Saturday, October 20, 2012

Adoption Myth Busters: Adopted Kids Grow Up To Break Their Parents Hearts

The Myth: 
Adopted Kids "Turn Out Don't Turn Out Well"

When we were first considering adoption, we received more than one concerned comment about "adopted kids growing up to breaking their parents' hearts" and "not turning out well".

I understand the concern. But, I feel a bit like Marilla Cuthburt in Anne of Green Gables when Rachel Lynde warned her that if she adopted, the child would burn down the house or poison the family by putting strychnine in the well.


To be honest, these comments were a little hurtful.  We know that the ones who made these comments were well meaning people, our family and friends, who were concerned for us and did not want to see us hurt.  Most often, they knew of one adopted person who made lifestyle choices that did disappoint and hurt the parents.  However, no one would ever say to a pregnant woman: "I know of these people who had a child and when he/she grew up, he/she did (fill in the blank with your concern) and broke his/her parents heart."  Yet both biological and adopted children can break their parents' heart with poor lifestyle choices.  There is risk in parenting, but that doesn't detour most people from being parents.

We realize the risk may be higher when parenting an adopted child.  It is true that children who come into a family through adoption do have hurt, loss, and trauma that children who enter a family by birth may not have.

Why We Aren't Worried and This Question is Irrelevant to Us

To be honest, we do not worry about how are children will turn out.  Oh don't get my wrong, we are concerned just as any loving parent of any child (adopted or biological) is concerned.  But we are not worried.  The question of how our kids turn out is irrelevant in our choice to adopt.  You see, our adoption is not just about us.  Of course, we do want to adopt.  But ultimately our choice to adopt is a joyful, loving act of service and obedience to God.  We plan to obey God's call to adopt; love our children and raise them to the best of our abilities; be educated ourselves about ways we can help them and support them; and, of course, get professional help for them as they deal with any emotional wounds they may have from their past.

One of the Primary Barriers to Adoption is Fear

We understand that even though we are not overly worried about the future outcome of our children, there are people who really might worry about this - and not adopt because of their fears.  When I think of children growing up without parents, because of the misconceptions about how adopted kids turn out, I can't stand it.  I decided to find the research and bust this myth!

         How will adopted kids turn out?  How would adoption affect our family?
         These are vital questions to grapple with.  Any family considering
         adoption should know that most every non-infant child in need of
         adoption has faced great difficulty.  This is especially true for children
         who’ve spent significant time living in an institution.  Overcoming
         wrongs a child has experienced in the past may take great effort and
         sacrifice from adoptive parents.

         But ultimately, studies show definitively that adopted children
         consistently thrive in loving homes.  There may be great challenges,
         but most often—as with all parenting—even greater joys.  Adopted
         children and their futures vary as much as biological children do.      
         Most of the time, their outcomes are just about the same as other
         children, sometimes even better.
         (Christian Alliance for Orphans)

Keep reading to find out how successful adopted kids can be!

Myth Busted: 
Adopted Kids Adjust & Do Well in Life as Adults

As Children:

Children tend to be resilient.  Although, they may have faced much trauma, hurt, loss, neglect, or abuse in their young lives, after adoption they adjust well and even thrive. According to a US Department of Health and Human Services survey of thousands of adoptive families including private domestic, foster care, and international adoptions, adopted children adjust well to their adoptive families and are healthy and happy.  Their survey found that most adoptive children ages six and older "fare well, according to six measures of socio-emotional well-being, but a small minority experience serious problems" (Vandivere, Malm, and Radel.)

