Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Research: Curiosity and contact with the bio family

         The article I read today was titled "Contact in adoption: The experience of adoptive families in the USA," written in 2003.  This article was a summary of several research projects that used the MTARP dataset. The MTARP (Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project) was a large, multi-year (longitudinal) study that focused on openness and contact in adoptions. It was a unique data collection, because it surveyed adopted children, adoptive parents, biomoms, and agency caseworkers. All adoption situations involved a child who was adopted before his or her first birthday from a private agency, and any situation that involved a transracial, international, or special needs adoption was excluded from the study. Several different studies have been conducted using this dataset, thus the availability of a summary article.

The adoptive parent's role in communicating about the adoption
  • Communication often ends up focusing on answering the child's questions. Answering questions as they arise allows the child to set the pace about communication and learn the information they are curious about. 
  • Many parents withhold some details (or admit to not sharing all of the information they have that would relate to the answer of a specific question) based on the child's developmental stage and the age-appropriateness of the content.
  • The mother tends to be the "central information source" for younger children-- fathers begin to take more of a role in explaining details about the adoption as the child becomes older
    • Many mothers describe themselves as "the main conduit of adoption information in the family"
The Family Adoption Communication Model (FAC): Ages and stages
  • During the early years of childhood, the parents give unsolicited information about the adoption (i.e., tell the adoption story)
    • This can be an easier time in communicating about the adoption, because the parents are in total control when in comes to making decisions about what will be included in the adoption story
    • When new information becomes available (such as if they have ongoing communication with the bio family), the adoptive parents decide how much will be shared and how it will be shared
  • The second stage begins when the child is able to form real questions about his/her adoption
    • Things can become a bit more challenging, because parents must make decisions on the amount of information they will give in their answers, and how they can explain it in a way the child will understand.
    • At this point, parents must also decide if they will seek out additional information from the biofamily if the child is questioning them about things that they do not have the information to answer.
    • The parent is still a mediator/translator of information, and  gets to decide how much information to share and how to share it. 
    • BUT, the child has a larger role in the timing and pace of discussions, as he/she is now thinking of and asking questions
    • The content of the questions will change as the child goes through different developmental stages. One example of this that is often seen is that as adolescents take on a more mature view of sexuality, they begin to have more questions about the circumstances surrounding their conception.
  • The third stage is when the child is able to seek out information about the adoption on their own.
    • They have direct access to information, either through being given copies of paperwork from their case file, or through a more involved relationship with the biofamily.

Contact, curiosity, and information sharing
  • During the first year or so, most communication is between the biomom and adoptive parents and focuses on the biomom wanting to know how the child is doing
    • adoptive parents often view these interactions as not being particularly significant to their family experience
  • Girls are more curious than boys about the details of their adoption story 
  •  Curiosity increases as the children get older
  • An open adoption that is going well (i.e., everyone is satisfied with how the arrangement is working) does not impact levels of curiosity
  • Those with the highest levels of curiosity were more likely to be dissatisfied with the amount of openness they had
    • One teenager in the study said that her reasoning for wanting to speak directly with her biomom was based around curiosity. She wanted to hear the story from the biomom, herself, about why she placed her for adoption. 
    • Another said that meeting his bioparents would be helpful to be able to ask some questions about his medical history, but from an emotional standpoint he didn't really have any desire to have a personal relationship with them.
  • Levels of curiosity will fall and peak at different points throughout childhood and adolescence, but will never disappear  
  • If there is a combination of curiosity and wanting more contact with the biofamily, it does not necessarily result from poor adoptive family relationships. It is not a rejection of the adoptive family, but based on a desire to "fill in gaps in their own adoption story." 
  • Searching for a relationship with the biofamily "did not depend on the type or quality of available information or how the telling of information was handled by adoptive parents, but the adopted person's reaction to perceived deficits of information."
  • Curiosity does not always mean that the child wants more contact with the biofamily-- one does not equal the other
  • Teenagers who have some form of contact (letters, phone calls, visits) were more satisfied with the level of openness of the relationship
    • It wasn't that those without contact said they were dissatisfied, they just tended to rate more in the neutral range, whereas those with contact actually said they were satisfied

One of the concluding thoughts of the article was that while many adopted teens want more contact with the bio-families, not all of them do, and so the individual desires of the children must be taken into account when making contact plans. Just because they have some questions that they would like to have answered does not mean that they want increased contact. As the researchers concluded:

"Contact is an individual choice and should not be dictated by adoption professionals or family members without consideration of the desires of the adopted child or adolescent... acknowledge that adoption plays a role in individual lives without assuming that all paths will look the same."

Wrobel, G.M., Grotevant, H.D., Berge, J. Mendenhall, T., & McRoy, R. (2003). Contact in adoption: The experience of adoptive families in the USA. Fostering & Adoption, 27, 57-67.

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