Societal Bias Against Adopted Children
By Deborah H. Siegel, PhD, LICSW, DCSW, ACSW
Social Work Today
Vol. 8 No. 4 P. 34
These two pictures of Sam reflect conflicting perspectives on adoption. Both views are highly relevant to the work of social work clinicians, administrators, policy makers, and researchers, as these views shape adoption policies, laws, and clinical practice. One perspective sees adoption in somewhat idealized, romantic terms. The second view is that adoption goes hand in hand with difficulties. Understanding the biases embedded in these perspectives and how to manage them in social work practice is key to effective service delivery.
The language commonly used to discuss adoption tends to reflect a deficit perspective. The term natural mother instead of birth mother, or biological mother, implies that it is unnatural to parent a child to whom one has not given birth. The saying “blood is thicker than water” suggests that adoptive families are somehow inferior to families formed by birth. The phrase “I could never give up my own flesh and blood” suggests that birth parents are morally inferior. “She gave up her baby” instead of “she made an adoption plan” implies a succumbing rather than an affirmative proactive plan to ensure a child’s well-being.
A Strengths Perspective in Adoption
These and other examples make it clear that social workers need specific knowledge and skills to implement a strengths perspective in their clinical, administrative, and policy practices regarding adoption. A strengths perspective emphasizes people’s resilience; ability to cope, thrive, adapt, and grow; inner resources; and sources of nurturance and protective factors in even the most inauspicious environments.
A challenge in using a strengths perspective when working with people whose lives are touched by adoption is determining how much to focus on adoption issues. For example, a clinician may be inclined to minimize adoption as a clinical issue as in the following:
The most savvy clinician can be hard pressed to determine how much to concentrate on adoption issues in assessment and intervention. Effectively exploring the role, if any, that adoption issues play requires the clinician to use adoption as a lens rather than the only lens or no lens in assessing and intervening. Striking the right balance requires the clinician to be aware of core issues that may be expected to emerge from time to time among adoptees, birth families, and adoptive families.
These core issues take different forms, depending on one’s role and place in the adoption journey. Birth parents, adoptees, adoptive parents, and other family members all experience their own unique feelings of loss, grief, confusion, bewilderment, desire for or loss of control, shame, inferiority, aloneness, preoccupations with musings and unanswered questions, worries about intimacy, anger, and other emotions related to the adoption experience. While plenty of nonadopted people have these feelings, too, the feelings take on unique flavors that reflect identifiable themes in the adoption life cycle.