Adoption Advocate No. 34: An Overview of the Adoption Quarterly Special Issue Presenting Findings from the National Survey of Adoptive Parents (NSAP)*
Published April 2011 by Elisa Rosman
Nicole Callahan, Editor
Chuck Johnson, Editor
The National Survey of Adoptive Parents (NSAP) is a new source of data available to those interested in learning more about adopted children and their families. The first nationally representative sample of adopted children, the NSAP is a collaboration sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which are all agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
The National Council For Adoption (NCFA) has already presented some findings from the NSAP in Adoption Advocate #22 and Adoption Advocate # 32. However, this winter, the journal Adoption Quarterly published a special issue devoted entirely to research using the NSAP, edited by Laura Radel of ASPE and Matthew Bramlett of NCHS1. This issue contains a wealth of knowledge related to adopted children and their families. This Advocate presents an overview first of the NSAP itself, as introduced in the special issue by Radel and Bramlett, followed by a summary of each research article in the special issue of Adoption Quarterly.
Conducted from April 2007 to July 2008, the NSAP was included as an add-on to the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health. The sample size for the NSAP was 2,089 adopted children, including 545 children adopted internationally, 763 children adopted out of the foster care system, and 781 adopted via private domestic adoptions.
The NSAP was designed to learn about families’ adoption-related experiences, as well as how they were faring post-adoption, how many services they utilized, and what needs and challenges remained. Via a phone interview lasting approximately 30 minutes, survey questions addressed the following topics:
Thus, all information obtained in the NSAP is from parental report.
Additionally, NCHS conducted an additional survey with families of adopted children with special health care needs: the National Survey of Adoptive Parents of Children with Special Health Care Needs in 2008 (NSAP-SN). The sample size for the NSAP-SN is 1,003 adopted children with special health care needs (CSHCN), including: 225 CSHCN adopted internationally, 457 CSHCN adopted from the foster care system, and 321 CSHCN adopted via private domestic adoptions.
Sharon Vandivere and Amy McKlindon
This article grew out of existing research finding that children adopted out of foster care tend to experience more negative outcomes than other adopted children. The authors were interested in what explains those differences by adoption type. This article took advantage of the broad scope of the NSAP to address the following questions:
As Vandivere and McKlindon explain, there is a wide range of characteristics and experiences (both pre-and post-adoption) that can have an impact on children’s outcomes and well-being, and this impact is not always straightforward. For example, if a child has a history of institutionalization, then a social worker may match that child with parents who have different characteristics than they would for a child who did not have a history of being cared for in an institution. Some of the characteristics and experiences the authors point to that prior research shows might be related to child outcomes include:
Vandivere and McKlindon chose to look at child outcomes and well-being in three broad areas: physical health, socio-emotional wellbeing, and cognitive development and educational achievement. The authors first conducted analyses to determine the relationship between adoption type and these three categories of child outcomes. They found that children adopted from foster care were less likely to be in excellent or good health, more likely to have moderate or severe health difficulties and/or diagnoses of an attachment disorder or ADD/ADHD, and less likely to fare well academically (based on indicators such as reading performance, math performance, and level of engagement at school).
The authors used logistic regression to determine the characteristics and experiences (listed above) independently associated with outcomes for children. Some of the relationships they found include:
Once establishing the above relationships, the authors wanted to learn whether these associations could explain the relationships between adoption types and outcomes for children. They found that the apparent connection between adoption type and a given outcome disappeared when the above characteristics were included in the statistical model. However, in this expanded statistical model (which included the characteristics above), children adopted privately within the United States were still likely to fare better than those adopted from foster care in the areas of moderate or severe health difficulties, being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and “excellent”/“very good” math performance.
The authors conclude: “[A]doption type is independently associated with only a few of the well-being indicators examined here. The analysis presented here is not intended to downplay the disparities by adoption type in well-being that exist in the population of adopted children, but rather to shed light on some of the factors that might explain these differences and the degree to which they do so…[W]e hope that the findings presented here inspire deeper and more finely tuned analyses of the predictors of well-being among adopted children. Further information is needed about the effects of openness, trans-racial placement, single parenthood, and low socioeconomic status, among other factors, on adopted children, and on the circumstances that best support children and families in these situations.”
Karin Malm and Kate Welti
This study was designed to explore reasons why parents adopt and whether those reasons differ across different types of adoptions. This knowledge can be very important in designing adoption recruitment programs as well as for understanding the ways in which different motivations might impact adoption outcomes and overall success. The research addresses the following questions:
In answering these questions the authors decided to narrow their focus to children whose parents had not known them prior to adoption, because parental motivation might be different for parents who knew the children prior to adoption. The sample size for this study was 1,185 adopted children and their families.
Malm and Welti chose to look at the following measures of parent and family well-being:
When looking generally at motivations to adopt, the study authors found that the two most frequent motivations for adoption were (1) providing a permanent home for a child and (2) expanding the family. The third most common reason was infertility.
