Finding the missing links: adoptive kids and health history

Foster parents may not have access to early health information which can make it difficult to foresee potential health issues

A recent study by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics reveals surprising news about adopted children’s health: They’re three times more likely to develop physical and mental health disabilities than kids raised by their biological parents. Could childhood adoption really portend serious health problems?

Lisa Albers Prock, MD, MPH, director of the Adoption Program at Children’s Hospital Boston says that the findings have less to do with adoption itself and more to do with unknown family health history and missing information regarding a child’s early infancy. Not having that early health information can make it difficult to foresee potential health issues and genetic predispositions that might cause a condition later.

Albers Prock is quick to point out that just because adoptive parents may lack their child’s family health history, it doesn’t mean there should be a difference in the way they care for their child. Like any other child, she recommends simple attentiveness to a child’s well-being. “Adoption is not a problem, or a diagnosis,” says Albers Prock. “But for some, there are additional factors to consider.”

She says that missing information about the mother’s pregnancy, early childhood or possible time spent in an institution could all affect a child’s early health and general constitution in any number of ways. “Parents generally adopt because they feel they can give a child more support than he would get otherwise, but it’s important for parents to know that food, love and family won’t erase the pre-adoptive experience entirely,” she says.

Without a family history to reflect on, the health care of some adopted children can be puzzling at first

According to Albers Prock, noticing behavioral or developmental issues in an adoptive child means drawing conclusions around what’s known, and trying to connect the dots about what isn’t. “While I would never tell adoptive parents to go into their journey expecting problems, they can absolutely keep an eye on their child’s development, especially if he seems to be struggling or distracted,” she says. “That’s when we look further into what we can do to better support a child.”

The best thing to do for your family and your child, she says, is to be ready for any developmental or behavioral hiccups. “In my experience, families who are prepared and have realistic expectations aren’t caught off guard by significant challenges,” she says. “Find resources at your hospital and in the school system, and know what will be available if your child needs assistance.”

“Resources are so important, and Children’s Adoption Program is one of them. We look at the family as a whole, and I think that’s reassuring to them. Adoption is about supporting kids, and we’re about supporting the families too.”