Mental Health of Adoptive Parents

Keynote Address
Dr Rickarby's Submission to NSW Inquiry
Dissociation and a Psychiatric Diagnosis
Mothers Mental Health Damage
Ignored Counselling Needs
Origins Presentation Westmead Hospital Conference
The Damaged Adopted Child
Submission to Senate Inquiry
Origins Mental Health Conference Papers
Mental Health of Adopters
Youth Suicides

Origins Inc.

Mental Health of Adoptive Parents

What They Knew and Didn't Tell Us.



Kirk.D.H.PdD. Jonassohn. K.MA. and Fish.A.D,

On the study of Incidence and Etiology of Psychological Difficulties in Adopted Children Over a Period of Three Years. Kirk, Jonassohn and Fish in their finding show that adoptive relations are subject to strains not typically part of the nuclear family, and that adoptive parents tend to respond to these strains by behaviour that is conducive to poor integration of the adoptive family unit,

They also noted that clinics dealing with learning problems show the highest proportion of adopted children. Both adoption and concern with learning problems are more common in the middle classes than in the working classes,



Mc Whinnie. A. M,

Mc Whinnie claims that it was evident that the situation of a child being brought up by parents who did not bear him can be a complicated experiment beset with problems for the child and the parents, and it is not, as often assumed, one, "with no more problems than those potentially inherent in any other parent-child relationship",

She points out from the conclusions of studies by Michaels and Brenner's, that it was dangerous to assume that those couples who were better educated and who were in the higher income groups necessarily provided a richer home emotionally for an adopted child,

She also commented on Shaw, who's study was mainly concerned with middle class families, and who also commented on the fact that the less intelligent child was a disappointment to his parents. Shaw had also commented that adopting parents stressed the importance of matching the achievement background of the biological parents and adopting parents in order to avoid such disappointments,

Mc Whinnie also refers to her study about the conditions of religious affiliation for prospective adopters. Her study again shows that other factors are important here, and it should not be assumed that because the adopters are members of a church they would make sympathetic adopters. In fact it would seem important to assess particularly carefully the attitudes of those who hold very rigid religious beliefs since these, if unduly puritanical, might lead them to finding difficulty in accepting illegitimacy and the child born to unmarried parents,

When she examined the reason for adoption by married couples it was found in certain circumstances that the child would not be accepted for itself but only so far as it met the need of the adopters. Such circumstances were found to be where the reasons for adoption were: To have someone who belonged to the adopters, or who would offer them company, or to have some one to look after them in their old age, or to repeat their own early childhood through the adoptee,

It was found that adopted children resented the attitude found in adoptive homes, that the children should be grateful to the adoptive parents, because they had been cared for and adopted by them. This led to resentment and rebellion since the children felt that they had had no opportunity to participate in the decision that these particular people would adopt them,

An important and unexpected finding by Mc Whinnie showed that communication in the adoptive family was on the whole one-way, from the adopters to the child. The child wanted to know the details of his adoption and biological parents but could not bring himself to ask his adopters. Even when the subject was raised the child frequently feigned indifference,



Watkins J. 1968 asks, how often do you hear or read, "that an adopted child is just the same as your own" in the context that the experience of adoption has been gone through in the decision and enquiries about adoption, and with the taking home of the child, that experience ceases to exist, and the future has no connection with it,

It is not difficult in this society for adoptive parents to cling to the defence of denial even when it's usefulness has passed. An example of this comes to mind about a young couple deeply grieving their infertility, who took an overseas trip to try to ease their disappointment and tension, but were constantly reminded of their problem,

They returned home and applied to adopt. When I (Watkins) saw the mother and child aged two, through discussing how she would tell him of his adoption, she expressed great feeling that she would never pass on any positive information to the child of his natural mother or father. The child might reject her in favour of the natural parents. She could feel nothing for the childs need for some positive identification with the natural parents,



Rikarby.G.A.: Lee.M.M.: Said.J.: Eagan.P.:

In a study of 22 adoptive families, themes that emerged included problems with bonding, motivations for adoption, and psychiatric illness of parents. Implications for adoption workers are discussed,

Recent studies have reported that up to 13.3% of children attending child psychiatric services were adopted, compared with a much smaller incidence of adoption in the general population. Explanations offered for this are,

  1. Adoptive parents used services more.
  2. Records of agencies were inadequate.
  3. Particular conflicts due to adoption led to more disturbance.
  4. Different attachment/bonding in adoptive families.
  5. Pathological motivation for adoption.
  6. Severe damage to the families from failure of parental self esteem due to sterility.
  7. Unrealistic expectations and hopes of adoptive families.
  8. More psychopathology in adoptive families.
  9. Adoptive children were "inferior genetically" or "deprived".

There was a failure in seven families of mother-child bonding and poor bonding in another. There were also indications of fathers failing to accept children. These results threw into focus the theory that there may be greater bonding difficulties with a mother taking a child suddenly (easy come, easy go). Four of the seven families had members with diagnoses of major mental illness.

Children were adopted to replace dead children in six instances and in one of these the presenting child at the clinic was the "companion" for the specific replacement child. With another of the six it was explained that the mother's psychiatric illness prevented her from having a third child: with neither of these was there acknowledgement of sterility.

Overall there was retrospective evidence of pathological motivations in at least half of the families.

With respect to individual members, major psychiatric illness was evident in eight parents and there were indications of many grossly neurotic or disturbed interactions in eleven other families.

They summarise by saying that: Where a child has not developed in the mothers uterus, it has no biological links with the family and is not seen as a continuation of life of the parents and grand-parents. Bonding then, may be a very difficult process. In addition the short time of notice that is given to adopting parents that they may collect their baby may add further dangers to the development of bonding.

It is strongly suggested that adoption workers should carefully examine adopting parents and their psychiatric state before approving them for adoption.

Copyright   Origins Inc, 1995

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