University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Contemporary Adoptive Families Study

Dr. Rachel Farr, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Kentucky (and former postdoc with the Rudd Program), has actively contributed to new knowledge about the psychology of adoption through her Contemporary Adoptive Families Study (CAFS), a large study of adoptive families from across the United States, headed by lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parenting couples, all of whom had completed domestic infant adoptions. The study has examined the ways in which parental sexual orientation impacts child outcomes, parenting, and family dynamics in adoptive families with young children in Wave 1 of data collection. Wave 2 data collection is currently ongoing, now that children are in middle childhood (on average, eight years of age). In addition to continuing to examine the impact of family structure over time, in this second wave of the study, we are also investigating adoption-related dynamics, such as children’s understanding of adoption, how families talk about adoption, contact with birth families, and transracial adoption dynamics as related to child, parent, and family outcomes.

One emerging direction for the data collected in Wave 2 of CAFS regards children’s feelings of difference, experiences with microaggressions, and demonstrating resiliency as a result of having same-sex parents. Limited research exists about the possible victimization and psychosocial development of children with same-sex parents, particularly those adopted by lesbian and gay parents. Thus, we aim to expand research on the experiences of adopted children with same-sex parents, specifically instances of microaggressions, awareness of difference, and resiliency. Although data collection is ongoing, our team of researchers has been utilizing thematic analysis to code video-recorded interviews from 44 children (Mage = 8 years; 21 girls, 23 boys) representing 27 two-dad families and 17 two-mom families. Preliminary findings suggest that adopted children of same-sex parents exhibit awareness of family diversity, demonstrate feelings of difference from their peers as a result of having same-sex parents, report experiencing some microaggressions on the basis of having same-sex parents, and show resilience despite such adversity. Microaggressions were frequently initiated by peers and occurred at a low intensity. Our findings are of particular importance as they suggest that adopted children of same-sex parents are capable of navigating through experiences of difference with resiliency and developing positive conceptualizations of their family.

Data collection for Wave 2 of CAFS is continuing during 2014. During visits to participating families’ homes, children and parents are interviewed, both complete a series of online questionnaires, and families participate in two videotaped interaction tasks. Children’s teachers also provide data for Wave 2. Several other directions of analyzing data from Wave 2 include graduate student research projects about how lesbian and gay parents socialize their children around issues of family diversity and their own family structure and about how adoptive parents in transracial adoptive families engage in practices of racial and cultural socialization with their children.

The Contemporary Adoptive Families Study has received funding from the American Psychological Foundation’s Placek Grant (awarded to Rachel Farr), the Williams Institute at UCLA and the Lesbian Health Fund (awarded to Charlotte J. Patterson), the American Psychological Association Dissertation Award (awarded to Rachel Farr), and the Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology, UMass Amherst.