Perceptions of parental roles held by adoptive parents of special needs children

1992 1992

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Abstract (summary)

How do adoptive parents of special-needs children perceive their parental roles? How do professional staff of the agency that placed these children for adoption perceive parental roles? What are the differences? The present study was designed to answer these questions, in order to increase professionals' understanding of the complexities involved in the parents' roles. "Special needs" refers to physical, mental, and psychological handicaps, and/or age (schoolage African-American youngsters and white adolescents).

In order to answer these questions, thirty adoptive parents of children with special needs, and professional staff of the agency that placed the children, completed Parent Role Questionnaires (PRQ). This instrument measures perception of parental roles at different stages of child development, from infancy through the adult years. Adoptive parents also participated in semi-structured interviews concerning their parental roles.

Analysis of data reveals many similarities between the perceptions of adoptive parents and agency staff. Both groups considered bonding, discipline, education, protection and general welfare, responsivity, and sensitivity to be salient features of the parental role. However, all these factors declined in importance and frequency over time, with bonding, sensitivity, and responsivity declining the least. Every respondent rated bonding very much a part of the parental role. Discipline was ranked the least important parental role characteristic at all developmental stages.

Several significant differences emerged between the groups. Parents perceived discipline as more a part of the parental role than did staff. Parents viewed discipline as more important than staff at every developmental stage, although only in late adolescence did this difference reach significance. Parents also viewed discipline as occurring more frequently in the elementary stage. Finally, parents perceived education as a more important part of the parental role for late adolescent and adult children.

Analysis of the interviews shows that adoptive parents of special-needs children perceive themselves fulfilling the same roles as birth parents. However, they also gave many examples of the complexities involved in dealing with youngsters whose developmental and special needs differ from their chronological ages. Professionals need to be aware of these complexities so as to best understand and help these very special families.

Indexing (details)

Social psychology;
Social work;
Families & family life;
Personal relationships;
0451: Social psychology
0452: Social work
0628: Families & family life
0628: Personal relationships
0628: Sociology
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Psychology
Perceptions of parental roles held by adoptive parents of special needs children
Stiller, Judith
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-B 54/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Mowder, Barbara A.
Pace University
University location
United States -- New York
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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