Posted by: ramonamom | May 1, 2008

Culturally Specific Challenges

Those of you who have adopted internationally may have been faced with challenges in your child which, whether you realized it at the time or not, were “culturally specific”.  With eight children from four foreign cultures and having counseled scores of struggling families, we have begun to see patterns in the behaviors/problems with these children which can be traced back to their native culture.  There are always exceptions to these “rules” and not every child from a culture will have these specific problems, but a definite pattern does seem to exist. 

Knowing what these areas are can be helpful to adoptive parents who are struggling, as they may help explain reasons behind a certain child’s challenging behavior.  They may be particularly helpful to prospective adoptive parents, though, as they can know beforehand what situations they are likely to be presented with in an adopted child (again – likely, but not guaranteed) and pray for God’s wisdom in knowing what specific behaviors they might be equipped to handle.  “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it…” Luke 14:28

Russia and Eastern European countries – By far, the prevailing challenge with children from these areas seems to be Fetal Alcohol related syndromes, disorders, effects, etc.  Although they go by many different acronyms these days (FAS, FASD, FAE, ARND, ARBD), disorders related to maternal alcohol consumption can be catastrophic in a child.  Alcoholism is rampant in these countries and it is unlikely that a child being adopted would be completely untouched by alcohol abuse at some level, whether it be maternal alcohol consumption, living around people who abused alcohol, or having abused it themselves.  Sadly, Fetal Alcohol issues cannot always be confirmed until a child is older and begins having problems related to the brain damage caused by maternal alcohol consumption.  A cherubic faced infant or toddler may later be found to have severe learning disabilities and social inabilities.  (Warning – Health records cannot be considered accurate regarding maternal alcohol consumption!)

China – Many people do not realize that the Chinese government still only allows its citizens to have one child per family.  There are some exceptions to this rule now, but it remains an overall general rule.  Thus, sons remain highly prized and daughters are often discarded.  It is common to see orphanages filled with girls and physically “damaged” boys, but no healthy boys.  Due to these restrictions, the Chinese culture seems to be very “child oriented”.  Only being allowed to have one child tends to encourages parents to spoil their child, and this cultural attitude even shows itself in the behavior of orphanage workers and foster families of Chinese children.  Thus, it is common for Chinese children (particularly older ones) to have been spoiled and doted upon, even in an orphanage or foster home setting.  We often say that our own Chinese daughter came to us with a “Princess Complex”, for instance, as she expected to be waited upon and to not have to do physical work of any kind. 

African countries – The prevailing problem with older children adopted from African countries seems to be violence (with a lesser emphasis on sexual abuse).  Warring African countries have been known to use children, particularly orphans, to do their “dirty work”.  One family adopted a young boy, only to later find out that he had been used by African guerillas as a violent “tool”.  It is not necessary to go into details on this blog, but suffice it to say that this young boy had committed murder before coming into his adoptive home.  There are many wonderful Christian-run orphanages in African countries, where they shelter the children carefully and keep them away from such violence.  Caution should be used when adopting older children from a little known orphanage or agency, though. 

Central American countries – Sexual abuse seems to be the most common problem among older adopted children from these countries.  When adopting an older child, it would be safe to assume that they have faced some type of sexual abuse in their past, whether it be on a personal level or “simply” being exposed to it visually.  Prospective adoptive parents should not take the word of orphanage workers if they state that a specific child has no history of sexual abuse.  Rather such abuse should be assumed and the parents should prepare themselves to deal with possible ramifications which could arise in the family. 

We know of specific exceptions to these “rules” – Russian born adopted children who suffered sexual abuse, Guatemalan born children with maternal alcohol exposure issues, Chinese born children who are sweet and unspoiled, African born children who have no violence issues at all and are very well behaved.  However, it would be wise for prospective adoptive parents to spend sufficient time researching the culture they are seeking to adopt from and learning about its challenges, along with its strengths.  Armed with this information, parents can then go forward with their eyes wide open, better prepared for whatever challenges their adopted child may bring with them.

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