An article in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), however, says that many of the stereotypes of overseas adoptees as "problem kids" are simply not true: international adoptees have fewer behavior problems than domestic adoptees.
The money quote:
Most international children who are adopted are well-adjusted and have fewer behavioral problems than children who are adopted domestically, according to an article in the May 25 issue of JAMA.This is a big issue, with 40,000 children per year moving between more than 100 countries, according to the JAMA study's authors, Femmie Juffer, Ph.D., and Marinus H. van Ijzendoorn, Ph.D., both from Leiden University in the Netherlands. They used medical literature from 1950 to January 2005 to estimate the effects of international adoption on behavioral problems and mental health referrals.
The authors acknowledge that prior to adoption, "international adoptees often experience insufficient medical care, malnutrition, maternal separation, and neglect and abuse in orphanages." But this doesn't translate into long-term problems, as their analysis "showed that the majority of international adoptees are well-adjusted."
They do acknowledge that international adoptees do have slightly more of such problems than non-adoptees (the control group in the research), but that "the effect sizes were small."
Surprisingly, age at adoption was "not important for the development of behavioral problems." But the authors warn that "clinicians should be aware of higher risks for problem behaviors in domestic adoptees and in international adoptees who experienced neglect or maltreatment in the preadoptive period." This, of course, would be true even for children raised by their biological parents.
In Korea overseas adoption is a big issue. Prior to the Olympics it was considered natural that children of mixed ancestry, or children whose parents had died or couldn't care for them, would live better lives if adopted by loving parents in North America or Europe.
But the American media—particularly NBC—cast a negative light on the situation, depicting Korea as a nation of "baby exporters." Domestically, the embarrassment from this unfavorable press resulted in a very strong movement to end overseas adoption. Overseas adoptions were to end in 1996, with exceptions made for "mixed" children (honhyŏra, 혼혈아; or honyŏrin 혼혈인) or children with physical or mental disabilities. This caused an outcry of a different kind: Korea was now seen as a cruel country just trying to get rid of its "undesirables."
The problem was that the overseas adoption debate in Korea was being driven by concerns about the rising economic star's public image, not by the best interests of the children involved. There were many Koreans who supported the continuation of overseas adoption for the sake of the children. These proponents pointed out that there were too few people willing to adopt a child in this increasingly prosperous country, primarily because of the strong emphasis on blood ties within a family structure.
But opposition to overseas adoption remained high, with the public exposed to media designed to mold their opinion. The 1991 movie "Susan Brink's Arirang" stood out among the anti-overseas adoption fare. This well-acted movie, starring Choi Jinshil [최진실], depicted the life of real-life Susan Brink as told through her autobiography. With an emotionally abusive adoptive mother, her life in Sweden was quite difficult, and it made her miserable enough to attempt suicide.
Many Koreans were touched by the film, which also showed interviews of actual European adoptees from Korea telling how much they hated Korea and the biological parents who gave them up. With so little evidence to the contrary, many Koreans were convinced that overseas adoption was cruel and must be stopped.
The necessity of finding homes for thousands of children without homes ended up being the deciding factor, and the 1996 deadline came and went. But the issue does occasionally rear its ugly head. I say the "issue" has an ugly head, because overseas adoptees, like children of mixed ancestry, are enjoying something of a renaissance. At the very least, it is much less common for them to be viewed as freaks or undesirables. Many are greeted "back" with special programs and outreached arms.
And in this respect, the report in JAMA can only help things. People in Korea can feel good that—despite the propaganda to the contrary—overseas adoptees are generally leading happy and healthy lives.