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Launch of ground-breaking research into the long term outcomes of inter-country adoption

Launch of ground-breaking research into the long term outcomes of inter-country adoption

Issue date: 23/01/2013

Ground breaking research has been carried out giving a unique insight into the long-term effects and outcomes for children adopted from orphanages and other institutions from abroad.

During the 1960s, just over a hundred girls were sent to the UK via the International Social Services UK Hong Kong Adoption Project and placed for adoption following publicity surrounding World Refugee Year. Today the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) has published a new research study funded by the Nuffield Foundation about the outcomes for these women.

“Adversity, Adoption and Afterwards: A mid-life follow-up study of women adopted from Hong Kong” by Julia Feast, Margaret Grant, Alan Rushton and John Simmonds reports how the 72 women who participated in the study have fared in life. 

The women were mostly abandoned as infants (and left to be found) and spent between 8 and 72 months in one of 4 orphanages in Hong Kong. Whilst they appear to have experienced a reasonable quality of physical and medical care and nutrition in comparison to the globally depriving environments reported in other adoption studies, they lacked the consistent one-to-one care and stimulation that infants typically need for their proper development.

There have been longstanding questions about how the extent to which early adversity in childhood, especially lack of individualised psycho-social care, creates problems developmentally and also how it effects the life choices people take in later life. This unique study gives a rare opportunity to explore the impact of adverse early experience, modified by adoption in creating both opportunities and risks through both child and adulthood over 50 years.

The report presents the main findings of the study, combining an in-depth analysis of some of the key outcome findings with a qualitative analysis of face-to-face interviews with the women. These interviews provide evocative and compelling stories of different aspects of their lives. The use of standardised measures has also enabled important comparisons to be made with other studies, particularly the National Childhood Study of 1958. These comparisons are particularly important in the understanding of how these women’s experiences are similar to or different from those of other adopted and non-adopted women raised in the UK.

Julia Feast, Co-author of the project says:

This study clearly identifies the adaptability, resilience and strength of human beings when faced with significant early adversity. It attests to the importance of family life in providing nurture, care, stimulation and opportunity even when children have had a poor start in life.

"Whilst the findings are in the main very positive.... the challenges and complexities of inter-country adoption should not be underestimated.”

Co –author, Professor Alan Rushton says:

"We have increasing amounts of information about the childhood and adolescent outcomes of orphanage care but are still in the dark about the longer-term consequences. This study is perhaps a unique example of testing the links between early deprivation, international adoption and outcomes in midlife. Contrary to expectations, the psychological outcomes were found to be commensurate with matched groups of adopted and non-adopted women born in the UK. Such findings need to be taken into account in theories of lifespan development."

Key findings:

• When orphanage care is not severely depriving, mid-life outcomes may not lead their mental health outcomes, well-being and life satisfaction to be significantly different from comparison women. Neither was there evidence of severe difficulties in adult social relationships or poor self-esteem.

• The quality of the adoptive home is an important contributor to well-being as adults

• For some women, working out how separation from their birth family and being Chinese in the UK has proved to be difficult.

• Virtually all the women reported some experience of racism or prejudice in both child and adulthood. This ranged from playground name-calling during childhood to serious racist attacks.

• When asked how they usually describe their ethnic identity, half identified themselves as Chinese, 19% British, 15% British-Chinese and the remainder used personal definitions. There did not seem to be any evidence that they chose to live in areas with significant Chinese populations.

• As the orphanages in Hong Kong seem to have provided a much better level of care than for example those in Romania, this might help to explain why this group of women seem to have fared much better than might be predicted based on what we know from child / adolescent / early adult studies of internationally adopted people.


The book 'Adversity, Adoption and Afterwards: a mid-life follow- up of women adopted from Hong Kong' is available to buy from BAAF’s online bookshop


 - End -

Notes to editors:

1. For further information, to arrange an interview with the authors of the study and women who participated in the study or to receive an executive summary of the study , please contact the BAAF press office or Tel: 0207 421 2633/32 (Out of Hours 0776 744 4589

2. To order a copy of “Adversity, Adoption and Afterwards – a mid-life follow-up study of women adopted from Hong Kong”, please contact BAAF Publications on 020 7421 2604 or visit our website

4. The Authors: Julia Feast is the Policy Research & Development Consultant for BAAF; Professor Alan Rushton, of King's College, London is the academic consultant for BCAS; John Simmonds is Director of Policy, Research & Development for BAAF and Margaret Grant is Senior researcher for BAAF.

3. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this research but views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation (

4. For more information on the National Childhood Study 1958 please visit

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