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Adopting from abroad...

(35 Posts)
SnowBells Mon 03-Feb-14 19:49:53

I have friends and family who adopted from abroad. The children were anything between 1-2 years old when they were adopted, and typically, at least one of each parent pair (if not both) had at the very least a vague connection to the country they have adopted from. Most of the kids were abandoned in front of a hospital/given up for adoption as babies - often when they were only a few weeks old. They spent months in an orphanage. Some then went on to foster carers for another few months.

I am amazed to see that the children have 'slotted' into their new families so well. Without exception, they are all happy little kids and were part of the family almost immediately following the initial 'who are these people' moment. I mean… they make it look soooooo easy to adopt. Even the parents were surprised at how each child has seemingly brushed off the process of getting adopted, having new parents and living in a new and strange country with weird new words (despite having connections to the countries the children are from, none of the parents actually speak much of the native languages spoken). None of them also seem to have any behavioral difficulties for their respective ages.

Is the above the norm or actually the exception? I always read about attachment issues when adopting. But my friends' children have none of those symptoms. They are like walking advertisements for having kids or more specifically… adoption! I started wondering whether all the info I read is the 'worst case scenario' or whether it is more because (compared to the UK) the children were given up for adoption so soon after birth, not following a long period of neglect, and therefore have less trauma?

Just a theoretical question, really. I'm quite baffled.

OP’s posts: |
AngelsWithSilverWings Mon 03-Feb-14 19:55:19

How old are these children now?

We adopted a 10 month old baby within the UK and had no problems until he turned 8. Now he is getting counselling to deal with issues surrounding his adoption.

Moomoomie Mon 03-Feb-14 20:02:49

I agree that it depends on how old these children are now. A lot of problems around adoption do not rear their head until a child hits puberty. Hopefully for your friends this will not happen. Also, people are good at hiding things that happen at home, maybe your friends are doing this.
I am not saying all adopted children have mega problems.

SnowBells Mon 03-Feb-14 20:13:06

They are still young - age ranges from 3 (for the most recent one) to 10 years old. I'm just a little surprised that for the parents, it seems to have come so easy. When you ask them about the whole attachment thing, they just don't have a clue apart from having read about it theoretically.

Mind you, the adoptive parents are great. All loving and importantly stable family units, a lot of support from extended family... not to mention beautiful homes, no expense spared past time activities and so forth.

OP’s posts: |
Lilka Mon 03-Feb-14 20:21:19

I don't know, but I do think that if none of them had so far had any issues, then they've been very lucky.

I know (online) quite a few people who've adopted from abroad and whilst only a minority of them have children who have serious issues, the majority had a few issues - especially in the first year-2 years.

The initial adjustment for the babies in orphanages seems to be variable - many of them quite literally close down from the shock of being handed to new people and don't interact, smile or make eye contact for a day/few days. They're not like that normally, it was the sudden transition with no adjustment period

Longer term, I think certain countries have or have had a much lower prevalence of drinking in pregnancy and so FASD is rarer - I'm thinking China for instance here, so comparitively few Chinese adoptees will have long term issues related to foetal alcohol exposure compared to UK adoptees (and compared to Eastern European countries/Russia where many adoptees have FASD).

Orphanage care is variable, some orphanages are great and I would hazard a guess that many of your friends children were in good orphanages, whereas a bad orphanage with lack of care and neglect (unintentional or otherwise) will definitely leave many children with long term problems. It's important to remember that in terms of long term issues, serious neglect can actually (and often) be more profoundly damaging than physical or sexual abuse, because neglect will have a big effect on brain development.

On the other hand...good orphanage (or foster carer) from birth, continuity of carers, not being moved around, never having been seriously neglected or abused...that's the best thing possible after being taken away/abandonned/given up, and gives the best chance of a child doing well. But that's a chance/luck's never ever a guaruntee in international adoption. And it could happen like that in domestic adoption as well, with a baby removed from birth. So I think a better comparison would be not the country of birth, but the circumstances the child has been in. It's a myth that internationally adopted children are all easy and domestically adopted children have loads of issues.

When it comes to norms, I would have said that having some issues relating to, but not severe ones, would be 'normal' but that's only based on my own experience

Lilka Mon 03-Feb-14 20:23:07

last paragraph should say "some issues relating to their background/attachment/etc, but not..."

