CBS studies well-being of people with inter-country adoption backgrounds

/ Author: Masja de Ree
WK Adopted children in 2012
© Hollandse Hoogte / Marcel van den Bergh
In recent years, people who have been adopted from abroad have regularly reported that things went wrong during the adoption process. The Committee Investigating Intercountry Adoption studied these signals at the request of the Minister for Legal Protection, Sander Dekker. In addition to investigating abuses and the role of the government in this, the committee wanted to know how people who were adopted in the period 1967-1998 are now faring in the Netherlands and how they look back on their childhood. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) was requested to investigate this.

Wide-ranging study

‘As a committee, we took the broadest possible view’, says Chris van der Schors of the Committee Investigating Intercountry Adoption. ‘We have spoken to many adopted people, about abuses surrounding the adoption, but also about how they were doing, whether they were investigating their roots, etc. But we cannot speak to everyone, and for the investigation it is important to determine whether what is reported to us is indeed representative. We do not want to draw conclusions that some of the adoptees will not identify with. Moreover, the aim of our committee is not only to establish the truth, but also to make recommendations. What do adoptees need? We engaged CBS to help us paint that broad picture.’

No register

CBS carried out the research by means of questionnaires. CBS researcher Ruben van Gaalen: ‘The government keeps no register of people who have been adopted. This information can therefore not be retrieved directly from the municipal personal records databases, for example. However, as CBS we can deduce who is likely to have been adopted. We look at the country of birth of the person, the country of birth of the parents and the time when legal parenthood was established. We already gained experience working this way through the OKIN (Parents and Children in the Netherlands) study, which CBS conducted earlier together with the University of Amsterdam. The questionnaire was distributed among a large sample of the group of people who are likely to have been adopted. In addition, the questionnaire was presented to a group of non-adopted people. ‘In both cases, we explicitly asked whether someone was adopted’, says CBS researcher Sabrina de Regt. ‘That's important because we can never be sure based on the available data.’

‘CBS imposes very strict requirements to all its research in the interest of acquiring, processing and publishing data in a secure manner’


The privacy of the interviewees is hugely important in this study and is strictly guarded and guaranteed in accordance with CBS’ high standards. ‘It’s important that this be clearly emphasised’, says Van Gaalen. ‘CBS imposes very strict requirements to all its research in the interest of acquiring, processing and publishing data in a secure manner. We go about this in such a way that there is absolutely no disclosure of individuals or companies.’

Unique research

At the request of the committee, CBS asked the respondents about, among other things, their living situation during childhood, the bond with their parents both during childhood and now, their school career, their physical and mental health, their living and family situation, and the connection with the Netherlands and their country of birth. The questionnaire also referred to specific matters relating to the adoption, such as whether people have gone in search of their origins. Van Gaalen: ‘The study yields a representative picture of how adopted people are faring in the Netherlands. Such research has never been carried out before in the Netherlands and we were hardly able to find examples of comparable research abroad either. De Regt: ‘The research shows that many people with an adoption background are doing well. For example, the bond with their parents is good on average. However, their mental health is slightly worse than among non-adopted people. And while the differences may not be great, they are significant. Our research also shows that around half of adopted people have started searching for their origins and that this search is often a difficult process.’

Intensive cooperation

The committee chose CBS to conduct the study owing to its reputation as a reliable and prestigious institute. According to Van der Schors, the cooperation proceeded smoothly. ‘CBS has experienced and driven in-house researchers. The cooperation was intensive, particularly because the questionnaire sometimes aroused strong reactions - for example, because people wondered how CBS had found out about them. Working together, we were able to provide satisfactory answers to those questions. However, I noticed that CBS is a large organisation and that could sometimes make it difficult to work flexibly.’ The report is now ready and will be presented to the minister in early February. Van der Schors: ‘Because of the coronavirus crisis and the fall of the government, we will have to wait and see how things progress. But it is a subject that concerns a lot of adoptees and other people directly involved and for which there is a lot of media attention. It seems out of the question to me that this report will disappear in a desk drawer.’