In brief: The resilience of international adoptees

In brief

The resilience of international adoptees

More than 40,000 children each year are adopted across national lines, coming mostly to the United States (23,000) and Western Europe (nearly 16,000). These children may have been separated from their parents by thousands of miles and sometimes have lost their original language and culture. They may have suffered neglect, abuse, malnutrition, emotional deprivation, and inadequate medical care both before and after birth. But according to a meta-analysis by researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands, these stories have a surprisingly happy ending. Most international adoptees turn out quite well — in fact, better than children adopted within their own countries.

The study, which surveyed records for more than 25,000 adopted children, compared behavioral and emotional problems and mental health referrals among international adoptees, domestic adoptees, and children living with birth families (the control group). Behavior problems were classified as externalizing (aggression, delinquency, hyperactivity) and internalizing (anxiety, depression, social withdrawal).

International adoptees had suffered a higher rate of extreme deprivation, such as neglect, malnutrition, and abuse, than children in the other two groups. Still, compared to the controls, they had only slightly more serious behavior problems, both internalizing and externalizing. Domestic adoptees were distinctly worse off than the other two groups.

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