Figure 19. Bar chart showing the percentage of children according to measures of social and emotional well-being, by adoptive status. Ever diagnosed with depression (age 2+): all children (4%), all adopted children (9%); ever diagnosed with ADD/ADHD (age 6+): all children (10%), all adopted children (26%); ever diagnosed with behavior conduct problems (ages 2+): all children (4%), all adopted children (15%); problems with social behaviors: all children (9%), all adopted children (14%); exhibits positive social behaviors (ages 6+): all children (94%), all adopted children (88%).
Image Source: Vandivere, S., Malm, K., and Radel, L.
As Teens:

Not only do children fair well, but they continue to do well as they enter the tough teen years. According to Christian Alliance for Orphans, "an expansive 1994 study by the Search Institute [of 715 families] comparing adopted teens to other teens found that:
  • Adopted teens scored higher on indicators of well-being such as school performance, friendships, volunteerism, self-esteem and optimism.
  • Adopted teens scored lower on indicators of high-risk behavior such as depression, alcohol use, vandalism, and police trouble.
  • Compared to their non-adopted siblings, adopted teens showed no significant difference in their perception of similarities between themselves and adoptive parents in terms of interests.
  • Children adopted transracially showed no differences in terms of identity formation and self-esteem, attachment to parents, or psychological health."
In Consider the Possibilities: Adoption Specialist Handbook, The National Council for Adoption also reports:
  • "Adopted children are well-integrated into their families and schools and show good psychological outcomes.  There are few differences between children who have been adopted and their non-adopted peers (Palacios and Sanchez-Sandoval, 2005)
  • Long-term outcomes are positive for adopted children, and generally show little or no difference compared to non-adopted children (Benson, 2004).
  • The vast majority of adopted children show behavior patterns and emotional and academic adjustment very similar to those of non-adopted children (Palacios and Sanchez-Sandoval, 2005, Brand and Brinich, 1999, Brodzinsky, 1987).
  • Numerous studies indicate that adoptive parents report high levels of satisfaction with their adoption (Barth and Brooks, 2000).
  • People who were adopted fare significantly better than those children who remain in negligent, abusive birth families, or in foster care or institutions (Maughan et al., 1998, Brodzinsky et al., 1998).
  • If adopted individuals did experience adoption-related struggles, most of these struggles significantly diminished or disappeared by young adulthood (Feigelman, 1997).
  • People who were adopted reported more confidence in their judgment than non-adopted persons, viewed others more positively, and saw their parents as significantly more nurturing, comforting, and protectively concerned and helpful (Marquis and Detweiler, 1985)."
As Adults:

So a large majority adopted children fare well through childhood and the difficult teen years.  But the big question is how are adult adoptees turning out as compared to their non-adoptive counterparts?  This research is a bit harder to find as there is not as much of it.

Feigelman did a study, Adopted Adults: Comparisons With Persons Raised in Conventional Families (1997). Feigelman used "archival data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth. This study compares the adult behavior patterns of adoptees (N = 101) and children raised in all other types of attenuated nuclear families (N = 3,949) with those raised till age 18 by both biological parents (N = 6,258)."

Feigelman found that  adult "adoptees, showed some, but much less clear evidence of long-term difficulties arising from their more turbulent adolescent experiences, compared to those growing up with both bio-parents...Yet, In most all other aspects surveyed -such as the recent use of drugs, educational attainments, job holding, employment successes, asset accumulations, home ownership and marital stability, they appeared much like those raised in intact bio-parent families."(1997)

Outcomes for Un-adopted Children who Grow Up in Foster Care or Orphanages

The statistics quoted above have a bright outcome for children.  The statistics for children who are never adopted, are not so bright. In fact, they are quite sad.  These un-adopted children will bounce around from foster family to foster family or live in an institution until they age out of the system.

Children who age out of Foster Care:

"Foster care is supposed to be a temporary haven for children living in unsafe conditions. But about one-quarter of the 500,000 children in foster care in the U.S. end up in the system until they become adults...Nationwide, an estimated 30,000 adolescents age out of the foster care system each year."

  "According to studies of young people discharged to themselves in different states: 12-30 percent struggled with homelessness; 40-63 percent did not complete high school; 25-55 percent were unemployed; those employed had average earnings below the poverty level, and only 38 percent of those employed were still working after one year; 30-62 percent had trouble accessing health care due to inadequate finances or lack of insurance; 32-40 percent were forced to rely on some form of public assistance and 50 percent experienced extreme financial hardship; 31-42 percent were arrested; 18-26 percent were incarcerated; and 40-60 percent of the young women were pregnant within 12-18 months of leaving foster care." (

Children Who Age Out of Orphanages:

If the situation is bleak in America, it is even bleaker most parts of the world.  In America, we are blessed to have a foster care system.  Though it is not perfect, foster care is better than an institution for children.

