A COMPARISON OF PSYCHOLOGICAL ADJUSTMENT AND COGNITIVE FUNCTIONING BETWEEN ADOPTED AND INSTITUTION-REARED CHILDREN IN CHILE
Many studies have shown that adopted children show higher levels of psychological adjustment than children living in institutions. However, there is little research comparing the behaviour and cognitive abilities of adopted and institution-reared children in Latin America, despite the large number of children living in institutional care. The aim of this thesis was to examine differences in the socio-emotional and cognitive functioning of adopted and institution-reared children in Chile, and to identify factors associated with the psychological adjustment and cognitive ability of adopted children.
Data were obtained from 52 adopted children and their parents, and a comparison group of 50 children living in institutions. All adoptions were national and the children were aged between 4-9 years. Children’s psychological problems and attachment difficulties were assessed using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and the Relationship Problems Questionnaire, respectively, completed by adoptive parents or caregivers and teachers. Cognitive functioning was assessed using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Third Edition (WISC-III). The Structured Child Assessment of Relationships in Families was used to assess children’s perceptions of family relationships. Adoptive mothers and fathers were individually administered a standardised interview designed to assess parenting quality and questionnaire assessments of anxiety, depression, marital quality and parenting stress. Observational assessments of mother-child interaction were also carried out.
Adopted children showed significantly higher levels of socio-emotional and cognitive functioning than institution-reared children, with the majority of adopted children scoring within the normal range and the majority of institutionalised children showed clinical levels of emotional and behavioural problems. The mean IQ score of adopted children was 23 points higher than that of the institutionalised group. Factors associated with more positive outcomes among the adopted children were a younger age at adoption and lower levels of maternal and paternal stress.
Although a selection effect cannot be ruled out, with higher functioning children more likely to be adopted, the results point to a beneficial effect of adoption on the psychological development and wellbeing of institutionalised children in Chile.