New study: adopted kids struggle, even with well-educated, wealthy parents

I’ll explain why I am posting this below, but for now, let’s take a look at the study, which is discussed at Family Studies. (H/T Brad Wilcox tweet)


To expand what we know about adopted students, for this Institute for Family Studies research brief, I carried out a fresh analysis of data from a large longitudinal study of 19,000 kindergarten students that was conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics beginning in 1998.

[…]Kindergarten and first-grade teachers were asked to rate the classroom behavior of children in the ECLS-K sample—how well they got along with other children in a group situation. In both the fall of kindergarten and the spring of first grade, adopted children were more likely than biological ones to be reported to get angry easily and often argue or fight with other students.

Here’s the first chart:

Adopted kids struggle in school
Adopted kids more likely to engage in problem behaviors

And more results:

Children in the ECLS-K were also rated by their teachers on how well they paid attention in class, whether they seemed eager to learn new things, and whether they persisted at challenging learning tasks. Scores on these measures have proven to be predictive of later academic performance and career success beyond elementary school.5 Adopted children were rated less highly with respect to such positive approaches to learning than were children being raised by both birth parents.

Here’s the second chart:

Adopted kids struggle to pay attention in class
Adopted kids struggle to pay attention in class

And even more results:

As the participating children began kindergarten, the ECLS-K assessed their pre-reading skills, such as recognizing letters by name, associating sounds with letters, identifying simple words by sight.

Here’s the third chart:

Adopted kids struggle with reading skills
Adopted kids struggle with reading skills

And now math results:

In the fall of their kindergarten year, the ECLS-K assessed children’s pre-arithmetic skills like counting by rote, recognizing written numerals, and understanding greater, lesser, and equal relationships.

Here’s the fourth chart:

Adopted kids struggle with math skills
Adopted kids struggle with math skills

The article concludes:

Attachment theory holds that a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with at least one adult, usually the mother, is essential for the mental health of infants and young children. Children who do not develop a stable and secure bond during early childhood, or have the bond disrupted, are subject to both short-term distress reactions and longer-term abnormalities in their feelings and behavior toward other people. Not having a stable maternal bond is apt to produce long-lasting deficits in the child’s social development, deficiencies that are not easily remedied by a new home environment, no matter how favorable.

Some adopted children experienced neglect, abuse, or other stressful events prior to their adoption. According to traumatic stress theory, the likelihood of long-term emotional scars depends on the intensity and duration of the stress. Severe or prolonged early stress can have long-lasting effects on a child’s development, effects that a supportive adoptive family may only partly ameliorate.

So what do I want to say about this? I want to warn young women, especially young Christian women, that children work best when grown-ups plan their lives in such a way that they can provide for what the children need, at the time they need it. And if you miss the window of opportunity to have your own kids and raise them yourself, then you can’t just fix it at the last minute with ad hoc alternatives.

But for some reason, I get a lot of kickback from young women when I tell them what studies say about things like marriage, premarital sex, cohabitation, infertility, day care, and on and on and on. The Christian women in particular dismiss all the facts with stuff like:

God is leading me to choose fun and thrills now. That’s what my feelings say (and all my friends and family tell me that my feelings are God speaking to me). Tingles and peer-approval rationalize my choice to delay marriage and child-bearing. Who cares about stuff evidence? I don’t like to hear about constraints and deadlines. So I’ll just keep up this plan to run up debts, go on missionary trips, and have fun traveling till I’m 90 years old. God always calls people to do what feels good. I’m going on an adventure! And it will be easy to find a good husband and raise happy and effective kids later – whenever I feel like it. Er, I mean when God leads me to feel like it. Yeah.

So even though all of these studies show the need for timings, pre-conditions, best practices, and so on, that can all be dismissed because the feelings are God speaking to her, and God can somehow magically make all the data not apply to her. One of my married friends once wrote to a young, single fun-seeking feminist telling her about the risks of delaying marriage and child-bearing for too long, and the fun-seeker came back to me dismissing the whole letter because “I don’t like the feeling that I am being constrained”. So, the advice of old Christian women (Titus 2:4) can be dismissed because the young adventurous feminist didn’t like the feeling of being confronted by reality by someone who had more wisdom and experience than she did.