In many countries orphaned and abandoned children, as well as children with parental rights terminated due to neglect or abuse, grow up in orphanages.  If not adopted,these children age out of the orphanage system at only age 15-16, and are turned out on there own. Everyday an estimated 38,000 children age out of an orphanage. 

"In Ukraine and Russia 10% -15% of children who age out of an orphanage commit suicide before age 18, 60% of the girls are lured into prostitution, 70% of the boys become hardened criminals. Many of these children accept job offers that ultimately result in their being sold as slaves. Millions of girls are sex slaves today, simply because they were unfortunate enough to grow up as orphans. Reliable statistics are difficult to find, even the sources often list only estimates, and street children are rarely included. But even if these figures are exaggerated by double, it is still an unacceptable tragedy that over a million children would still become orphans every year, and every year 7 million children would still grow to adulthood as orphans with no one to belong to and no place to call home." (
My Conclusion

There are no guarantees when parenting any child.  Parenting the adopted child will present unique challenges, perhaps more difficult the challenges of raising biological children.  There is a slightly higher risk that adoptees will make poor choices as adults.  The assumption that all adoptees will turn out badly is just as false as assuming all biological children will turn out well. A vast amount of research supports that adult adoptees adjust well and succeed in life!

I can't help but think some day I will again feel like Marilla Cuthbert.  One day, I will be so thankful that Andrew and I chose to adopt.  One day, when we count our blessings - our children will be at the top of our list!

"Oh, Anne, I know I've been strict and harsh with you maybe - but you must think I didn't love you as well as Matthew did, for all that.  I want to tell you now when I can.  It's never been easy for me to say things our of my heart, but at times like this it's easier.  I love you as dear as if you were my own flesh and blood and you've been my joy and comfort ever since you came to Green Gables." - Marilla Cuthbert (from Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Montgomery)


That is What I Call An Adoption Myth Busted!

  • Christian Alliance for Orphans - 
  • Vandivere, S., Malm, K., and Radel, L. Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents. (Washington, D.C.: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2009), viewed online at 
  • Suvery of 715 Adoptive Families with Teens by Search Institute in 1994 -
  • Brodzinsky, D.M. Adjustment to adoption: A psychosocial perspective. Clinical Psychology
    Review (1987)
  • Marquis, K.S., and Detweiler, R.A. Does adoption mean different? An attributional analysis.
    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1985)
  • Brand, A.E. & Brinich, P.M. (1999). Behavior Problems and Mental Health Contacts inAdopted, Foster, and Nonadopted Children.
  • Barth, R.P. and Brooks, D. (2000). Outcomes for drug exposed children eight years postadoption.
  • Feigelman, W. (1997) "Adopted Adults: Comparisons With Persons Raised in Conventional
    Families," Marriage and Family Review, Vol. 25, Nos. 3/4, pp. 199-223.
  • Brodzinsky, D.M. (1993). Long-term outcomes in adoption. The Future of Children, (
  • The National Council for Adoption (2007). Consider the Possibilities: Adoption Specialist Handbook.


  1. I love this post. Eye-opening stats! Let's pray for all the children growing up in institutions and foster care homes around the world. The numbers are overwhelming! Let's pray that God brings them into a forever family in His perfect timing.

  2. Wonderful post! And so true!! So exciting to "meet" another adopting couple! :)

  3. Thanks to both of you! Yes, Charity, I was excited when Angie told me her sister was adopting! And yes, Jeremy and Shelly, I definitely pray for all orphaned and abandoned children. It breaks my heart to think of all the children in this world growing up without parents. I pray that more people will have their eyes opened to the need of parents for children here in the USA and around the world!