Abstract: Psychological Well-Being of Adopted and Institution-Reared Children: The Case of Chile (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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206P Psychological Well-Being of Adopted and Institution-Reared Children: The Case of Chile

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Pamela Jimenez-Etcheverria, PhD, Psychologist, Universidad de La Frontera, Temuco, Chile
Background: In recent years, in Chile emphasis has been placed on the need to review and modify the current model applied in the adoptive processes. In addition, to date, around 10,000 children live in institutions and it is urgently required that public policies on children living in care system effectively protect children’s right. International studies have shown that compared to children living in institutions, adopted children have higher levels of psychological well-being. Less is known about Chilean adopted children, however. To fill this knowledge gap, this study examined the psychological adjustment and cognitive functioning of 52 adopted children in comparison with 50 institution-reared children living in Chile. All of the children were aged between 4-9 years and had been living with their adoptive families or in institutions, respectively, for at least 12 months.

Methods: To assess children’s levels of externalising and internalising problems, adoptive parents, caregivers and teachers completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). In addition, the proportion of children above cut-off for clinical problems was examined. To assess children’s attachment difficulties, adoptive parents, caregivers and teachers also completed the Relationship Problems Questionnaire (RPQ). Finally, adopted and institution-reared children aged 6 or older, were administered a short version of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-III). Adoptive mothers and fathers were individually administered a standardised interview and questionnaire assessments of parental well-being.

Results: Adopted children showed significantly higher levels of socio-emotional and cognitive functioning than institution-reared children, with the majority of adopted children scoring within the normal range and the majority of institutionalised children showed clinical levels of emotional and behavioral problems.

Significant differences in psychological adjustment, as assessed by the total SDQ score, were found between adopted and institution-reared children, as rated by mothers or caregivers, F(1, 98) = 7.27, p = .008. Also, the total RPQ score revealed a significant difference between groups as reported by mothers/caregivers, F(1, 99) = 11.67, p < .001, with adopted children showing lower scores for reactive attachment disorder. There was no significant difference between adopted and institution-reared children according to teachers’ report.

In addition, group differences were found for cognitive development as assessed by the WISC-III [F (1,72)=37.06, p<.001], with adopted children scoring higher. The mean IQ score of adopted children was 23 points higher than that of the institutionalised group. Factors associated with more positive outcomes among the adopted children were a younger age at adoption and lower levels of parental stress.

Implications: Although a selection effect cannot be ruled out, with higher functioning children more likely to be adopted, the results point to a beneficial effect of adoption on the psychological development and well-being of children in Chile. In line with the expectations, factors associated with more positive outcomes among the adopted children were a younger age at adoption and living longer with their adoptive families. The results have implications for policy and practice in Chile when taking decisions in child protection.