Effects of Early Adversities on Trajectories of Child and Adult Problems among International Adoptees in the Netherlands

Early abuse and neglect are often implicated in children’s subsequent problems. However, because many children who experience early abuse and neglect also experience adverse environments during their later years, it has been hard to evaluate the duration of the effects of early adversities per se. A longitudinal study of children from many countries who were adopted by Dutch parents was able to test the effects of early adversities on later functioning without the confounding effects of subsequent adversities. Over 90% of the adoptive families were of middle and upper socioeconomic status. The adoptees (N= 1,984) were assessed with the CBCL and then with the Young Adult Behavior Checklist (YABCL, a forerunner of the Adult Behavior Checklist) when they became adults. Their ages were 10-15 years at the initial assessment, 13-19 years at the second assessment, and 23-30 years at the third assessment. In adulthood, the adoptees themselves completed the Young Adult Self-Report (YASR, a forerunner of the Adult Self-Report). YASR scores correlated .42 with YABCL scores. Reports of pre-adoptive histories were used to rate physical abuse and neglect as none, some, or severe and the number of pre-adoption placements as none, 1 or 2, and 3 or more. Multilevel statistical analyses of each adoptee’s trajectory of CBCL/YABCL scores revealed significantly elevated Internalizing and Externalizing problem scores for adoptees who had experienced severe abuse and/or neglect and/or 3 or more pre-adoption placements. The elevations in problem scores were consistent across ages 10 to 30, indicating remarkable stability in the harmful impacts of the early adversities, despite the enriched environments that the adoptees subsequently had. The authors concluded “that children who experienced early adversities, especially severe maltreatment, and suffer from psychiatric problems at some point in time may need long term mental health care” (p. 248).

Reference: Van der Vegt, E.J.M., van der Ende, J., Ferdinand, R.F., Verhulst, F.C., & Tiemeier, H. (2009). Early childhood adversities and trajectories of psychiatric problems in adoptees: Evidence for long lasting effects. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 239-249.