Kinship adoption and the associated outcomes among children and their adoptive families

Date Published

Ryan, S. D., Hinterlong, J., Hegar, R.L., & Johnson, L.B. (2010). Kin adopting kin: In the best interest of the children? Children and Youth Services Review, 32(12), 1631-1639.

Reviewed by
Dillon T. Browne

Kinship adoption is becoming increasingly common in the U.S. child welfare system, where roughly 25% of children adopted from public foster care enter kinship arrangements. However, the majority of kinship research has focused solely on foster care placements. The authors of this study sought to describe the characteristics and experiences of children and adopters in kin versus non-kin arrangements, and determine if a pre-existing kinship relationship predicts various adoption outcomes.

Data were used from the first cycle of the Florida Adoption Project (FAP), which investigates the markers of successful adoption among parents who adopt children from Florida’s public child welfare system. Of the initial sampling frame (N=6,782), 1,694 (25%) adoptive parents returned survey measures on 2,382 (21.8%) children, and 397 (16.7%) of these children were in kin placements.

Kin adopters tended to be older, to be white, to have lower education and income, to head smaller households, and to care for fewer children. Children in kin families tended to be female, to be younger, and to have fewer lifetime placements, though their adoption finalization time tended to be greater. In terms of their attitudes towards the adoption process, kin adopters provided a more negative assessment of family functioning, though they were more likely to indicate that they would adopt the same child again, and reported a more positive relationship with the adopted child. Even when controlling for a number of confounding variables using tobit regression, kin adoption was significantly associated with an increased willingness to adopt the same child again, higher adoption satisfaction, and less positive family functioning.

It is possible that lower family functioning among kin adoptions has to do with a pressure to adopt the child even though the family is not equipped with the resources to cope with the change. Another possibility is that kin adopters are indicating the impact of the adoption process on the extended family, as opposed the immediate adopted family. Nevertheless, it appears that kin status is associated with a number of positive adoption outcomes.

Methodological notes

The generalizability of the presented findings may be limited due to a low response rate, although this is not uncommon for adoption studies. Another limitation pertains to the validity of the single-item measures for some of the dependent variables (adoption satisfaction, adopt again, and family impact). Ceiling effects were operative, where study participants frequently endorsed the most extreme response option. However, authors took measures to statistically account for this response pattern. Another limitation pertains to the reliance on self-report, within-informant data which can contribute to artificial and inflated associations due to the shared method variance bias (i.e., only one respondent reporting on predictor and outcome measures can cause associations to be observed due to an individual’s response style across different measures). Nevertheless, this study presents strong findings from a large adoption sample that is fairly similar to the general population, despite the low response rate.