Eight Misconceptions About Prenatal Alcohol And Drug Exposure And Adoption
1. Only children in foster care who need adoptive families are likely to be prenatally exposed to drugs or alcohol.
Untrue. It is true that substance exposed infants are entering foster care in increasing numbers and for many of these children, adoption is the plan. However, private adoption agencies that are working directly with birth families are reporting that growing numbers of infants being placed for adoption are prenatally exposed to drugs and alcohol. In the international adoption arena, increasing numbers of children adopted from such countries as the Russian Federations and Eastern Europe have been exposed prenatally to alcohol.
2. Every children who is prenatally exposed to drugs and alcohol will have problems.
Untrue. Study after study shows that some but not all infants are affected by prenatal alcohol or drug exposure. A variety of factors contribute to the ultimate outcomes for children.1
3. Children exposed prenatally to cocaine are severely and permanently brain damaged.
Untrue. While neonatal neurobehavioral abnormalities have been reported in some studies of newborns exposed prenatally to cocaine, other studies do not show such problems. The problems that have been observed do not equate with "severe" and "permanent" brain damage. In fact, in one study, no developmental differences were found between cocaine-exposed children and non-exposed matched children at two and three years of age.2
4. Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome [FAS] or Fetal Alcohol Effects [FAE] will be mentally retarded and will not be able to succeed in school.
Untrue. Research shows that a diagnosis of FAS or FAE does not mean that a person cannot graduate from high school or even attend college.3
5. Cocaine is the primary substance abused by pregnant women and, therefore, the most likely source of health and developmental problems for children.
Untrue. Alcohol remains the most commonly abused substance in the United States and one of the most powerful substances in causing malformations of the fetus.4
6. A positive environment can do relatively little to promote the development of children who have been prenatally exposed to drugs and alcohol.
Untrue. Research has shown that the development and behavior of children prenatally exposed to drugs must be considered in relation to the child's social environment.5 Recent research, for example, on the developmental outcomes of children born to heroin-dependent mothers that compared children who were adopted to children raised at home found that the developmental delays of the children raised at home were primarily the result of severe environmental deprivation and the fact that one or both parents were addicted. The researchers concluded that the prenatal exposure itself seemed to be less significant in terms of developmental outcomes than the home environment.6
7. Families are not interested in adopting children who have been prenatally exposed to drugs or alcohol.
Untrue. Professionals from across the country report that there are families who are interested in adopting children who have been prenatally substance exposed.7
8. Families who adopt children who have been prenatally exposed to drugs or alcohol experience serious problems and usually regret their decision to adopt.
Untrue. A recent study of parents who adopted drug-exposed children found very high levels of satisfaction - 84% were "very satisfied" and 12% were "satisfied" - a proportion quite similar to that found among parents who adopted non-drug exposed children.8
1 Barry Zuckerman, "Effects on Parents and Children," in When Drug Addicts Have Children, [Douglas Besharov, ed.]. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America/American Enterprise Institute, 1994.
2 Barry Zuckerman, "Effects on Parents and Children," in When Drug Addicts Have Children, [Douglas Besharov, ed.]. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America/American Enterprise Institute, 1994.
3 Judith Kleinfeld, Fantastic Antoine Succeeds. Anchorage: University of Alaska Press, 1993.
4 Barbara Morse, "Information Processing: Identifying the Behavioral Disorders of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome," in Fantastic Antoine Succeeds [Judith Kleinfeld, ed.]. Anchorage: University of Alaska Press, 1994.
5 Barry Zuckerman, "Effects on Parents and Children," in When Drug Addicts Have Children [Douglas Besharov, ed.]. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America/American Enterprise Institute, 1994.
6 A. Orney, V. Michailevskaya, and I. Lukashov, "The Developmental Outcome of Children Born to Heroin Dependent Mothers Raised at Home or Adopted," Child Abuse & Neglect, 20(5) (1996): 385-96.
7 Susan Edelstein, Children with Prenatal Alcohol and/or Other Drug Exposure: Weighing the Risks of Adoption. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America Press, 1995.
8 Richard Barth, Revisiting the Issues: Adoption of Drug Exposed Children," in The Future of Children: Adoption [Richard E. Behrman, ed.]. Los Altos, CA: The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, 1993.
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