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‘It's Quite a Journey’: Australian Parents’ Experience of Adopting Older Children from Overseas Orphanages

  • Kate Alessia (a1) and Louise Roufeil (a2)

Intercountry adoption, often of children post-infancy, is one way of forming a family in Australia. However, few studies have invited Australian parents who have incorporated older children into their family to tell their story. Fathers are under-represented in studies of parenting generally and adoptive parenting specifically.

As part requirement for a clinical psychology dissertation, with ethics approval from the relevant university, 28 parents (13 fathers and 15 mothers) were interviewed about their experiences of adopting children over the age of 24 months from orphanages in China, Ethiopia, India and Thailand. Although parents’ experiences and recollections were diverse, almost all parents had been confronted by difficult child behaviours, at least initially. Contrary to previous research, the child's gender, age or duration of institutional care did not appear related to parental experience.

Six major themes emerged from parent interviews: (1) the long wait and intense emotions of adoption; (2) disparity between expectations and reality; (3) recognition of children's difficult past experiences; (4) parenting as a path to self-discovery; (5) the perception of needing to present as coping; and (6) unmet needs. Mothers blamed themselves for their children's behavioural problems, rather than attributing difficulties to children's previous adverse life events. Both mothers and fathers were reluctant to use support services because they felt scrutinised and feared repercussions, and those who sought assistance generally found professionals ill-informed and unhelpful. Parents made recommendations about how the adoptive parenting process could be improved and expressed a strong desire for more information, both pre- and post-placement.

Corresponding author
address for correspondence: Dr Kate Alessia, Droylsden House, 143-145 Baillie Street, Horsham 3400, Victoria, Australia Email:
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Children Australia
  • ISSN: 1035-0772
  • EISSN: 2049-7776
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