Abbie Goldberg (Clark University) and Harold Grotevant (University of Massachusetts Amherst), in collaboration with the Rudd Program at UMass Amherst, launched a survey of teachers’ experiences with adopted children April 6 2021 – May 15, 2021. Responses were gathered from 207 K-12 teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school professionals, including 63 elementary school teachers (30.4%), 74 secondary school teachers (35.7%), 46 special education teachers (22.3%), and 39 (19%) programming/support staff (e.g., afterschool program teacher; librarian). A broad representation of grade levels and subject matter areas was achieved; over 40 responses were received from teachers at each grade level, K-12. Primary focus was teachers’ experiences with and perspectives on adopted children and families, but the survey also addressed COVID-19-related stressors and concerns.
Key Findings/ Executive Summary
- About three-quarters of participants felt that their school at least somewhat emphasized or acknowledged family diversity. Yet only about half felt that teachers and staff were at least somewhat trained to recognize the role of trauma or attachment history in children’s behavioral issues, with slightly more (almost 60%) agreeing that teachers were at least somewhat adept at modifying assignments to be inclusive of diverse families. Teachers were split in how constrained they felt in terms of how they taught about issues such as family diversity, adoption, and race/racism, with about one-third feeling at least somewhat constrained, and over half feeling not very or not at all constrained.
- A unique aspect of the sample concerns their personal connections to adoption: in particular, 23% were adoptive parents themselves. Notably, only 15% of the sample reported having received any teacher training or professional development about adoption. A total of 30% of teachers estimated that they had taught between 0-5 adopted children in their career, with 40% estimating that they had taught 6-15 adopted children in their career, and about 15% estimating that they had taught 16-30 adopted children in their career. One-fifth believed that they were not, to their knowledge, teaching any adopted children during the current school year.
- Teachers most often learned a child was adopted from the child themselves, followed by the parents. Sometimes they learned the information in the context of a child’s emotional or behavioral difficulties or their specialized education plan. Less than 50% of respondents said that their school/teachers sent out a form asking for child background information (where a parent, if they wanted, could indicate information about their children’s adoptive status or history), and, notably, more than one-third were unsure if such a form was sent. Likewise, 45% of respondents had at some point wanted to know more about a child’s adoptive status or history but were unsure of how or who to ask.
- Two-thirds of teachers viewed adopted children as being more likely than non-adopted children to have emotional difficulties, and more than half believed that adopted children were more likely to have peer/social problems and to struggle with identity issues. About one-third believed that adopted children were more likely to have developmental delays, to have an IEP, and to have poor academic performance. While such beliefs dovetail with some research findings (e.g., adopted children are overrepresented in special education, and may have lower academic performance overall), there is significant variability among adopted children in educational outcomes, such that children with more pre-adoption adversity tend to fare more poorly, and children whose parents report high levels of parent involvement and/or socioeconomic resources tend to fare well.
- Teachers described a range of modifications or adjustments they made in their language and teaching to better meet the needs of adopted children and families. Most commonly (70%) they described purposeful and/or inclusive language choices, with 56% noting efforts to be more inclusive and sensitive in assignments, 46% noting attention to adoption inclusivity in books and materials, 45% noting an adoption-aware or trauma-informed approach to discipline, and 35% noting an adoption-aware approach to curriculum. They described a range of assignments and school-related topics that presented issues for adopted children, including those related to immigration, identity, family history, genes/environment, and loss/grief.
- Most teachers were enthusiastic about parents’ involvement and advocacy in relation to their children, and welcomed their input, but a few pointed out that parents themselves lacked a trauma-informed perspective which sometimes interfered with their ability to best meet the needs of their children, highlighting the need for teacher and parent training in adoption.
- Significantly, in the realm of teacher training, few participants learned about adoption issues (e.g., child characteristics/challenges; inclusion in curricula) in teacher training or professional development (between 12-20% in all areas except for trauma), with between one-third and two-thirds indicating that they learned about these issues “on the job,” with another 30-50% saying that they had never learned about these issues. Likewise, just 2.4% said that they felt “very prepared” by their education/training to work with adopted students and families, with 24% feeling somewhat prepared. When referring to how prepared they felt currently, one-third felt very prepared, and just over 40% felt somewhat prepared, echoing the finding that most teachers felt that they had gained much of what they knew about adoption “on the job.” Chi square analyses showed teachers who were the parents of adopted children were somewhat more likely (X2 (1, 189 = 2.50, p = .086) to feel somewhat or very prepared currently.
- In turn, 70-85% of teachers agreed that learning about issues such as common challenges among adopted children, adopted children’s educational needs and challenges, developing curricula with awareness of adopted children, and the role of trauma in adopted children’s behavior, would be “very helpful” to new teachers. Yet they also endorsed barriers to learning about adoption for teachers and teachers-in-training, most notably lack of prioritization (e.g., by the schools that they were employed within; by their training programs; by state accreditation agencies) and/or competing demands for professional development topics.