Researchers call for more awareness of malpractice in inter-country adoption

In recent years, more and more inter-country adoptees have been raising questions about their history and the adoption procedure. A damning report in the Netherlands has called for the practice to be discontinued. Commissioned by the Flemish government, VUB scientists and researchers from UGent and UAntwerp conducted research on errors, injustices and malpractices in inter-country adoption and have now presented their final findings in seven reports.

VUB researcher Yana Jaspers: "The reports show that there is still a lack of understanding of the consequences of malpractice in inter-country adoption. There is a clear need to raise awareness about the issue and to support those affected. Malpractice has a big impact on the welfare of adoptees."

The research was conducted from 2020 to 2021 by Jaspers and her colleagues in the VUB research groups VOICe, Crime and Society (CRiS) and RHEA, Gerrit Loots, Jenneke Christiaens, Gily Coene, Dr. Sophie Withaeckx, Dr Julia Villanueva O’Driscoll, Dr. Jasmina Sermijn and Niels Vanspauwen. The aim was to identify malpractices in inter-country adoption, its psychosocial impact on adoptees and the complexity of the inter-country adoption landscape. Malpractice is understood to mean anything not in line with adoption laws, abuse, not getting help from the appropriate authorities, negligence, etc.

The researchers researched perceptions of malpractice among adoptees and adoptive parents, interviewed stakeholders about their experiences with malpractice and examined its ethical aspects. The ethical dilemmas were investigated by an extensive literature review, applying the method of critical interpretive synthesis. Adoptees were interviewed through a self-reporting questionnaire and qualitative in-depth interviews.

Malpractice has major personal impact The results of this first exploratory study already show the great impact of malpractice on the well-being of inter-country adoptees. In addition, the study mapped the complexity of the landscape and makes clear that the fragmented nature of an inter-country adoption process, with different parties involved in different countries, makes it difficult to rule out the risk of malpractice.

"It is not only important to recognise the malpractice that inter-country adoptees have faced in the past, but it is also up to the government to do what is still possible," says Jaspers. "It can, for example, offer support in the search by adoptees for their biological parents and provide support in the psychosocial counselling that many of them need. Our respondents indicated the need for the establishment of an independent national centre of expertise for questions of identity, search and aftercare, where adoptees can go for support."

Urgent need for recognition and support Although the focus of this study was specifically on malpractice in inter-country adoption, it also highlighted that not only malpractice but also uprooting - the removal of a person from their familiar environment - leaves a big impact. Even adoptees who end up in the best possible circumstances can struggle with questions of identity and feelings of guilt, among other things. Moreover, socially discriminating attitudes, which inter-country adoptees often face, reinforce this uprooting. Practical, legal and financial problems are also common and many of the adoptees surveyed said they had unmet needs.

"The impact of uprooting on the development and life course of adoptees should not be underestimated," says Jaspers. "It is therefore essential that inter-country adoptees have somewhere to go with all their questions and needs, but unfortunately they still experience too little support in this. Although this first exploratory study already provides many valuable insights, there is a clear need for more longitudinal research looking at inter-country adoption in general. A broader approach allows the broader inter-country adoption experience to be mapped and thus the specific impact of malpractice to be compared and specified."

The full reports of the VUB researchers can be found here.