Asian Children Growing Up Adopted

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One of today's most frequently-asked adoption questions has to do with the adjustment of children adopted from Asia. There are two reasons why the question is raised. The largest number of children adopted from other countries by U.S. citizens have been from Asia- primarily from Korea, but also from Vietnam. The leading area of the world currently is Asia- primarily from China, but also from Korea and Vietnam.

Fortunately, there are some reliable findings about adopted children of Asian heritage in Growing Up Adopted: A Portrait of Adolescents & Their Families (Search Institute, Minneapolis, 1994). The study is the largest ever undertaken in the U.S. of adoptive families, covering 715 families, placed by agencies in four mid-Western states, who adopted infants between 1974 and 1980.

When the survey was conducted, these infants were adolescents ranging in age from 12 to 18. Of the 881 adopted adolescents in the study sample, 247 were adopted transracially. Of those who were adopted transracially, 173 were Asian and most were of Korean background.

Another factor to be kept in mind is that Korean adoption policies were such that nearly all of the U.S. adoptive families were two-parent families. The Korean children therefore had the benefit of being raised by a mother and a father who were married to each other and who were screened by a U.S. agency as well as by Korean adoption officials.

The study contains findings on identity, attachment, dynamics in adoptive families, psychological health, and racial identity.


In the U.S., a national sample of public school adolescents showed that 51 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls had high self-esteem. The Asian adopted adolescents scored higher. Fifty-three percent of Asian boys and girls had high self-esteem. For Asian girls in particular, the difference is significant. For current policy considerations, when most of the children coming from China are girls, the finding has particular relevance.


"Attachment" is defined by the study as "perceived similarity to parents in values, interests, and personality." Adoptive parents ratings of emotional attachment of the child to the parent were high overall, but highest for Asian adopted children. Parents reported that only 5 percent of Asian adopted adolescents had "weak" or "very weak" attachment, compared to 7 percent for same-race adoptions. As the study says, "Transracially adopted adolescents perceive a slightly better match between self and parent than is the case for same-race adoptions. And this pattern occurs in spite of the difference in physical looks, which is, of course, higher among transracially adopted youth."

Family Dynamics

The good news here is that there is an evenness of positive family dynamics across all types of adoptions- transracial or same-race- but that overall the children adopted from Asia have the most positive results in a very positive picture. In terms of child-parent relationships, there are three factors and Asian children score higher than same-race adopted adolescents report agreement levels as 83 percent form boys and 76 percent for girls. On "warmth," the results are about the same except for the statement "My parents often tell me they love me." On that question, Asian adolescents give even more favorable responses (86 percent) than same-race adolescents (82 percent).

Psychological Health

Here again, the Asian adopted adolescents score highest among all the groups that share good results. Overwhelmingly, adopted adolescents score well in terms of their mental health. Seventy-three percent of same-race adopted adolescents score in the normal range. Seventy-five percent of Asian adopted adolescents score in the normal range. These scores, however, are not statistically significant on any of the four measures used by the researchers. In other words, most adopted adolescents in the study scored very well.

Racial Identity

There are very interesting findings regarding feelings about racial identity in the study, but the authors caution that to the extent that there are difficulties regarding racial identity, "It could be that the numbers reflect a general cultural problem of exclusion and racism more than the impact of transracial adoption." The most interesting number is that 80 percent of Asian adopted adolescents say "I get along equally well with people of my own racial background and people of other racial backgrounds." Asian adolescents score higher than transracial adopted adolescents as a group. In terms of their parents, again only 4 percent of Asian adolescents say "I wish my parents(s) were a different race." For all transracially adopted adolescents, 5 percent agree. Some adolescents do agree with the statement "I wish that I was a different race than I am." Overall, 20 percent of transracially adopted adolescents agree with the statement. For Asian adolescents, the number is 22 percent.

The findings of the Search Institute study of adopted adolescents should offer comfort to those who have adopted or are adopting transracially from Asia. It will be of interest to learn what the results of other studies are, that are also tracking children from Korea once they are adults. Preliminary findings from one large, in-depth study in progress suggest that the positive findings will remain firm into adulthood.

Credits: The National Council for Adoption

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