six. ey were put in dierent adoptive
homes three times, each time unsuccessfully.
Various trials were made for the children to return to their biological family,
but the only possible member, a grandmother, said she lacked the conditions to
take care of them. e conclusion was to let us put the children up for adoption.
e shelter home started preparations.
e professionals from the shelter home started to prepare the children to
meet a new family. A family from the Cadastro Nacional de Adoção was contact-
ed and came to meet the children in the shelter home. e family and children
both showed tenderness towards each other. On the same day the children went
to live with the couple during the preparation period. 20 days later the couple
brought back the children to the shelter home, saying that they did not adapt. e
girl said that she did not like staying with the family. e boy could not express
e children were warmly received back in the shelter home, and participated
in art therapy activities. e girl started to present a rebellious attitude, and did not
accept rules and limits. She returned to pre-school and was very well received by
everyone. Both the shelter home and the school worked together to provide reec-
tion on rules and obligations with the child.
Six months later another couple from the Cadastro Nacional da Adoção started
to visit the children. is time a timetable was drawn up for the visits, and twice a
week the couple stayed in the shelter home with the children for a period of time.
Aerwards the couple took the children several times to a park close to the shelter
home to start to build up aectionate bonds. During this time the children received
orientation from the professionals working at the shelter home on how to live in
a family, and about rules, limits, tenderness, aection, and relationships between
Aer one month the children went to spend a weekend with the couple in their
house. e future mother said that the girl did not behave well and decided to give
up her approach for these children. e children were attended by a psychologist.
ey were well received back in the shelter home, where they started to do a Life
Story Notebook with pictures of the most important moments of their lives.
184 C. Anauate
Two months later a new couple started to approach them. Visits started to hap-
pen in the shelter home and then at their house. A new house, a new couple, a new
preparation for an adoption period. But a new disappointment.
ree months later the couple gave up, saying that the children were not adapt-
ing and that the couple had relational problems. e children were back to the shel-
ter home again with a very tender reception. e children continued their psycho-
therapy, art therapy, and leisure and cultural activities. Now we are introducing the
children to a new couple. is couple has three grown-up children of their own and
one adopted girl, the same age as the girl in this study case. One of their daughters
has already worked in the shelter home and has bonds with the children. We are
preparing the children and the couple, talking about everything that these children
have already gone through. e couple have already met the children inside the
Forum. ey played for two hours in the play room inside the Forum. Apparently
everything is going well.
e couple is being oriented on how much people change when in a relation-
ship with another person, how subjectivity is built up within relationships, and
how people change all the time. We drew up a timetable of meetings for the couple
and children to be together. A icker of love is emerging between the children and
adoptive parents. e girl, who used to be more dicult to approximate, is getting
close, and trying to overcome the feeling of a abandonment so familiar from past
relationships. e boy, as usual, is already calling the adoptive parents: “Mom” and
“Dad”. Bonds are being built in a context of hope. is time we hope to achieve suc-
cess — a successful late adoption case. According to the cultural-historical theory,
relationships promote change, and people modify each other when in relationships
with each other. Opening up to a relationship is not easy, we can say it is a chal-
lenge. It is important to remind ourselves that these children tried to open up and
to relate, several times. We can consider these children to be resilient, because aer
three unsuccessful experiences, they are trying again. As Bock (2002) points out,
every new relationship is an opportunity for growth and internalization of new
possibilities of change. erefore, aer three couples, we are working on love, care
and tender feelings. It all depends on the relationships established within an open
heart, and the most naive feeling of all — pure love!
Adoptive parents serve as mediators of the world to their child. In this way the
parents are responsible for presenting the world and all concerned within it to this
child. is responsibility involves the way the child will internalize the world. It
does not matter how old the adopted child is because his subjectivity will be built
within the relationships he has, and his experiences in life.
In this way, Bock (2002) arms that man transforms and is transformed in a
constant process. erefore, relationships constitute man, so adoptive parents will
raise their child and educate him in the way they believe is best, within social prin-
It is important to point out that relationships involve a two-way exchange,
therefore one constitutes the other and transforms the other, in a process which
focuses on the best adaptation to reality.
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Received: 28 September 2013
Accepted: 15 November 2013
Available online: 15 December 2013