Sophie Strassberg '12 Explores Adoption Choices

By Charlotte Kugler '14

Why do adoptive parents choose international adoption – and how do they choose the country where they will adopt their future child? These are the questions Sophie Strassberg '12 tackled this past summer as she researched for her senior thesis the pre-adoptive processes and post-adoption experiences of parents who have adopted internationally.

Strassberg has had a longstanding interest in family structure--particularly adoption and its effects on schools--since teaching at a school with several adopted students. For her summer project, she examined the experiences of 22 parents from the United States who adopted their children from Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean Islands. She focused on how these parents came to decide that adoption, specifically international adoption, was the right choice for them when it came to creating a family.

"I wanted to see if there are trends in the decision-making process," explained Strassberg, a psychology and education major who plans to be an elementary school teacher. "I also wanted to look at the process of selecting the country to adopt from, as that has not been studied much before."

Strassberg discovered and is still analyzing three general trends among parents considering where they will adopt, one of which she terms a factor-based process.

"In a factor-based process, parents exclude possible birth countries based upon factors such as age, gender, race, and health of the child, as well as the cost of the adoption," she said. "The remaining country was the one they chose."

For example, she found that parents who adopted from Asia considered health, gender, and age as major reasons for choosing Asian countries. Parents who adopted from Latin America cited age, speed of the adoption process, and better pre-adoption care, since children in these countries are fostered rather than raised in an orphanage. Parents who adopted from Africa emphasized age, speed of the adoption process, and the cost of adoption as factors. Finally, parents who adopted from Eastern Europe cited race and age as factors.

Adoptive parents were also influenced in their choice by an emotional connection to a particular country. Some parents were interested in their country of choice before they began the adoption process.

"Lastly, there was the combination of the two, where parents excluded countries they were ineligible for and then felt an affinity for one of the countries left and decided that one was it," she said.

As for why these parents chose to adopt internationally rather than domestically, Strassberg reported that her results so far line up with what previous studies have found.

"Almost all parents cited fear of the ability of birth parents in the United States to regain rights over the children, in some cases years after the adoption is finalized," she said. "They were also hesitant about open adoptions, where birth parents have some contact with adoptive families."

Additionally, she explained, some parents felt the desire to "save" children from countries where there is less of a social support network than in the United States.

While Strassberg doesn't plan to have a career as a researcher, she said, "In the process of the research, I've come to truly value how important and amazing adoption is in our society. I plan to use this information I've learned about families in the future in my teaching."

She also thinks she may eventually adopt children herself after learning during her research how many children in the world need loving homes.

"To have to ability to look at how families grow through adoption means that I have been able to give attention and care to a topic that for far too long has been thought shameful," she said. "The families I've met and the stories I've heard have opened my eyes to this amazing world, and I have grown so much as both a student and as a human. This experience has meant the world to me as a woman, as a future mother, and as a world citizen."