Changing Paradigms in International Adoption

The focus shifts from parent to child, adopter to adoptee.

Posted Jul 08, 2019

Geralt/Pixabay, used with permission
International adoption forms culturally diverse families with unique and ever-changing needs.
Source: Geralt/Pixabay, used with permission

In her book, The Best Possible Immigrants: International Adoption and the American Family, Rachel Rains Winslow looks at the ever-changing landscape of international adoption and how trans-national and trans-racial adoption became an accepted institution for forming a family.

She offers several paradigms that represent separate models for the practice of adoption, including (1) serving the needs of the adoptive parents (2) seeking to protect the welfare or best interests of the adopted child, and (3) emphasizing the idea of saving a needy child.

In the model of primarily serving the needs of the adoptive parents, couples or single parents choose their child in order to have a baby they consider just right for them. Agencies and social workers accommodate the needs of adoptive parents to find the “perfect” child for their family. Research questions evolve from the perspective of the adoptive parents, such as “how is adoption affecting my child?” and “how can I help my child adjust?” 

Over the years, both social and professional attitudes toward adoption changed, and the focus turned toward recognizing and protecting needs from the perspective of the child. Researchers began to question what adoption looks like for an adopted child at various ages and stages of growth and maturity. One reason for this paradigm shift may be the coming of age of international adoptees who entered the workforce, some of whom entered careers as professionals in the field of adoption and adoption research. 

There was and continues to be a need for research that reflects the diverse voices of adoptees and seeks to understand the experience of adoption from various perspectives, rather than the simple and traditional “rescue” narrative. To that end, and to advance future informed research, there is a movement within the world of scholarly adoptees to support and mentor qualified adult adoptees in reaching positions of power and influence in fields of adoption practice and policy and to address the complex issues surrounding the practice of adoption and the life of adoptees. 


The Best Possible Immigrants: International Adoption and the American Family. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2017.

McGinnis HA, Baden AL, Kim AY, Kim J. Generational Shifts: Adult Adoptee Scholars’ Perspective on Future Research and Practice