By Lydia Lambert
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Additional resources for Children in Changing Families: A Study of Adoption and Illegitimacy (National Children's Bureau)
In wh at is regarded as a classic study Skeels and his colleagues investigated the mental development of a group of children from hornes where the mothers had been c1assified as mentally retarded and/or where fathers were of low occupational status (Skeels and Harms, 1948). The children were placed, before the age oftwo years, in foster or adoptive hornes which were selected as average for their adequate adjustment in the community. These children appeared to have benefited from being placed in a more favourable environment compared to that in which they were born, in that they attained amentallevel which equalled that of the population as a whole.
In view ofthe demographie changes which have taken place during this century the conventional nuclear family is clearly one variant rather than the model of the family by wh ich all other types of fa mi lies are judged, although it is likely to continue as the major pattern. As Rapoport et al. (1977) have written, 'there is a sense in which variation, either by chance or by choice is now the norm' and 'there are changes under way that make the gap between the myth of the idealized nuclear family and the reality even more apparent'.
There have been few attempts to develop a theory about adoptive families, but Kirk (1964) provides an exception. He argues that there are special dynamics operating in the adoptive family which set it apart from the biological family. Although there are exceptions, Adoption 37 childlessness is generally an involuntary condition in married people and places them in an anomalous position in a society which is proparenthood (Humphrey, 1969). The pressures towards parenthood are evident and have been well documented by family sociologists.