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Negative Effects of International Adoption

By Hannah Wahlig ; Updated April 18, 2017
Internationally adopted children face several challenges in their new home.

In 2009, the United States issued over 12,000 visas for international adoptions from over 150 countries (See Reference 1). According to Adoptive Families magazine, some families choose international adoption because of a desire to reconnect with ethnic roots or expand diversity in their family, while other families seek international adoptions because they do not meet guidelines for domestic adoptions. (See Reference 5) Despite its growing popularity, international adoptions are accompanied by some practical and ethical negative effects.

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Language Development

Language development is crucial to other areas of cognitive and emotional development. Many internationally adopted children demonstrate language development problems, mostly manifested through delayed speech, stuttering or lisping. A 1998 study by the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team of King's College in London found a high correlation between time spent in Romanian orphanages and poor or delayed language development following an international adoption.(See Resource 1) A 2000 study by researcher D.E. Johnson reiterated the same findings in a larger scale study that examined several orphanages throughout Eastern Europe. (See Reference 2). The language delays may take time to overcome; a 2007 study by Sharon Glennon of Townson University found that Eastern European adoptees with linguistic delays were "highly likely to have slow language development" when compared to their native speaking peers even after a full year of immersion in an English-speaking culture. (See Comment 1) Language delays not only inhibit communication but interfere with academic performance if the child is not provided adequate educational support.

Culture and Identity

The process of cultural socialization refers to the way in which an internationally adopted child is integrated into the new family and social culture. Cultural socialization is an integral component for forming both an individual and cultural identity. Researcher and psychologist Richard M. Lee writes in a 2003 article that developing a cultural identity is a particular struggle for internationally adopted children who are a different race or ethnicity than their adoptive parents, and that a lack of individual or cultural identity can lead to interpersonal or behavioral problems (See Comment 2). Experts of international and transracial adoption, like researcher and author Beth Hall, stress that parents of internationally adopted children must provide children access to both their native culture and their adoptive culture in order to avoid identity dissonance. Hall writes, "It is 100 percent important that children feel they are part of the family... [as well as] part of their race/ethnicity." (See Resource 2)

Child Laundering

Child laundering is a term specific to international adoptions that refers to the kidnapping or selling of children to adoption agencies and foster care systems for sale to adoptive families. The rise in child laundering has transformed international adoptions into a lucrative business in countries like Guatemala, China, Cambodia and Samoa. Not only does child laundering contribute to an unethical and illegal system of child trade, but it also contributes to overcrowded adoption facilities in countries that are already struggling to provide funds and services to children in their care. Researcher Lindsey Biel, author of "Raising a Sensory Smart Child," reports that internationally adopted children demonstrate higher incidences of sensory integration and health problems than domestically adopted children. The crowded adoption facilities typically lack adequate medical, educational and nutritional care for children, which can lead to cognitive, emotional and behavioral disorders in adopted children. (See Reference 4)

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About the Author

Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.

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