In the last fifteen to twenty years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children adopted by American families, who are from the eastern European nations. This is particularly the case of children from impoverished areas of the former Soviet Union. This work will briefly address the historical and social situation that resulted in the increases in adoptions from these areas but most importantly will look at the early research on the implications this influx has had upon education and specifically special education. A point of interest is that greater educational opportunity is one of the most commonly cited reasons for international adoption decisions by parents. It is for this reason and others that special attention really need to be paid to the ability of our schools and waiting families to help adoptive children to excel within them. The fundamental research question being: Are more children who spent at least a year of their life in an adoption institution experiencing more, educational, learning, behavioral issues in schools?
Many of the children, being addressed within this work have resided within adoption institutions for a large part of their lives.
The adoption of children from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is a relatively new phenomenon that began in 1990. Since that time, more than 25,000 orphans from Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and other former Soviet republics have been adopted by American families (Immigrant Orphans, 1998). Not surprisingly, infants ([is less than] 1 year, 54%) and young children (1-4 years, 35%) constitute the majority of adopted children. (Judge, 1999, p. 244)
Many of these children have lived within large adoption institutions for a large part of their lives. "Most of these children have resided in orphanages for months to years at the time of their adoption." (Judge, 1999, p. 244)
Due to the young age upon adoption and the lack of comprehensive medical records for these children many adoptive families are under the impression that the children they welcome into their homes will certainly have a period of adjustment, but for the most part will develop normally, educationally and socially. (Hollingsworth, 2003, pg. 209) Yet, findings have not always indicated this to be the case and many experts and families are demanding greater attention be paid to the early lives of these children and the implications of their impoverished backgrounds upon future growth. Though language acquisition is usually the most profound issue when dealing with international adoption the situations within many orphanages including but not limited to overcrowding, abhorrent resources and a simple lack of appropriate staff and care providers to nurture and stimulate these children at these crucial early developmental stages.
The conditions in these orphanages vary; however, lack of stimulation, inadequate nutrition, minimal personal interactions, and limited resources characterize the living conditions for many thousands of children living in state orphanages (Ames, 1990; McMullan & Fisher, 1992). (Judge, 1999, p. 244)
It has been recognized for at least a century that the kinds of conditions some of these children are exposed to at early ages will almost certainly effect their later development. The causes are many and the solutions are varied, yet one of the most foundational problems is the reliance these same children may have upon the public education system, and specifically upon the special education offerings within system. All of the issues that some of these children, and their new families will deal with in some way preclude education, and specifically effect the ways in which children learn.
All of these conditions conspire to delay and sometimes preclude normal development. An increased incidence of developmental delays, medical problems, and poor nutrition in adopted children has been recognized, reflecting the deprived early environments in which these children have lived (Miller, Kiernan, Mathers, & Klein-Gitelman, 1995).
(Judge, 1999, p. 244)
Though the conditions in the Romanian orphanages have been widely publicized it may be important to have a greater understanding of just what kind of a precarious situation many of these children may have faced as defenseless young children. (Galopri?, 1995, p. 332)
Early institutionalization increases the risk of attachment difficulties. It can slow the child's emotional, social, and physical development as well as affect the child's ability to make smooth transitions from one developmental stage to another. Early institutionalization also increases the risks that the child will have psychiatric impairments as an adult (Groza & Ileana (2001)"Preparing Families for Adoption of Institutionalized Children with Special Needs and/or Children At Risk for Special Needs."
In a comprehensive book associated with the social and psychosocial changes that have taken place within the United States regarding adoption, within the recent past, Pertman gives a brief synopsis of how, Romania, as an example of the worst case scenario had been degraded to such a state, as to be forces to so crudely house so many children.
Ceausescu and his wife, Elana, who served as his chief deputy and was executed along with her husband, believed that increasing their country's population would somehow help to alleviate its indigence. They imposed policies promoting childbirth, forbidding abortion and contraception, and financially penalizing couples who didn't produce children... The predictable result was a nightmarish nation in which people lived in desperation and fear, in which poverty grew pervasive, and in which families became increasingly less able to care for their children. So they were routinely abandoned. (Pertman, 2000, p. 72)
Though Pertman's description of the resulting social situation, may seem over-generalized he gives a bleak, and many would say realistic synopsis of the conditions found within the Romanian orphanages. In 1989 when the communication barriers were lifted and humanitarian organizations began to deal with the concerns of the nation and her children they found the worst-case scenario, of which images and stories reaching other countries, precipitated the interest and influx of adoption situations.
The institutions into which they were then placed reflected the grim realities of their society at large. Children were tied onto beds. Some were found lying in their own excrement. In winter, many froze to death; the rest of the year, they atrophied away or died of malnutrition. Diseases went untreated, physical and emotional abuse seemed to be officially tolerated, and affection apparently was an emotion that these children's pathetic caretakers were too exhausted or socially brutalized to exhibit. (Pertman, 2000, p. 72)
Surprisingly the early evidence suggests that to a large degree children adopted from these challenging circumstances are meeting educational goals and achieving success. One researcher points out that the results of early intervention, within families mostly, and prior to school age has done wonders for these children.
Research studies on the outcome of Eastern European adoptions show that these children generally do quite well. Attachment, identity, and comfort with adoption issues are generally reported to be good. This is strikingly positive evidence, as most children adopted from Eastern Europe have had problematic preadoptive histories that could be expected to cause difficulties in adjustment. The limited studies show that adoption has for the most part been very successful in enabling even those children who have suffered extremely severe forms of deprivation and abuse in their early lives to recover and flourish. (Judge, 1999, p. 244)
It seems that the basic consensus among researchers and educators is that the predictive results of normal developmental levels, within school aged children adopted from Eastern Europe and institutionalized prior to adoption, is not necessarily the degree of deprivation in the institution but he degree to which their adoptive families learn and enact positive pre-school interventions.
One 2000 quantitative research paper, concerning outcomes, in relation to early institutionalization and based in Canada had results that generally matched those of Judge. This early study indicates once again that the productive and successful intervention of adoptive parents can greatly increase the child's potential developmental success.
In summary, Romanian children with early orphanage experience have generally made great progress since their adoption to Canada; however, most have not yet caught up with children who have spent all their lives in a family. Adoption policies for children with early institutionalization should emphasize removing the children from the orphanage as early as possible...Furthermore, given the significant relation between cognitive status of the adopted children and stimulation provided for them in the home, and the fact that these children should be considered to have special needs, prospective adoptive parents should be educated about the demands on their time and energy and the need for the provision of high quality environments for these children.
(Morison & Ellwood, 2000, p. 717)
Yet, it must be said that many of the children in the study had not yet reached school age. Their future success therefore remains to be seen but common predictors indicate that many of the children are not experiencing extreme problematic predictors for special education needs. (Morison & Ellwood, 2000, p. 717) Though, advocates for special education outreach prior to school aged years would agree and additionally suggest that parents considering an international adoption should understand…