SnowBells Mon 03-Feb-14 21:50:19


Yes, I believe what you write is very true. FWIW, the majority of the children are from Asia (mainly China, but also Korea, etc.). Adoptive parents were often both from the country or mixed marriages, etc. The orphanages seem to have been very good ones. I've seen videos from when the toddlers were picked up, and the main carer was often - unsuccessfully - trying to withhold tears. Very emotional! I know what you mean about the sudden shock of being handed to the new parent. It was literally like "That's your mom. Give her a hug." This was easy to see on the videos, too, but seems to have subsided within days.

The parents were given tours of the orphanages their kids were in, and I've seen pictures. They were all without doubt very well equipped - a bit sterile like a hospital, but good nonetheless with excellent medical care. No nightmare ones. The parents were sent videos/pictures of the kids growing up from ever since they were a baby. You could really see they were well cared for (clean clothes, etc.), and in the videos, their 'nanny' cared for them a lot. It might also have to do with some of the parents not based in the UK, and I believe some international adoption agencies charge a fortune, and might justify this by doing a fair amount of due diligence.

One of the issues they did have was minor - many of the kids were already potty-trained when adopted, and that took a step back and they had to wear pull-ups again. However, the parents were warned of this, and given that they weren't even two years old by that time and what they just went through, it wasn't a big deal.

OP’s posts: |
Kewcumber Tue 04-Feb-14 11:07:20

My DS was adopted overseas and I do think the benign neglect of an institution is preferable (from a childs perspective) to active abuse or neglect by a primary carer and I think this coupled with an average age which has in the past been younger at adoption than in the UK tends to make for fewer issues.

There tend to be institutions which are approved for intercountry adoption in some countries which are better on average (because of the funding) than those which don't do intercountry adoptions in the same countries. Also plenty of children in institutions (rather than with foster parents) might stay in the same home but will be moved to different rooms with different carers depending on their age which may as well be moving home - DS at 11 months had "lived" in 4 different rooms which each had 8 different carers (who worked in pairs 24 hrs on 3 days off).

Agencies which charge a fortune (which by the way aren't legal in the UK - you can only charge reasonable costs relating to translation, coordination etc, so I assume your friends are French or Spanish or American) don't have any better due diligence than any other agency but it is certainly true that having a close relationship with a specific childrens home where they know you will reliably place a certain number of children does tend to result in the first pick of available children.

I know many many children of intercountry adoption (inevitably) and many of them have anxiety and separation and attachment issues. So I think your friends are either exceptionally lucky or are a bit in denial about how certain behaviours might be driven by issues surrounding abandonment and separation issues.

DS's issues are on the milder end of the spectrum but I also know plenty of children adopted in the UK who were removed before any abuse or neglect (because of issues with older siblings abuse and neglect) who have a similarly mild issues. I think its a function of age and degree of abuse and personality of the child rather than country of origin. And of course very often because the reasons for the adoption usually don't revolve around birth parents use of drugs or alcohol or mental health problems this also makes a difference.

adoptmama Tue 04-Feb-14 19:57:28

My children are adopted from outside of UK. Orphanage 'care' left eldest with RAD, sensory problems, anxiety and a host of linked problems. Has very identifiable concerns over ethnic identity. Many heart-rending questions which cannot be answered about birth family due to adoption laws/practices. DD2 had major health problems ignored by foster family and orphanage. Both came home under 1 year of age having spent no time in care of birth families. No, I wouldn't say they have 'less trauma' - they have different trauma, and the scars run deep.

SnowBells Wed 05-Feb-14 10:44:09


How does the concern over ethnic identity manifest itself (as in.... what's the symptom). My friends' kids don't have much of that as at least one (if not both) share the same ethnic background. I never understood this issue as my mum is from East Asia. My stepdad (who adopted me at a young age) is European. Theoretically, I should be East Asian, too. But I don't see myself as such as my attitude to life is very "westernised".

However, I don't see it as a burden. I find it liberating not to be defined by the country you or your ancestors were born in. If you think hard about it, if you see yourself as an individual, why should ethnicity matter? Are you meant to be more 'loyal' to people of the same ethnic origin? Bah humbug. I simply distinguish between good people and bad, the intelligent and not so intelligent, etc.

It also makes it very easy for me to adapt to different countries around the world. I see myself as a global person who doesn't have to feel obliged to anything. I hope your child will one day see the world like this, too.

