Exploring the relationship between adoption and psychological trauma for children who are adopted from care: A longitudinal case study perspective

Dominic Mc Sherry, Grainne McAnee

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Children who have been adopted from care are very likely to have experienced early adversity that may result in psychological trauma. A current debate in the field is whether adoption provides a pathway to healing for traumatised children, helping them to recover from past psychological harm, or creates trauma for children through the very nature of being an adopted child. Objective: This study aimed to use longitudinal data pertaining to children who had been adopted from care to examine the relationship between being adopted from care and psychological trauma. Participants and setting: Seventeen adopted children had been interviewed in their adoptive homes during the third wave of the Care Pathways and Outcomes study (McSherry et al., 2013), when they were aged between nine and 14 years old. Ten of these children were selected for specific consideration in this article. Checklists for early adversities and psychological trauma were used to support the creation of case studies that highlighted the extent of psychological trauma in the children’s lives. Results: The adopted children either experienced possible pre-care psychological trauma, with the impact of this reducing over time, in utero developmental harm due to their mother’s alcohol misuse during pregnancy, inherited an intellectual disability, with the resultant difficulties superseding any concern regarding possible pre-care psychological trauma, or possible psychological trauma when moving from an established foster placement to adoption. Recommendations for policy and practice are provided.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105623
Pages (from-to)105623
Number of pages16
JournalChild Abuse & Neglect
Early online date31 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank all the children, young people, parents and carers who very kindly agreed to participate in the study, and who generously gave of their time, and shared often intimate reflections on their lives with us. We will forever be indebted to you all. We would also like to thank all those professionals who helped make the interviews possible. Furthermore, we want to acknowledge the contribution of other colleagues who have worked on the Care Pathways and Outcomes since 2000, and who have all made an important contribution to its success. These are: Dr. Montse Fargas Malet, Ms. Kerrylee Weatherall, Mr. Clive Robinson, Dr. Greg Kelly, Dr. Emma Larkin, Dr. Wendy Cousins and Ms. Marina Monteith. We would also link to thank the Public Health Agency in Northern for supporting the first three Waves of this study, and the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for supporting the current fourth Wave.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors

Copyright © 2022 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.


  • Adoption
  • Trauma
  • Care
  • Adversity
  • FASD
  • Relationships
  • Support
  • Psychological
  • ADHD
  • Alcohol
  • In utero
  • Disability
  • Learning
  • Foster


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