Adoption and Sibling Relationships

Source: Clker-Free-Vector-Images/Pixabay, used with permission.

Adoption is not without controversy, as evidenced by many reports of microaggressions directed toward adoptive family members from those outside the adoption community. These may include intrusive and insensitive questions, doubting the authenticity of the family, and negative stereotypes associated with adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents, and the process of adoption. These sometimes harsh, biased and hostile views often result in behaviors that stigmatize and have negative effects on both domestically and internationally adopted children and their families.

But a study published in the September 1, 2017 issue of The British Journal of Social Work found that even within the family unit, conflicts and complications unique to the adoptive status of some members often have negative effects on the relationships between everyone involved. One very important family relationship that can be altered by adoption in both positive and negative ways is the sibling relationship. These researchers looked at the unique and various ways sibling relationships require support in an adoptive family and brought out the following points:

  • Adoptive children that are part of a sibling group could lose contact with their brothers and sisters related by birth; maintaining birth family contact requires agreement on the part of everyone involved.
  • Both the adoptive children placed in a family with existing children, and the existing children, must adjust to new sibling relationships.
  • Adoptive parents may feel closer to their birth children and, even when this is not the case, the child who was adopted may perceive it as true.
  • A child’s developmental stage plays a role in how well he or she adjusts to adoption.
  • Children who are adopted as part of a sibling group often provide positive companionship, comfort, protection and support for each other throughout the adjust period. But in some cases, there may be intense jealousy and competition for attention from the adoptive parent(s). One child may feel that the other has developed a closer bond than they have with the parent or, for instance, that a younger child is receiving preferential treatment that they themselves never experienced at the same age. These problems often surface among children who struggle with interpersonal relationships in general.
  • When a child is adopted to provide a sibling for a birth child, the chances that the birth child would display feelings of jealousy, confusion, and displacement were about equal to the chances of a smooth, harmonious adjustment.

The goal of good mental health care for adoptive families, both pre- and post-adoption, is always to provide the families with support and help the children thrive. But questions need to be answered before solutions, both preventative and remedial, can be found. For instance, what is typical sibling behavior and what is behavior that is a direct result of the adoptive family’s and adopted child’s circumstances? These researchers recommend that practitioners rely on systems theory, and a family systems framework, when attempting to understand sibling relationships within the adoptive family. They also suggest that some adopted children may require a long-term counseling relationship, even into early adulthood, in order to succeed within the context of an adoptive family.

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