Preparing the next generation of adoption researchers

cohort of summer institute in front of life science laboratories

National, international and within-country adoptions are changing significantly

The Rudd Adoption Research Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst hosted a research institute on campus May 19-24 for 20 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who were accepted from eight countries to study methods in adoption research.

Professor Harold Grotevant, director of the Rudd program, says it is the most comprehensive program in adoption psychology in the country. The visiting researchers gained experience in how to appropriately consider race, sexual orientation, culture and ethnicity in adoption study design as well as approaches to intensive data analysis.

They took a field trip to the Treehouse Community neighborhood in Easthampton where they spoke to parents who have adopted children from foster care and with neighborhood elders who volunteer to support the families with child care, tutoring, listening, cooking and after-school activities.

Grotevant says, one of the institute’s goals is to prepare the next generation of adoption researchers to study and respond to those trends and their effects on children and families. “The field is having to prepare in new ways to serve those children and their families,” he points out.

International adoption has declined significantly from more than 22,000 children per year in 2004 to 4,000 in 2018, he adds, in part due to tighter regulations and revelations of abuse and human trafficking. “For some countries they are just starting their own domestic adoption programs, such as in South Korea. The aim there is to keep their children in the country and in the culture,” Grotevant notes.

“Some countries do a lot, some do very little,” he says. “Some countries use orphanages and institutions, for instance. Whatever the approach is, there is now more of a consensus in the scientific community that growing up in a family is much more emotionally healthy for the child than growing up in an institution,” the adoption expert explains.

“Another trend we’re seeing is more children being removed from their parents and put into foster care. Although the hope with foster care is that it will ultimately be possible for the child to reunify with his or her family, some children will never be able to return. This is a growing area and because these children tend to be older, they often have more difficulties than younger adopted children.”

About 2 percent of the U.S. population is adopted, and it is estimated that about 60 percent of 300 million residents have some personal connection or reason to be interested in adoption issues; this country remains one of the most active in adoption in the world, he notes.

Adoption has always been with humankind, Grotevant says, because there has always been a need to care for orphans. But it began to be formalized in the United States in the 1850s and in Massachusetts in 1851, when the first legal definitions, standards and guidelines for terminating parental rights were articulated. Though infant adoptions may have been more typical in the past, they are a fairly small but steady component of adoption in the U.S. today, he says.

Grotevant says, “This summer program helps fulfill our mission of building capacity in the field for research that will assist governments, agencies and practitioners in creating and supporting evidence-based programs that will improve the quality of life for adopted persons and their families everywhere. It will be exciting to welcome these eager participants to our campus. At the end of the program, they will be named Rudd Adoption Research Scholars and be listed on our website with others trained in our program.”