OP’s posts: |
Kewcumber Wed 05-Feb-14 22:08:37

You can't extrapolate your personal experience and make any assumptions about children transracially adopted particularly as you aren't alone in your family being East Asian (or a degree of East Asian).

DS is transracially adopted and whilst it isn't a big issue for him at the moment I know many children where the fact that they don't share an ethnic heritage with their parents is a problem.

It isn;t about how he feels about himself its about how people treat him. They treat him differntly because he doesn't look like he "belongs" in our family when we are out together. HE has recently said to me "people think I'm Chinese, Mum" (he isn't) so he has noticed and he does get fed up with people who assume I'm not his mum sometimes. But its not a big issue because we live in a very multiracial area so he doesn;t stand out in the wya he would if I were still back in Wales.

I was told by a social worker that there had been research done on transracial adoptees who often said that they only felt they had true privacy as a family when out with only one parent because that gave them the "illusion" to the unwashed public that their other parents might be the same ethnicity as them but as soon as they were out together with both parents it became very obvious that they were adopted without anyone even asking.

Thats a bit of a ramble - but you seem determined to believe there are no problems with intercountry adoptions compared to domestic adoption despite several people saying that isn't necessarily the case.

SnowBells Wed 05-Feb-14 23:39:38


I know it can't be extrapolated. What I am trying to say though is it's not insurmountable.

In terms of not being the only one in my family being East Asian… that does not necessarily mean I look like any of them. You see, we have blood from all over the world flowing through our veins. My late maternal granddad had nearly black skin. My mum has tanned skin. And so did my late biological dad who happened to also part Chinese. Yes, my mum is theoretically of the same ethnic group as me, but people don't necessarily think she is my mum. You see, we don't look alike much. She gets mistaken for being Spanish. I look like a very pale Chinese with double eyelids - sooo not like her. People are shocked I don't speak Chinese! Obviously, that gene just appeared after several generations. For a while, when I was a kid, I wanted to be Chinese. I even asked my mum whether I could learn Chinese at the age of 5! But you get over that.

I'm much paler than my half-brother who is half Caucasian, and gets mistaken for being Italian (his excuse for liking Italian food wink). My brother used to laugh about me being so pale. He tans within an hour of being on holiday… I just get sunburnt.

Maybe as our world gets ever more mixed, 'ethnicity' will no longer matter. My ideal world is one where everyone is mixed, and can't trace back their heritage to any one ethnicity. But that's just me.

OP’s posts: |
adoptmama Thu 06-Feb-14 04:58:50

I don't think there are 'symptoms' - I think you just really listen to what your child is - or is not - saying. DD constantly notices that there are no other people of her ethnicity around. She worries others won't like her because she is a different colour, worries they will exclude her etc. She feels excluded from her birth culture despite being bilingual. She identifies her nationality as that of her birth culture but I believe that is more to do with desperately trying to feel she fits in.

Whilst you may find it 'liberating' and a host of other things that is because you a) have the perspective of an adult and b) did not come by your second culture due to traumatic loss. My kids culture was essentially stolen from them, a fact my eldest is more than sharp enough to understand. As kew says, as a family it is hard to come by privacy and some people make incredibly insensitive and prying remarks.

Regardless of how mixed the world gets, ethnicity will still matter because it is a source of self-identity. Our children can have an extremely hard time with self-identify and being of a different ethnicity or race from your adoptive family adds into the mix.

I truly wonder if the adopted children in your extended family are as problem free as you feel. As Kew says you seem very dismissive of being told what kinds of difficulties children can have when adopted internationally/transracially and if this attitude is reflected in the adoptive families the children may well simply have no-one to open up to who they feel they can understand. The belief that adopted children will ask or bring things up if they are concerned or have questions is very false. Often they will not for fear of hurting the adoptive parents unless you actively remind them and create a culture of openly talking about things yourself.

Kewcumber Thu 06-Feb-14 08:40:57

I think you're missing the point a bit Snowbells, not looking like your family (which I'm is very common though not in our family) is very different to knowing that you're not like your family of not feeling like you fit in either culture. And dealing with this on top of loss, separation, attachment and lost of other issues that tend go with adoption can be overwhelming for a child.

Not every child who is transracially or internationally adopted feels like this but certainly many do.

