Myths & Misconceptions About Adoption: Part 1

blog title and 3 pictures of families

There are about 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, which is 2% of the population, or one out of 50 children. Each adoption, and adoptees’ experience, is unique. Still, when it comes to the subject of adoption, there are many common misunderstandings about the topic.

We are beginning a series to dispel some of the common misconceptions and dive deeper into truths about adoption.

One common assumption made: “Children who are adopted are permanently emotionally damaged.”

The truth is, adoptive children are faced with situations and difficulties that other children aren’t. All adoptions begin with tremendous change for the child. There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with children who are placed for adoption. There are nuances to the complexity of being adopted, and it may take time for adopted children to navigate this. With time, care, patience and the right resources, it is entirely possible to process trauma in a healthy way.

Childhood Trauma: Long-term Effects

While every adoption story is different, one thing to remember is that there is no adoption without loss. Experts consider separation from birth parents, even as an infant, a traumatic event. Many children may also have other traumatic experiences before being adopted. There are a number of potential long-term negative effects of early trauma on physical and mental health. That is why EVOLVE advocates for a trauma-informed approach to mental healthcare.

Research shows that toxic stress has significant negative impacts on the development of key structures in childhood brain development. Early stress can:

  • Reduce the size of the hippocampus, which reduces ability to regulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a traumatic event.
  • Reduce the size and volume of the corpus callosum, which contributes to cognitive function, and emotion. 
  • Prevent full development of the prefrontal cortex.
  • Increase activity in the amygdala, which allows us to assess danger and trigger the release of stress hormones.

Due to this impact on children’s brain development, there are effects on emotional, behavioral, and social functioning later in life. A few potential consequences include:

  • Experiencing a chronic state of fear.
  • Impairments related to intellectual development, attention, or impulse control.
  • Increased anxiety and depression.
  • Struggles with low self-esteem.

Racial and Cultural Identity

On top of the early childhood trauma that already exists, transracially adopted children may also experience feelings of alienation and low self-esteem due to a lack of representation or connection to their culture. An important part of their childhood should be the ability to explore their identity and culture. This includes knowledge about things such as, hair care or skin care.

When it comes to transracial or transcultural adoption, families need to be pro-active and open-minded, understanding that raising a child of another race or culture takes more than love. For parents of children of color, it is necessary to actively seek resources to support and prepare them to participate in the community as a person of color. Parents need to help guide and give their children the skills they will need to understand and face micro-aggressions.

Ask yourself:

  • If you do not look like your child, how will you help your child develop positive self-esteem and racial identity?
  • What is your knowledge of your child’s ethnic history, and how will you teach it?
  • Will your child have other people in the community that look like them or will they be isolated?

Supporting Your Child

As we have learned, adopted kids are at an increased risk of developing emotional and developmental problems as they get older. Transracially adopted kids also need extra support to develop and explore their identity. However, adopted children aren’t “permanently damaged.” Children are amazingly resilient. Adoptive parents can make a difference by providing a structured, nurturing environment.

To process their trauma, adopted children need stability, understanding, and support from engaged parents. A stable home environment can help children unlearn the way they have been conditioned to expect constant danger and loss. They need parents that will help them embrace their identity, address personal mindsets, and advocate for racial justice.

Beyond this, adopted children with histories of abuse also need access to help from a mental health professional. Through therapy, they can learn how to identify triggers, manage stress, and navigate the complex emotions related to early trauma.

Responding to children’s needs in a supportive, trauma-informed, and culturally aware way greatly impacts future development and can nurture a positive adolescent experience.

Here are some resources to learn more about the impacts of adoption and how to support your adopted child:

Here are some resources to learn more about transracial adoption and how to help children develop a healthy racial identity:

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