Do parents of adopted children need to pay extra attention to school?

Louisa Corbett is an adoptive parent of two children ages 6 and 2.  One of her children is originally from China and the other from South Africa. “We made a choice to put our kids in a downtown school, so that they would not be in the minority,” says Corbett when asked how her children adapt to school and daycare.  “They see and know mixed-race families, and people and families from all walks of life…We made a very conscious choice to bite the bullet, buy a house that stretched us financially, and stay downtown rather than going to [a smaller city where there is less diversity].”

Corbett's children are two of about 2,000 foreign children who are adopted by Canadians every year. As well, in 2008 there were approximately 9,200 children in care in Ontario who could be adopted.  So what do parents of these children need to think about when they send their kids to school.

Lisa Kreindler, a school social worker with the Toronto District School Board says that, “Classmates may make insensitive comments about differences, question the child’s adoption or question the authenticity and the validity of the relationship that the child has with their adopted family like, ‘Are they your real parents?’, ‘Why do you look so different from your Mom?’ or ‘How much did they pay for you?’   

While children who differ racially from their adoptive parents may face obvious questions about background and heritage, there are certain challenges that all adopted children might face at school. “One of the main things teachers need to be aware of is that the adopted child is not genetically related to their parents,” says Dawn Davenport, a U.S. attorney, mother of four – including one adopted child, and author of The Complete Book of International Adoption.  Davenport adds, “This is obvious of course, but you’d be surprised how often teachers forget In younger grades this comes up in assignments or discussions about family resemblance, and in older grades it comes up in general genetics type discussions.” Lisa Kreindler concurs. “Classroom activities such as family tree projects, genealogy assignments or activities that require baby pictures may be challenging and emotionally stressful for the adopted child.”  

Dawn Davenport suggests that parents set up a meeting with new teachers and volunteer to read books about adoption or do a workshop on the child’s home country (if applicable). “Teachers can help all of their students by incorporating lessons on diversity and differences with discussions about types of families and the varying ways in which families can be formed, including through adoption,” adds Lisa Kreindler.  

What’s the best strategy for a positive education experience and how much should adoptive families share with school staff? “I think preparing kids with answers is the best thing you can do,” says Louisa Corbett.


Here are some other tactics that will help your child:

·        work to build self-esteem

·        share key information with the child and her siblings

·        allow kids to take part in finding solutions (where appropriate)

·        keep teachers informed

Louisa Corbett says, “My kids will know everything I can tell them about their adoptions so that there aren't too many surprises.  It becomes a part of their dialogue; they don't know anything else.”

For more information:

Your Voice – Parenting the Adopted Child