What young children need is their mom, and a Dad who can provide for her to stay home during the crucial first 5 years of their lives. That is more important than pursuing fun and thrills, then grabbing for children as if they were handbags at the last second after natural child-bearing becomes impossible. The right thing to do is to use your 20s preparing financially and otherwise to have kids when you are young, and to be financially set up to stay home with them during the critical years. Choosing a man who can provide, and who understands the best practices for having and raising children is vital, if you want your children to be effective and influential for Christ and his kingdom.

I do think that if a couple is intentionally adopting because they want the challenge and want to help a child who really needs it, then it’s praiseworthy to do that. I just don’t want someone who isn’t ready for the challenge thinking that adoption is the same, so they can delay marriage and children.I know that I am lazy, and I always want to do things the easy way. E.g. – I buy new cars, not used cars. I will buy hand-fed birds, not rescue birds. I would buy a new house, not a fixer-upper. I’m just not cut out for doing things that are hard. I have no ability to struggle through when there is resistance. When I face rejection or resistance to trying to grow or lead someone, I just give up. I think what I was saying to young women was – don’t delay marriage and child-bearing, you’ll get better results with less work.

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11 thoughts on “New study: adopted kids struggle, even with well-educated, wealthy parents”

  1. You akso have kids in foster care because their parents may have been drug addicts or they may have been abusive to them. So not all children in the system are from people who wanted to have thrills and fun plus some choose adoption rather than abortion


    1. Well, I think taking drugs is done for fun and thrills. But you’re right about adoption being better than abortion.

      Look, this post is more for women who want to delay marriage and children in order to go play in Spain and Hungary during their 20s. I am telling those women than they should focus on getting debt-free, marrying and having their own kids with a man who can provide. That way, the kids will get their mom and their dad, too. They need their mom and dad, and it can’t be fumble-bumbled together at the last second. Sacrifices have to be made before there is a fertility crisis.


      1. I wanted to study abroad in Japan when i was a biology major but then i changed my mine when i heard stories of women being kidnapped on other countries and sold into sex slavery. However I never been the type to seek thrills, I am fine just going to my local anime store or reading a book or an convention- i guess thats the nerdy-ness in me


  2. Is there any breakout on the difference between strong conservative Christian adoptive parents versus secular parents – regardless of income?


  3. I have known of several Christian women that decide to adopt instead of having children of their own. This article shows that adoption should not be a substitute for having biological children of your own.


  4. I walked into a top ranked day care 7 months pregnant thinking that I had to continue my career. I walked out knowing that I could not hand my child over every day to be nurtured and cared for by someone else. I quit my job and stayed home even though our income was halved. Today that son is a freshman in college. I am so thankful for every second of time that God gave me with him. And I am so thankful for my father who gave me the wise advice, as I struggled, that he never heard anyone say on his deathbed, “I wish I had spent less time with my kids.” Children are a true blessing. May women of today stop buying the lies that there is more. The promises are empty and rob them of one of the greatest blessings we as women have. True blessings only come with sacrifice.


  5. I’ve had a lot of experience with adopted kids; my extended family adopted quite a few kids, and we have friends who have done so as well. I’ve read books such as “Attachments” about how kids relate to adoptive parents. What I’ve seen and what I believe I’ve learned is that adopted kids come from a different set of people, and genetics shapes them more than their surroundings and upbringing. They tend to become what they were genetically programmed to be, and that is usually nothing like their adoptive families. I don’t personally know of one adoption that worked out very well; there is just some kind of barrier between the adopted kids and their adoptive parents. And most of the kids really only want to be back “home” with their biological parents, especially if they were adopted at a later age. With biological kids, there is a bond that lasts through anything. I don’t know how to describe it; but I do know I have never personally seen that bond between adopted kids and parents. Which is really too bad, by the way; adopting someone is a great blessing, but a lot harder than just having your own biological children.

    I thought this post was going to be about how kids adopted into same sex “couples” would not fare well. I’ve seen that as well… even up to the point where a “couple” left a baby in a car to die. I know the young man who did that, and have lots to say about that… but another time.


    1. I agree with you.It is a great blessing. I wrote this post because I know a woman who is delaying marriage and child-bearing, who thinks that she can “always adopt later”. And she does not expect it to be any more difficult. I am trying to give women insight that allows them to prioritize marriage and having children above traveling to Europe to have a 2-year vacation when you are already 31 years old.


      1. In my opinion, there is nothing better a woman can do than have children. They are the greatest blessing God gives us. Putting off having children puts a woman at risk of never knowing that blessing.


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