Abstract: Happily Ever After? The Journey from Foster Care to Adoption (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12783 Happily Ever After? The Journey from Foster Care to Adoption

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 3:30 PM
Garden Room B (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Michele D. Hanna, PhD , University of Denver, Assistant Professor, Denver, CO
Dawn Matera, MSW , University of Denver, Research Assistant, Denver, CO
PURPOSE: The lifelong search for self is a developmental journey that we all take. Historically, theorists have conceptualized the development of self or identity in varied ways including the idea that self-identity is the result of one's meaning making of their life experiences as well as the integration of socialization experiences with caregivers, peers, teachers and the larger society (Harter, 1999). For the adopted person this complex process is compounded by the need to integrate their adoptive identity into this larger self (Brodzinsky, Schechter, & Henig, 1993). The concept of adoptive identity (Grotevant, 1997) has primarily been explored through the lens of infant adoption and subsequent adjustment during adolescence. The purpose of this study was to explore the concept of adoptive identity from the perspective of young adults adopted from the complex and transitory world of foster care.

METHOD: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 young adults (18-25) who had been adopted from the foster care system after the age of 8. Transcriptions of the interviews were coded twice by three coders using two methods. One coder (the primary researcher) independently coded all 30 interviews; the other two coders independently coded approximately half of the interviews. A theory driven template analytic technique (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Boyatis, 1998; Miller & Crabtree, 1992) was used to explore the data in relation to the existing adoptive identity literature. Simultaneously, a grounded theory approach using constant comparison explored emergent themes unique to the foster adoptive experience (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Similarities and differences for each transcript were discussed in coder dyads. All three coders met to discuss the emergent and overarching themes and categories; a form of analytic triangulation (Patton, 1992).

RESULTS: A preliminary concept of foster/adoptive identity ranging from unaware to resolved emerged from the data. The young adults in this study saw their adoption experience as indistinguishable from their journey through the foster care system. The need for belonging, the impact of multiple moves, the significance of birth family relationships, and the overall foster care experience greatly impacted their perception of their identity as an adopted person. The complex adult challenges facing the youth in this study were not that different from those of emancipating youth. The need for post-adoption support follow-up with older youth was apparent.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: As social workers within the child welfare system, adoption is often seen as the preferred permanency goal when reunification is no longer possible. Little is known about the long term outcomes of the adopted child outside of the behavioral adjustment and legal permanency. The results of this study provide insight into the emotional and developmental adjustment of adopted children who on the surface appear to be the epitome of adoption success. Further exploration of the foster/adoptive identity concept as outlined in this paper can provide understanding of the post-adoption experience of older youth and result in an informative research agenda that can serve to improve the provision of services to older children within the foster care system transitioning to adoption.