Professor of Psychology and Education, Mount Holyoke College
For the first three decades of her career, Dr. Patricia Ramsey (Patty) studied young children’s peer relationships and their early attitude development. Along with her students, she conducted numerous studies on children’s friendships and their evolving ideas about race and social class. She has written numerous articles and chapters on this work and several books translating that research into classroom practice, including Making Friends in School: Promoting Peer Relationships in Early Childhood and Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World: Multicultural Education for Young Children, now in its fourth edition.
Patty has two sons adopted from Chile. As they approached adolescence and began to struggle with the identity and emotional issues related to adoption, she wanted to learn more about the experiences of transracial adoptees. She and her students have conducted a number of studies on different aspects of transracial adoptees’ identity formation and how it relates to their desire to search for birth families, feelings of belonging or alienation with respect to their adoptive and birth cultural communities, overall mental health, and experiences with discrimination. A number of these studies have been presented at the Rudd Conference, International Conference on Adoption Research, and the Society for Research on Identity Formation.
Almost all of the participants who volunteered for these studies were college students or recent graduates, and Patty realized that the samples did not include the experiences of many adoptees, particularly those who had struggled in school and had not gone to college. To capture a broader view of adoptees’ experiences, Patty and her colleague Doris Bergen from Miami University in Ohio surveyed and interviewed adoptive parents about their adolescent sons’ and daughters’ identities and their connections and experiences in school, peer groups, and adoptive and birth families. Many parents said that their children had done well in all aspects of their lives and did not seem to be troubled by their adoption status or by identity or affiliation issues. However, over half of the parents reported fairly severe ongoing problems related to mental and behavioral health, family relationships, and connections with peers, school, and community.
Because of these issues, the analyses of these data focused on adoptees’ successes and challenges in a variety of realms and how parents responded to particular issues, including their experiences with adoption agencies, educational systems, and private therapeutic services. This area of research has also included a study of parents’ pre-adoption decisions and another one on the relationship between birth and adoptive parents. Patty is planning to re-interview some of the parents in the original study to learn how their children have fared as they enter their 20s, and to use these new data along with the previous material to write a book for adoptive parents.