Recently published research is being used to discourage support for adoption without full consideration of all factors involved. University of Minnesota researchers found a correlation between children adopted within the first two years of life and incidences of mental health diagnoses. The study included children that had been adopted domestically and internationally. The negative press includes the following findings:
- Adolescents that had been adopted were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or ODD.
- Children that had been adopted domestically were more likely to be diagnosed with conduct disorder than those who had not been adopted.
- Children that had been adopted internationally were more anxious than those who had not been adopted.
- Parents that adopted internationally rated their children with more symptoms of major depressive disorder and separation anxiety disorders.
I am concerned that there is not enough discussion in the media of the multitude of factors that could contribute to this correlation. Let us start with the statement that every statistics and research student has had programmed into them ‘correlation is not causation’; in other words, adoption is not causing these symptoms. Children that are adopted may be more likely to develop such symptoms as a result of genetics or pre-natal care. It is also possible that had these children not been adopted, they would have had even greater incidences of developing mental health diagnoses as a result of whatever environment with in which they would have been raised. A stable relationship with a caring adult can make a world of difference in a child’s life; loving families can improve outcomes for children that have been adopted. Similarities in how the children that had been adopted were parented may be possible. The sample was drawn from only three adoption agencies, thus adoption preparation education may have also been a contributing factor. Other concerns and an interesting discussion on this research can be found at OurAdopt.com.
Positives were identified in this study as well. The study found that teens that had been adopted were more likely to have had contact with a mental health professional than those that had not been adopted. Margaret A. Keyes, Ph.D, the lead author of the research discussed with Psychiatric Times that this is likely a referral bias. Parents who have adopted are more likely to seek the input of a mental health professional because they are exposed to social services through the homestudy process and mental health concerns through adoption preparation education. On average parents who have adopted have completed more education and have greater economic resources. Familiarity, understanding, positive experience, and ability to afford will all increase one’s comfort with and likelihood to seek professional input. Most importantly, Dr. Keyes notes that “most of the children adopted as infants are well-adjusted and psychologically healthy.”