When breaking this down by adoption type, the authors found that parents adopting privately were less likely to want to provide a permanent home for a child and more likely to be motivated by infertility. Furthermore, for each of the three types of adoption, there was a different “number one” reason for adopting: Parents adopting internationally thought “it would be too difficult to adopt from the U.S.”; families adopting from foster care thought that adopting from the U.S. foster care system was “less costly than adopting internationally or privately”; and parents adopting privately within the U.S. wanted an infant.
Interestingly, the authors also found that many parents considered multiple types of adoption. For example, 45 percent of all children who were adopted internationally had parents who also considered foster care and private domestic adoption. To further study this issue, the authors examined families who had completed two separate adoptions. Seventy-eight percent of children adopted internationally and 79 percent of children adopted via private domestic adoption had parents who completed a second adoption of the same type. For children adopted from foster care, this percentage was only 35 percent, while 56 percent of children adopted from foster care had parents who adopted again through private means. (Note: The percentage of repeat adoptions from foster care was much higher (80 percent) when the parents knew the child prior to adoption.)
Malm and Welti were also interested in the role of infertility as a motivating factor. The authors found that children whose parents were motivated by infertility had slightly higher levels of parent/family well-being. When they ran a statistical model that included parent and child characteristics, they found that the relationship between infertility and well-being diminished. They conclude, “[O]ur findings show that parents who reported infertility as a motivator do find happiness with adoption. Adoption agencies may wish to target more recruitment efforts and publicize adoptive parents’ happiness to infertile couples through a variety of media outlets.”
Kathleen L. Whitten and Scott R. Weaver
This study was designed to look specifically at adopted adolescents in order to determine the relationship between adolescent risk factors, the adoptive parent-adolescent relationship, and adolescent outcomes. This investigation is based on the “catch-up model” which holds that adoption is a protective factor that helps adolescents display positive outcomes, even in the face of risk factors (e.g., experience of institutionalization, abuse or neglect, transracial adoption, and older age at placement).
For this study, Whitten and Weaver examined only adolescents in the NSAP sample (ages 13 to 17), bringing the sample size to 701. They also looked at 228 of these adolescents who had been adopted transracially. They were interested in the following research questions:
The outcomes that the authors chose to examine were:
Using structural equation modeling, and accounting for pre-adoption abuse, the authors did find that the quality of the parent-child relationship was positively associated with lower odds of cutting class/school, lower odds of being suspended, lower odds of reporting substance abuse or police trouble, and better performance in language arts and reading. Despite these positive findings, there was not support for the hypothesis that the parent-child relationship protects again the negative effects of pre-adoption abuse.
Looking specifically at the subsample of families with transracial adoptions, the authors found a similar pattern: the quality of the parent child relationship was positively associated with lower odds of cutting class/school and lower odds of substance abuse or police trouble.
The authors conclude that, “our study lends some support for using a risk and resilience model for examining adoptive family relationships and child outcomes. The finding that good parent-child relationship quality is associated with better behavior and school achievement lends support to policy makers who promote adoption and to adoption professionals whose home studies, education, and post-placement visits promote solid parent-child relationships. Finally, it should provide encouragement to adoptive families.”
M. Elizabeth Vonk, Jaegoo Lee, and Josie Crolley-Simic
This article stems from the growing body of literature illustrating how important it is for parents who adopt transracially to help their children learn about their culture, and how racial socialization practices are related to positive outcomes for children. The authors of this study wanted to learn about cultural socialization from the parents’ perspective, in both domestic transracial and international transracial adoptions. Their study explored the relationship between cultural socialization practices and each of the following:
The three research questions were:
While there were 2,089 children in the full NSAP sample, only 802 were adopted across racial, ethnic, or cultural lines, so only those were used for this study. Of those, 438 were adopted domestically (through foster care or private domestic adoption), and 364 were adopted internationally.
In the analyses, the authors used parents’ responses on whether or not they participated in the following nine cultural socialization practices:
The authors chose to use the following adoption- and child-related variables:
Using these factors, the authors found some differences between the domestically adopted group and the internationally adopted group. Children in the domestically adopted group were more likely to have special health care needs, open adoption agreements, and post-adoption contact with birth families. Participation in support groups for adoptive parents, post-adoption education, and use of web-based post-adoption resources was low for all families, but those in the internationally adopted group were more likely to use this last resource.
Looking specifically at cultural socialization practices, the practices most commonly endorsed by all families were: reading racial/ethnic books; preparing foods associated with children’s racial, ethnic, or cultural background; having friends who share their children’s ethnic or cultural background; and choosing multiracial or multicultural entertainment.
