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Past research has looked at a long list of pre-adoption factors that might affect later social adjustment. Some of these factors are prenatal drug exposure, maltreatment and neglect, and number of foster placements.

This study, by Juye Ji, Devon Brooks, Richard Barth, and Hansung Kim (2010) looked at both pre-adoption and post-adoption factors and how they are related to eventual adult social adjustment. They studied 385 adoptive families who were part of a longitudinal study in California.


  • Adopted youth who were prenatally exposed to drugs were at risk for behavior problems later as teens.
  • Adopted youth who were maltreated prior to foster care were at risk for depression as teens.
  • A strong and cohesive family environment on the part of the adopting family promoted resilience in adopted children, even if they had pre-adoption risks.
  • Youth who have no pre-adoption risks may be at higher risk for maladjustment when their adopting family’s environment is dysfunctional.
  • Family coherence and cohesiveness modified the impact of earlier child maltreatment. Previously maltreated children who were adopted into highly cohesive families had much lower risk of depression.

Takeaways from this study:

  • Pre-adoption risks, such as earlier maltreatment and prenatal drug exposure, while important need to be balanced with post-adoption factors such as family cohesion.
  • Family cohesion is often thought of as a strong, well-functioning family environment with minimal intra-family tension, a lack of chaos and disruption, and continuity in activities and structure. Even adoptees with previous maltreatment histories had much lower levels of maladaptation such as depression.
  • Agencies should strongly consider emphasis on both pre- and post-adoption services designed to support and strengthen adopting families.
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Dr. Chris Downs has devoted much of his professional career to improving services and outcomes for older, at-risk youth. Chris is President of The Downs Group LLC, based in Seattle and has the pleasure of working with many talented professionals in child welfare and allied areas including his company Associates.