UMass Amherst: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends

Fall 2008

FOUNDATION NEWS
A Chair with a View
Noted adoption expert joins faculty ranks.
By Judith Cameron ’75


Harold Grotevant
Professor Harold Grotevant with students. (photo by John Solem)

Three weeks into his move from the University of Minnesota, Harold Grotevant likens the experience to “rebooting his life.” As the first Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology at UMass Amherst, Grotevant fits the requirement of the newly established chair—expertise in the complex issues surrounding adoption. With more than 30 years of research into adoption, he is well positioned to meet the objective of Andrew and Virginia Rudd, the California couple who donated $2.5 million to establish the endowed chair. A state match helped create the only endowed chair in adoption in a psychology department in the United States.

The Rudds made their gift to help establish UMass Amherst as a leader in research on the psychology of adoption and to provide evidence-based knowledge on adoption practice and policy. “We hope that the professorship will act as a catalyst in focusing academic research on the emotional and psychological needs of adoptees. Eventually, we believe research might be able to suggest avenues toward a better understanding of adoption issues,” say the Rudds.

What appeals to you most about being the Rudd chair?
These are exciting times for people interested in adoption because adoptive families are more diverse than ever before. They include single parents, same-sex and straight couples, children born outside the United States, children adopted from foster care, children who have contact with their birth relatives, and many more variations. Because society’s ideas about adoption have shifted a great deal in the past 30 years, much of what we thought we knew about adoption needs to be reconsidered in the light of our changing views about families.

The Rudd chair offers me the opportunity to focus exclusively on adoption while expanding the scope of my work in terms of evidence-based practice and policy. I will be an advocate for rigorous standards in adoption research and for exploration of the many important questions that exist in the field.

A major part of your research is with the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project, a 20-year study of open adoption, begun in the 1980s, where both sets of parents share information, and involving hundreds of adoptive parents, adopted children, and their birthmothers. What did you learn from the longitudinal study?
One thing we’ve seen is that as time goes on, the needs of the adoptive parents and birth parents tend to swap. At first, many birth mothers want some form of contact to make sure that their child is in good hands. Over time, as she feels reassured that it’s working out for the child, or she marries and has other children, her need for contact may diminish. The adoptive parents, on the other hand, are eager to establish their family and may not be so sure about involving the child’s birth relatives. But over time, their needs for contact may increase, because their children have questions about their birth mother, for example. Some of the families in our study began by having no contact with the child’s birth family, but moved to open contact. We’ve also seen that there are many ways to “do” open adoption. Families figure out what works best for their situation and fine-tune their arrangements over time.

Among your honors are three major teaching awards from the University of Minnesota as well as election to the university’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers. What is it you enjoy about teaching?
I love working with students. At Minnesota, I saw every kind of approach among my colleagues, but I liked working in teams. I’ve had up to 20 or 30 people working on a project at once: undergraduates, graduate students, other faculty, and people in the community. I like the synergy, the way people learn from each other. I already am working with two new UMass Amherst graduate students and an undergrad this fall on my research project on openness in adoption.

Teaching is a powerful thing. I’m always mindful of the impact that a professor can have on students. As a teacher, you may never know the impact that a lecture you gave or a research opportunity that you’ve offered makes on a student.


*Adopted Adolescents’ Reports of Feelings
after meetings with Birth Relatives (N=52)
Research Findings
adopted adolescents feelings

Most of the research on openness in adoption
highlights the perspectives of adoptive parents.
The Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research
Project is unique because our research included multiple viewpoints: those of the adoptive parents, birth parents, and adopted adolescents. The results suggest that open adoptions can be very positive for all the participants, but they can evoke complex feelings and require good communication skills, flexibility, support, and commitment to the relationship by everyone.

This complexity of emotion is demonstrated in the chart that details how 52 adolescents who were having contact with any of their birth relatives felt after the meetings. About half of the adolescents reported a mixture of positive and negative feelings after the meetings. A typical combination was “very happy” but “nervous.” None of the adolescents reported feelings of fear, hatred, surprise, anger, or confusion about who their parents were.

Our research will help adoptive families anticipate and understand the potential benefi ts of openness as well as how to navigate these complex relationships. However, our mantra is “one size does not fit all.” Each adoptive family situation is unique and must take into account its own specific circumstances.

links

Adoptive Families magazine: adoptivefamilies.com
Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute: adoptioninstitute.org
North American Council on Adoptable Children: nacac.org
International Adoption Clinic, University of Minnesota: www.med.umn.edu/peds/iac
Minnesota / Texas Adoption Research Project: cehd.umn.edu/fsos/centers/mtarp/

 

 

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