The authors used the adoption and childrelated variables to try to predict participation in specific cultural socialization practices. The relationships they found included:
The authors also explored the relationship between the cultural socialization practices and parents’ perceptions of closeness to their children and satisfaction with adoption. They found that, for families with internationally adopted children, choosing multiracial/multicultural entertainment was associated with higher levels of closeness and satisfaction, and that the celebration of cultural holidays was associated with lower levels. There was no relationship at all for parents of domestically adopted children, or for the larger sample of all parents with transracially adopted children.
The authors conclude by noting that the practices that transracial adoptive families use tend to be those that require little or no contact with individuals of the child’s race/ethnicity. This may be problematic, for it may be those contacts and relationships that actually provide the greatest support to transracially adopted children as they grow and develop. The authors state, “Adoption agencies must continue to grapple with this issue, both with social workers and with prospective [transracial] adoptive parents. If social workers are not aware of the importance of integrative cultural socialization, they are not likely to adequately prepare parents for this aspect of parenting. Parents must both be made aware of its importance and educated with resources to know where to begin.”
Matthew D. Bramlett
This study focuses on a population about which very little is known: stepchildren adopted by their stepparents. While the NSAP specifically excluded adopted stepchildren from its sample, Bramlett was able to use data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, 2007, the survey that was used to identify NSAP-eligible children. While there is a substantial body of research demonstrating that stepchildren tend to show more negative health and wellbeing outcomes than children in intact biological families, there is a scarcity of research that specifically examines differences for stepchildren who are adopted by their stepparent.
This study compares stepchildren both to nonadopted stepchildren and to adopted children who were not stepchildren, in order to see which group adopted stepchildren more closely resemble. Overall, the author found that:
Bramlett concludes by pointing to the need for recognizing and studying adopted stepchildren as a unique subgroup: “Adopted stepchildren are like adopted children in some (socioeconomic and health care) dimensions and like stepchildren in other (demographic and health) dimensions; by the same token, they are unlike adopted children in some dimensions, and unlike stepchildren in other dimensions. Thus, if sample size permits and data are collected in such a way that these families can be identified as adoptive stepfamilies, their differences from other subgroups of adopted or stepchildren should be accounted for in analyses.”
Laura F. Radel, Matthew D. Bramlett, and Annette Waters
Since the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) in 1997, there has been a marked increase in the number of children adopted from foster care by relatives. However, research on this population remains scarce, as it does for children adopted privately by relatives and children who are cared for by kin without being legally adopted. This study uses data from the NSAP and from the National Survey of Children’s Health to explore how children adopted by relatives and children living informally with relatives compare on measures of child health and well-being.
Looking first at demographic characteristics of children adopted by relatives and those informally living with relatives, estimates suggest that there are 436,000 children in the U.S. who have been formally adopted by relatives, and 1.7 million living with relatives who have not formally adopted them. The authors examined a range of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics (such as race/ethnicity, family income, family education, etc.), and found that there were virtually no significant differences between these two groups of children. However, while there were no significant differences between these two groups, children formally and informally adopted by relatives do differ from both nonadopted children and adopted children overall. Whether legally or informally adopted by relatives, these children are more likely to be black and to live in households with lower education levels and lower income, and less likely to live in households in the highest income categories.
The authors also examined the children’s health characteristics and health insurance status. Overall, they found that children adopted formally by relatives and children adopted informally appeared similar to one another, yet, both groups appeared to have different outcomes than other adopted children and nonadopted children. For instance, they were less likely to be in “excellent” or “very good” health, less likely to have “excellent” or “very good” dental health, and more likely than nonadopted children (but equally likely as adopted children) to have special health care needs, asthma, and behavioral problems.
Despite their similarities, there were a few differences between children adopted by relatives formally and children adopted informally. Those adopted formally by kin were more likely to be receiving special education services, more likely to have been diagnosed as having a developmental delay, less likely to be severely overweight (for those children aged 10 to 17 years), and only half as likely to have been uninsured the previous year.
Looking at family, school, and neighborhood characteristics, again the children adopted formally and informally by relatives were similar in many ways. However, in some respects, the children who had been formally adopted were faring better. The children formally adopted by relatives had parents who were less likely to report parental aggravation and more likely to have someone to turn to for day-to-day emotional support with parenting. These children were also more likely to live in a relatively safe neighborhood, and to attend religious services. Both children adopted formally and informally by relatives were more likely than other children to have repeated a grade, and less likely to participate in extracurricular activities. They were also less likely to have parents in “excellent” or “very good” physical and mental health.
The authors conclude, “[D]emographically and socioeconomically there are virtually no differences between children adopted by kin legally and informally, although these groups are both distinct from children overall and from the general population of adopted children. Children legally and informally adopted by relatives are also more similar than different in their health status and measures of well-being. This suggests that support services needs of families caring for relatives’ children are likely to be very similar, regardless of the child’s adoptive status or involvement in the child welfare system. Service providers may wish to consider whether children and families with various custody statuses are able to access supports.”
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