Combatting Stigma Among Adoptees by Stacia Barrett, LMSW

Many families come into existence through adoption both domestic and international. As a former adoption worker and social worker this is a joyous and happy occurrence. This view is not a universal one, as some view children brought into families as “adopted children” (Wolf-Small, 2013). Though it is accurate that these children joined the family through adoption the definition of the “adopted child” as described by Wolf-Small has a negative connotation.  According to Wolf-Small’s (2013) work the “adopted child” takes on a touch of strangeness or differentness (p.1). This is associated with a list of problems to be expected from such a child. Working in the adoption field it was common place for potential adoptive parents to begin an inquiry asking what the child’s problems were (bed wetting, sexual acting out, Reactive Attachment Disorder).

Knowing that such beliefs are out there for children what can social workers, adoptive parents, teachers, and other concerned citizens do to combat this? Based on the study of Wolf-Small (2013) power and recognition are the keys to defeating stigma. Those with power have the ability to stigmatize. Adoptees should be encouraged to speak out against stigma and be living proof that they cannot be labeled based on the prejudicial thoughts of others. Many children that are in the process of being adoption, and those post adoption, attend therapy individual and family. The therapeutic process is a great opportunity to build self-esteem in youth which can help to buffer and prepare children for what they are to face. Much in the way that children of minority ethnic groups are prepared for discrimination by the adults in their lives children brought into families through adoption can also be prepared.

There are many opportunities to buffer the effects of stigma with this group. The education system is a great place for reducing stigma. Including educational materials with diverse family make up normalize this for children. Including activities to build self-esteem, reduce bullying, and discuss family is also important. Social workers and other professionals can encourage children to discuss their families and show pride in their story, this can be done in the therapeutic relationship and with educators.


Wolf-Small, Joanne. Adopted in America: A Study of Stigma (June 17, 2013). Retrieved from

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