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Positive parent-child relationships lead to better outcomes for adopted children

Thursday, November 11, 2010 – Jeremy Craig, University Relations

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Georgia State University researchers have found that adopted adolescents who have good relationships with their parents are less likely to get into trouble and are more likely to do better in school, compared to adoptees growing up in more distant families.

Kathleen Whitten, visiting lecturer of psychology, and Scott Weaver, assistant professor of psychology, analyzed data from the National Survey of Adoptive Parents, a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

In their study, to be published in the December edition of Adoption Quarterly, they found that adolescents with better relationships with their adoptive parents were less likely to skip school, to be suspended, or to have trouble with law enforcement or substance abuse.

They also found that the teens, aged 13 to 17, had higher achievement in language arts and reading.

“Historically, there was a view that children couldn’t grow up as healthy in an adoptive family as in a biological one,” Whitten said. “Our findings contradict that, and are also consistent with more contemporary studies that have found that adoptive parents may spend more time with their children, and there may be less conflict in those families.”

The measures for the parent-child relationships include questions about how often the child is affectionate or tender with the parent, and whether the parent trusts the child, for example.

Additionally, Whitten and Weaver found no differences in these outcomes for children who were adopted by parents of a different race.

“Some thought at one time that parents of a different race couldn’t provide racial socialization, therefore leading to worse child outcomes,” Whitten said. “We analyzed a group of transracially adopted children to see if there were any differences, and there’re not.”

Like adolescents in the broader sample of adoptees, transracially adopted children with positive relationships with their parents had better behavioral and school adjustment.

The National Survey of Adoptive Parents is the first nationally representative sample of adoptive families in the United States, and it’s providing a wealth of data to investigate adoption. Data were collected during 2007 to 2008, and it provides information about the health and well-being of adopted children, as well as information about their families’ experiences and reasons for adoption.

Investing time and resources in establishing and strengthening the parent child relationship bond is very important, Weaver said.

“A positive parent-child relationship can be established regardless of whether the adoption is transracial or not,” he said.

Whitten recommends that social service agencies prepare prospective parents to establish ties and prepare for challenges.

“Agencies should teach parents to expect the best and to prepare for the worst,” she said. “By preparing for the worst, they need to be able to monitor their own emotional reactions to their child’s behavior, need to be patient, and need to be able to attribute positive motives to their child rather than negative.”

For example, if a child is misbehaving shortly after he or she is placed with the parent, parents should see this not as an attempt to control the parent or parents, but as a miscue for emotional distress, she said.

“So rather than responding with more control, and with a more authoritarian, punitive response, parents need to be able to stop and calm themselves, and to help the child do the same,” Whitten said.