What does the Research Show?

Practice + Research-Based

We believe knowing your personal history and information is vital to healthy development for foster and adopted youth, but don’t just take our word on it. Here is what the research shows.

*Much of the research to date centers around adoption, but our work and interviews reveal many similarities with fostered youth.

Knowing who we are makes us feel and live better.

Adolescents and young adults who know (their) stories… do better on virtually every measure we have examined: higher self esteem, social competence, and academic competence; lower depression, anxiety, and aggressive behaviors; and a higher sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Robyn Fivush, “Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being

For separated children growing up in “substitute” forms of care, studies suggest that the achievement of a clear sense of identity and sense of security are linked to several factors: 1) the childhood experience of being wanted and loved within a secure environment with quality attachments: 2) knowledge and awareness about personal history, heritage and genealogy; and 3) the experience of being perceived as a worthwhile person.

Darla L Henry, The 3–5–7 Model: Preparing children for permanency


Young people know what they want to include.

The truth: Children and teens welcomed the honesty conveyed in their (life) book and this was seen as part of their ability to come to terms with the loss of their birth family and comprehend their adoptive identity.

A story that makes sense: For many children that absence of a ‘story’ was a source of criticism about their own book and we were regularly told about books that contained photographs but with little information about who was in the photos or how the photos contributed to the child’s story.

Lots of Pictures: Children were very clear that as many photos as possible should be included, but they should also have detailed descriptions to provide context.

Debbie L Watson, Sandra Latter + Rebecca Bellew, Adopted children and young people’s views on their life storybooks: the role of narrative in the formation of identities


What youth want to know will change.

Developmentally, what is important to a person will change.  Young children may be satisfied with their adoption story as told by their parents, adolescents forming an identity may want to know why their parents placed them for adoption, and young adults parenting their own biological children may desire more medical history from their birth parents.

Wrobel + Grotevant, Minding the (Information) Gap: What do Emerging Adult Adoptees Want to Know about their Birth Parents?


Curiosity about your story is NORMAL

The most frequently sought information was medical and health history. After medical and health information, the top five items of specific curiosity in order:

  1. Birth parents’ reason for placing the child for adoption.
  2. Whether or not one’s birth parent was parenting other children
  3. Birth parent appearance
  4. How the birth parent is doing overall
  5. Birth parent personality

Wrobel + Grotevant, Minding the (Information) Gap: What do Emerging Adult Adoptees Want to Know about their Birth Parents?


Open adoptive and foster family dialogue is critical.

Two of the most important challenges parents confront are how to share adoption information with their children, and how to help them understand – in a normative and healthy way – the meaning and implications of being adopted.

Finding ways of understanding and integrating this new information into a healthy sense of self is an important developmental task for adopted children, and supporting this process is a critical responsibility for adoptive parents.

David M Brodzinsky, Children’s Understanding of Adoption: Developmental and Clinical Implications

And in a revealing study of children who have left their adoptive families, 75% of those who disrupted had difficulty talking about adoption-related issues, as opposed to 57% of those who were still at home.

Selwyn, Wijedasa + Meakings, Beyond the Adoption Order: Challenges, Interventions and Adoption disruption


Information is just the beginning

“…the life storybook is just one part of life story work that may be ongoing over many years enabling children to work through issues of their past and adjust to new information as it becomes appropriate for them to know.”

Debbie L Watson, Sandra Latter + Rebecca Bellew, Adopted children and young people’s views on their life storybooks: the role of narrative in the formation of identities


In a 2021 Survey:

View the newest video on the Power of Story on our homepage.

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