UK – Research into long-term effects of children adopted from foreign orphanages published

Quality of the adoptive home is important contributor to adult well-being

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering has published new research into the long-term effects and outcomes for children adopted from orphanages and other institutions from abroad.

During the 1960s, just over a hundred girls were sent to the UK via the International Social Services UK Hong Kong Adoption Project and placed for adoption following publicity surrounding World Refugee Year. Today the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) has published a new research study funded by the Nuffield Foundation about the outcomes for these women.

Adversity, Adoption and Afterwards: A mid-life follow-up study of women adopted from Hong Kong” by Julia Feast, Margaret Grant, Alan Rushton and John Simmonds reports how the 72 women who participated in the study have fared in life.

The women were mostly abandoned as infants and spent between 8 and 72 months in one of four orphanages in Hong Kong. Whilst they appear to have experienced a reasonable quality of physical and medical care and nutrition in comparison to the globally depriving environments reported in other adoption studies, they lacked the consistent one-to-one care and stimulation that infants typically need for their proper development.

There have been longstanding questions about how the extent to which early adversity in childhood, especially lack of individualised psycho-social care, creates problems developmentally and also how it effects the life choices people take in later life. This unique study gives a rare opportunity to explore the impact of adverse early experience, modified by adoption in creating both opportunities and risks through both child and adulthood over 50 years.

Key findings are:

  • When orphanage care is not severely depriving, mid-life outcomes may not lead their mental health outcomes, well-being and life satisfaction to be significantly different from comparison women. Neither was there evidence of severe difficulties in adult social relationships or poor self-esteem.
  • The quality of the adoptive home is an important contributor to well-being as adults.
  • For some women, working out how separation from their birth family and being Chinese in the UK has proved to be difficult.
  • Virtually all the women reported some experience of racism or prejudice in both child and adulthood. This ranged from playground name-calling during childhood to serious racist attacks.
  • When asked how they usually describe their ethnic identity, half identified themselves as Chinese, 19% British, 15% British-Chinese and the remainder used personal definitions. There did not seem to be any evidence that they chose to live in areas with significant Chinese populations.
  • As the orphanages in Hong Kong seem to have provided a much better level of care than for example those in Romania, this might help to explain why this group of women seem to have fared much better than might be predicted based on what we know from child / adolescent / early adult studies of internationally adopted people.

The report is available for purchase from the BAAF online shop.

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