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Adopted Children at Slightly Higher Mental Health Risk

But the vast majority of adoptees are 'doing fine,' researcher says

MONDAY, May 5 (HealthDay News) -- A small proportion of adopted American teens appear to be at heightened risk for different emotional and behavioral problems than their non-adopted counterparts.

But that risk is moderate, emphasized the authors of a study in the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

"Most adoptees are doing fine," said Margaret Keyes, lead author of the study and research psychologist at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Still, new data on the long-term health of adopted children is always useful, she reasoned.

"When you have all the information, you're better prepared to make decisions for your family," Keyes said. "You have information that your adopted child might be at a slightly increased risk, so you can be aware of that and can you use the social services agencies with which you already familiar through the process of adopting."

"There is no revelation here. This is consistent with previous research," added Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and author of Adoption Nation. "It's a good, solid piece of work. Adoptive parents can be reassured that their kids will be just fine, thank you. We do need to do a better job of learning how to deal with children and be prepared in case we are in that minority whose kids are represented in this study. It's not scary. It's cautionary."

According to background information in the article, some 120,000 children are adopted annually in the United States, and there are about 1.5 million adopted American children under the age of 18.

International adoptions are increasingly replacing domestic adoptions, with about 40,000 children transferred between more than 100 countries each year as a result of adoption.

Although some studies have found an increased risk of social, intellectual and emotional problems among children who were exposed to substances before they were born or who were neglected prior to adoption, the risk among children who don't have this kind of history hasn't been clear.

The researchers assessed 514 internationally adopted adolescents and 178 domestically adopted adolescents (aged 11 to 21) and compared them with 540 non-adopted kids of the same age.

Children who had been adopted scored higher than non-adoptees on continuous measures of behavioral and emotional problems, the team found. Adoptees were about twice as likely to have had contact with a mental health professional and of having a disruptive behavior disorder, according to the study.

Domestic adoptees were more than twice as likely to have an "externalizing disorder" (one that manifests in outward behavior) than international adoptees, the researchers added.

As one example, seven out of every 100 non-adopted kids met the criteria for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), while 14 to 15 of adopted kids met the criteria, Keyes said. Still, the overall rate was not alarming.

To put it into perspective, Keyes pointed out that simply giving birth to a male is risky, since boys have a higher chance of being diagnosed with a disruptive behavior disorder than girls.

"It's important not to stigmatize adoption," Pertman said. "Adoption is not causing these problems."

A second study in the same issue of the journal looked at children who had lost a parent to death suddenly. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that these bereaved youngsters had triple the risk of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than kids with two parents still alive.

According to the article, 4 percent of children in Western countries have experienced the death of a parent.

More information

There's more on adoption at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

SOURCES: Margaret A. Keyes, Ph.D., research psychologist, Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Adam Pertman, executive director, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Boston, and author Adoption Nation; May Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

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