Saturday, 14 January 2006 - 5:00 PM

Ethnic Identity and Self-Esteem among International Adoptees

Jayashree Mohanty, MSW, University of Pittsburgh.

Purpose: Past research shows predominantly positive outcomes with regard to adjustment of international adoption. Despite the predominantly positive adjustment outcomes, studies also report that many international adoptees are confused about their race and ethnicity and face difficulties in handling bias and discrimination. The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption states that the eligibility criteria to adopt internationally would include an adoptive parent's ability to undertake the child's identity development (Article 15, No.1). The current study is designed to increase our understanding of the ways in which adoptive parents deal with factors relating to their child's native culture and its affect on the child's self-esteem.

Method: Data were collected in 2005 for a period of three months using a web-based survey. Seventy-four adult international adoptees were recruited through web-based adult adoptees support groups. The Rosenberg Self- Esteem Scale (RSE) was used to measure self-esteem. Other scales were developed to measure cultural socialization, ethnic identity, marginality and belongingness. Path analysis using multiple regression equations were conducted to ascertain if belongingness and ethnic identity acted as a mediator of the relationship between cultural socialization and adoptees' self-esteem.

Results: As hypothesized there was a significant relationship between parental supports for cultural socialization and self-esteem. The results showed that aspects of ethnic identification mediated the effects of cultural socialization on self-esteem among Asian born intercountry adoptees. Intercountry adoptees' self-esteem seemed attributed to a feeling that they belonged to their adoptive family as well as belonging that they are not marginal in the majority culture, both of these qualities arising from the opportunities to get involved with their birth culture. The findings indicate that a sense of not belonging or being accepted and feeling different may represent a vulnerability to psychological adjustment.

Implications: Findings highlight that parental support of cultural socialization contributes to the adoptee's self-esteem. Social workers should raise awareness and knowledge of adoptive parents to the cultural continuity in the child's upbringing. Further, social workers need to understand the issues related to adoption and ethnicity developmentally and provide age appropriate information to adoptees for their successful adjustment. Providing informal and formal cultural support and resources to adoptees will strengthen the functioning of adoptees. Finally, policy makers should address the importance of birth culture by ensuring that adoptees and adoptive parents receive post adoption services from the agencies and adoption facilitators.

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