I'm happy that your friends children have absolutely no issues related to their adoption (though like adoptmama I'm surprised) but I would say that this was the exception rather than the rule.

DS has fw issues and IMVHO is the poster child for successful adoption (though I suspect we all think that of our children) but I did spend some time in denial that he had any issues. I hate to think looking back that I was ignoring some fairly obvious separation and anxiety issues and I could have been helping him so much earlier than I was.

Good for your friends though, maybe they have children who have the kind of personality that can brush off changing parents, language, food and culture in their early years without it impacting them. But its certainly not the norm.

akuabadoll Thu 06-Feb-14 09:07:02

hello snowbells
I don't often post, mainly as I didn't adopt in or from the UK so I don't have any useful information for others; also though I feel as if my experience of adoption (I have adopted internationally/transracially - abandoned infant- and I have a birth child) would be considered here somewhat illegitimate. I don't perceive that my particular child finds his obvious 'difference' from the rest of the family a difficulty and we have not faced the challenges that others on this board have. I don't find that the fact that one of our sons was adopted primary in our experience as a family and fwiw I only have one good friend who also has an adopted child (by chance from the same country) and she finds a simlar experience to ours. Perhaps we have it all to come, perhaps we are in denial, we are certainly lucky in many ways. I didn't find you dismissive at all, rather drawing from your own expereince and observations as we all do.

Kewcumber Thu 06-Feb-14 12:26:31

I'm not sure why you think your views are "illegitimate"! I adopted in similar situation to yours and my DS has very similar issues to another adopters DS on these boards who is not transracially adopted, adopted from Uk but at a similar age to mine. We have frequently shared similar stories.

I know a large pool of intercountry adopters as I run a country specific group as well as living in an area with a larger than average pool of adopters. Certainly there is as wide a range of issues as there are individual children and certainly some of them appear to have no issues whatsoever though I do believe this is the exception rather than the norm.

I have no idea if you have this to come or not... DS is not overly bothered by the transracial element of his adoption but certainly since starting since (and I'm told that again around starting secondary is another trigger point) the fact that he was adopted has become a much bigger deal to him and he struggles with some aspects of it.

It isn't dismissive to use your singular experience to come to an opinion and use that as a starting point for a conversation. But I am a bit surprised having had posters share how their children have had issues that they/we are told that this shouldn't be a problem and isn't insurmountable. I do find that dismissive. Why did I share my experiences to be told that it isn't a problem for OP so it shouldn't be a problem confused, to be honest it made me wish I'd not bothered.

DS is not hugely bothered by his race though I'd be lying if I said he was happy with it - if he could change himself to look European he would sad He has definite issues with separation and anxiety which at times have been hard to deal with in a similar way to friends who have adopted domestically.

As I said initially in my experience the problems tend to be comparable with domestically adopted children placed from similar situations (ie remove at birth and adopted under 2).

If your children have no issues with separation, attachment or anxiety, with identity because of how different to you they look, with fielding the "Why did your real mum give you up?" in school, with not knowing a single piece of information about birth parents or family then I envy you.

Kewcumber Thu 06-Feb-14 12:27:22

since starting school

Lilka Thu 06-Feb-14 12:37:20

I really hope nobody on this board is ever put off from sharing their experiences because they are very good. If you've had no issues whatsoever then that's really great, please do share. Everyone's experience of adoption is equally valid and important to hear about. I would hate to think that some people felt excluded in any way. There's a world of difference between sharing your story and between saying that your story means everyone's should be like that - for instance I don't believe that all children have major problems just because my DD2 does, and would dismiss anyone who's child has very few issues

Kewcumber Thu 06-Feb-14 12:51:36

I don;t know many adopters whose children are over about 6 who have no problems/issues - perhaps that's because they don't post? DS has mild problems and I post plenty. His problems are insurmountable - indeed we live with them very hospitably most of the time but hearing others experiences has given me valuable advice on what to try and sometimes just an understanding "voice" has been enough.

If I sound defensive its because at times his anxiety causes him great distress and being told that adopting a child from another country is somehow an easier option grates a little. In fact having had not one primary carer until he was 12 months old has left a lasting mark on him and he may well have been better off in the UK fostered from birth with one carer. Who knows.

Kewcumber Thu 06-Feb-14 12:52:09

his problems are surmountable!!!! A little different!

