Adoption: What Parents and Clinician Need to Know


By Cathy Roberts, MS, LCPC. Cathy is in private practice in Rockville, MD and holds a Certificate in Adoption Competencies from the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Cathy is a good friend and colleague of mine and I wanted to bring you her writing on this important topic of Adoption.

The majority of adopted children are emotionally healthy. That said, adopted children and teens receive mental health services in disproportionate numbers to their non-adopted peers. Two percent of the general population is adopted however between 5 and 17 % of adolescents receiving mental health services are adopted. The figures skew even larger when we look at the numbers of young people in residential treatment. Twenty-five to 30% of adolescents in residential treatment are adopted.

Recently I visited an intensive outpatient treatment center for adolescents. Adoption is a specialty area for me so I asked the director about the number of adopted children in the program. On that particular day, over 50% of the teens enrolled in the program were adopted! Now there may be many reasons for this which I will not touch upon in this article. Nevertheless the numbers are significant. As both parents and mental health providers (Full disclosure: I am an adoptive mother and licensed professional counselor), we must be aware of the unique needs of adopted persons of all ages, especially those entering the vulnerable child and teen years.

The losses and trauma unique to adopted persons can include memories of birth families and countries of origin, disrupted attachment, and identity development challenges. When youth grapple with these issues the scene is set for possible internal and familial conflict. Add to that the shame and trauma of both birth and adoptive families (everyone experiences both gain and loss in the adoption process), as well as the history of not talking about adoption in this country and we have a set up for children and families to have unrecognized and unmet needs. We can forget in the excitement and joy, that adoption is a process, not an event. Without adequate post-adoption education for parents and training for clinicians, we miss the mark in serving adopted children and their families.

My own child’s path through therapy was frustrating, until we encountered adoption competent mental health providers. And even then, her journey to health required over a decade of individual, group, and family sessions! My clients’ lives are enriched by my understanding of the loss and trauma inherent in the lives of all members of the adoption triad: birth families, adopted persons, and adoptive families. There is a wealth of solid information available to support everyone involved in the adoption process. I trust that parents and clinicians will educate themselves about the potential joys and possible pitfalls for all whose lives are enriched by adoption.