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The Lived Experience of Adoption: Do Current Conceptualizations Reflect Changing Realities?

The lived experiences of four adopted college undergraduates were documented through a series of semi-structured interviews across a two-year period. Participants were interviewed during their engagement as mentors in an adoption-specific mentoring program (the Adoption Mentoring Program, AMP) in which they were each paired with an adopted child from the community in one-to-one relationships. Importantly, participation in the mentoring program offered mentors a chance to connect with same-aged peers around issues of adoption research, theory, and experiences. Participation in this program is viewed as a marked change in the social context of adoption experienced by participants; this social change provided a unique opportunity to interview these mentors over the course of their participation, and assess the degree to which their experiences map onto current theoretical conceptualizations of adoption. Interviews focused specifically on adopted emerging adults’ understanding of the impact their adoptive status has had on other aspects of self (e.g., racial identity) and adoptive family relations (e.g., communication). Template analysis methodology facilitated the identification of participants’ changing attitudes and views about their life as adopted persons. Extant concepts used in current adoption literature did indeed emerge as salient for many of the participants (e.g., communication about adoption, identity development, and racial identity); however, analyses of interviews revealed new aspects of the lived experience of adoption not currently integrated into the field’s knowledge base. Implications of these emergent themes to future research and clinical practice with adopted persons are discussed, as are the strengths, limitations, and future directions of this research.
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