We begin our series by interviewing one of the leading international researchers in the field of adoption, professor at the Universiteit Leiden in the Netherlands, Marinus Van IJzendoorn, Ph.D.. His primary focus is in the area of attachment, as well as child development, and parent education. In a career spanning over 3 decades, Dr. Van IJzendoorn has been honored with numerous awards for excellence in research and for his contributions to the fields of human development and scientific research from multiple nations around the world.
I would like to thank Dr. Van IJzendoorn for his participation, and for helping us break down the barriers between research, practice, and the community.
- Quade French
What brought you into the field of adoption research?
My colleague Femmie Juffer made me work in this exciting and highly relevant field. I hired her to work on attachment in my team about 20 years ago, with adoption as a sideline. Now she is a leading adoption expert, and we have in Leiden one of the largest research teams on adoption.
What is the most pressing issue in the field of adoption today?
Structural neglect in institutional care before adoption, and how to prevent it from having serious consequences for socio-emotional and cognitive development.
What do you think adoption will look like 50 years from now?
I am afraid that there still will be numerous children for whom no adequate care is available in their own families, and who run great risks of becoming seriously delayed in their development if they would remain in institutional care. Adoptions from the African continent will have increased because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the falling apart of the regular larger family networks.
Where should we be directing our research attention?
Research on adoption, foster care, institutional care, and child maltreatment should become more integrated into an interdisciplinary study of children who suffer from less than ‘good-enough’ child care environments.
What theories and methods show the most promise?
Integration of neurobiological and behavioral approaches from an evolutionary perspective seems to me most promising.
Can you tell us about one major project or area of focus that you are currently involved with?
Child development in institutional care.
What is one research project or publication that you are most proud of, and why?
The Emanuel Miller Lecture published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry provides an integrated overview (from evolutionary roots to physical growth) of the amazingly large effects of adoption as a natural experiment on child development. I am especially proud of the application of Rawls’ Theory of Justice to the dilemmas of the adoption triad.
What are your thoughts on the progression of adoption research and/or practice since you began your work?
The empirical work has become so much more sophisticated as it no longer almost exclusively relies on self-report questionnaires but now includes physical growth parameters, neurological assessments, measures of executive functioning, genetic resilience factors, as well as behavioral observations.
What is one question about adoption that you are asked most frequently, and how do you respond?
“Is it possible for a child adopted from an orphanage to become attached to the adopting parents?”
My answer is yes, qualified by potential interfering factors like age at adoption, general health status of the child, traumatization level, and of course the willingness of the parents to really invest their time and emotional energy.
What are the most pressing issues facing your country in regards to the future of adoption and adoption research?
To combine carefully conducted and supported adoption with support of families and orphanages in the sending countries.
From your perspective, what is the prevailing social attitude towards transracial, inter-country adoptions in your country?
In my country times have been changing from a general acceptance and even admiration of (international) adoption to sharp and ideologically motivated criticism that might make adopting parents feel guilty. Attitudes changed because of some widely publicized cases of misuse of international adoption of babies from intact families. The accusation was child trafficking and neo-colonialism. It led to more stringent guidelines and regulations for adoption (The Hague Convention) but the public opinion had already shifted. Nowadays parents have to defend their choice of adopting a child, instead of being admired for their altruism.
And towards domestic adoption?
Not an issue.