SnowBells Thu 06-Feb-14 13:08:51

What I meant with something not being "insurmountable" is just that (pls don't read anything more into it), i.e. that some people against all the odds get through it all. It was meant to provide a glimmer of hope rather than saying everyone should get through it all.

I use my life as an example... just like akuabadoll says. There are grim parts of my life - like my biological dad having been brutally targeted and killed by terrorists, and I will never forget seeing him dead, etc. According to court papers, despite him being a proud man, he begged for his life because he had a 'little one'. Me. After that, I also spent a year living with relatives I hardly knew rather than my mum.

Moving to a place where everyone was blonde and blue-eyed at primary school age (my blue-eyed DH commented on that when we visited), I know exactly how it feels to be out of place. I found it hard to accept my stepdad for a while as a kid - but now, he IS my dad, and that's it.

As a parent, it might be hard to see your child suffer... but what I learned is that humans are very adaptable and tough creatures. There are always challenges in life. But I think that if you get through them, view it all constructively in retrospect, in the long-run you'll reap the benefits of being stronger because of it all. It's a cliche, but that doesn't make it any less true...

OP’s posts: |
Paintyfingers Thu 06-Feb-14 13:10:31

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Kewcumber Thu 06-Feb-14 13:43:38

What you are talking about is resiliance Snowbells and it is something you cover on an adoption preparation course because its very important for all childrne but probably more important for children (such as yourself) who have additional things to overcome.

Whats important is to understand how you build resiliance and it is undoubtedly true that some people naturally have more resiliance than other. Some children thrived in an orphanage setting (such as DS) - he was a very tiny premmie when he transferred there and put on weight consistently whereas my friends child did the opposite - started at a normal weight at 3 months and just dropped consistently down the charts without stopping, to the point that there was concern over possible cyctic fibrosis, coeliac disease etc but in the end it seemed that he just wasn't very resiliant.

There are things you can do to improve childrens resiliance which (as I said) is covered on most adoption prep courses but its naive to think that everyone can overcome these things or that some people might find it massively more difficult than others.

For every story of people suceeding against the odds, for every Mo Farrah there will be 5 people behind him who struggle daily with self esteem issues, depression and anxiety and they haven't come out stronger on teh other side.

It isn't really a case as an adoptive parent of finding it hard to see your child suffer, though that is hard, its more a case of equipping them as best you can to deal with what they have to face. All that dull stuff like role playing with them what to say when they friends ask "Why did your real mum give you up?" when they are six, like prompting them to talk about some issue or other rather than accepting that because they don't talk about it then its not a problem, like spotting their cues that they want to talk "how long did my birth mum spend with me?" and expanding it into a conversation which helps them make sense of their slightly odd world.

Your original question was whether (if I can paraphrase) adopting from overseas results in children who have no issues compared to children in the UK. I can only tell you again that, no in my personal and wider experience, that adoption brings challenges where-ever the child is born and those challenges are a complex mix of circumstances and personality and experiences post adoption and place of birth (IMVHO) doesn't really enter into it.

Italiangreyhound Thu 06-Feb-14 14:04:50

Oh Snowbells I could not just read and run, I was so sorry to hear of your experiences and of your poor father. I just wanted to say how sorry I am.

Italiangreyhound Thu 06-Feb-14 14:19:59

Kew as you know we are not adopting internationally and it is unlikely it will be transracial adoption. Hope you don't mind my asking but you mentioned resilience. You said " is something you cover on an adoption preparation course because its very important for all children..."

I would say we did not really cover this.

I feel it is very important to build resilience and I would definitely agree that some people naturally have more resilience than others in life in general.

It was not something we spoke about much on the prep group or the parenting course we did.

So when you said "There are things you can do to improve childrens resiliance which (as I said) is covered on most adoption prep courses..."
I felt a bit like confused I am missing something!

We did not really deal with what to say when the other kids say "Why did your real mum give you up?" etc I think I have had more advice from people on mumsnet adoption boards!

However, DH and I did do a follow up workshop on talking about adotion and now have a book about it free from our county!

So I just want to build on my skills and learn from you guys!

Anyway, I am not adopting from overseas so I thought maybe I should start a new thread!

And I did ....Here it is, please contribute if you wish to.....

I did not want to derail this one but I am very interested in the wisdom from anyone who can help.

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