Adopted Children and Their Need to Know Their Origins

Many adopted children need to know their biological origins in order to build their identity. However, this need not affect their relationship with their adoptive family.
Adopted Children and Their Need to Know Their Origins
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

There are many adopted children who, after adolescence, have a need to know their biological origins. Furthermore, the International Adoption Law of December 28, 2007, reminds us that all adopted children, as well as those conceived through assisted reproductive techniques, have the right to obtain this information when they reach the age of majority.

However, many are faced with more than one problem. For instance, some of them just see it as a piece of paper that tells them little, certainly nothing to assuage any doubts they may have. Furthermore, international adoptions are rather complex and it isn’t easy for a person to get to know the identity of their parents.

Nevertheless, those who do manage to get in touch with their origins feel generally more satisfied. What’s more, they often feel even more attached to their own adoptive family. It is as if, by knowing where they come from and where their origins are, their identity becomes more clearly defined.

All children have the right to know if they’re adopted. Furthermore, if possible, to get to know their biological family.

Mother talking to one of the adopted children

Adopted children and the construction of their identity

Knowing who you are in many cases means knowing where you come from. In the cases of adopted children, it often doesn’t matter that their adopted family has raised them in the most loving way possible. They still want to know where they came from. The vast majority of adopted children usually ask about their origins when they’re around 13 or 14 years old. This, of course, is a delicate subject. Nevertheless, it’s a subject that’s usually anticipated by the parents.

There are many types of adoptions. There are children who come to their adoptive family having lived for a time with their biological parents. Others might come to a new home as babies from another country. There are also children who are the result of assisted reproduction or surrogacy.

However, regardless of the ways in which they came to be with their adoptive parents, these children all have their individual emotional needs. Furthermore, learning where they came from often signifies, both for them and their parents, a completely new and rather fearful situation .

Understanding where they come from forms part of their personal development

The Canadian Pediatric Society published a study a few years ago in the journal Paediatrics & Child Health. This study defended the hypothesis that, as a child develops their self-concept and identity, they need to know more about themselves. Knowing that they’re adopted often leaves a hole that makes it difficult for them to create a positive image of themselves. Consequently, they experience doubts.

Children who were adopted as babies need to know their origins in exactly the same way as those who were adopted at a later age. However, according to this study, things become more complicated when a child is adopted after suffering neglect by their original parents.

In these cases, they tend to exhibit ambivalence. However, even in these kinds of situations, they need to get in touch with their roots. In fact, it’s a way of integrating those figures from their past into their present. Furthermore, it means they’ll have a more complete vision of themselves and be able to build their identity.

Are families obliged to reveal the origins of adopted children?

Do adopted children have the right to know that they’re adopted? The University of Cambridge (UK) conducted research in this regard. They found that, nowadays, a good proportion of parents end up informing adopted children of their biological origins. Nevertheless, there are some who decide not to do it. This is more prevalent in cases of assisted reproduction.

Certain data and multiple reports suggest that, in many cases, children end up discovering themselves either that they’re adopted or that they were born via donor insemination. In these instances, the fact that their parents didn’t tell them tends to cause them psychological anguish. (Jadva, Freeman, Kramer, and Golombok, 2009; Turner and Coyle, 2000).

It’s around the age of 6 to 7 years when a child understands the meaning of adoption. However, it’s in adolescence when it acquires greater significance. That’s when they tend to ask about their biological origins.

father and daughter representing the love of adopted children

How to act when they ask to meet their biological family

Adopted children, as we mentioned earlier, are within their rights to know where they came from. This step helps them construct their identity. In addition, it makes the bond with their own family more positive as there’s complete trust between them. However, it’s also true that each case is different and arranging a meeting with the biological parents isn’t always easy or quick.

The most appropriate thing is to always provide good communication, support, and guidance to adopted children. Currently, there are multiple agencies that can be contacted to obtain such information. The ideal is to start this search for biological origins when the adolescent has adequate maturity and emotional stability.

It’s possible that what they may find doesn’t meet their expectations. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. For this reason, parents should always accompany them in this process and be mentally prepared for any eventuality. There are specialized professionals who can guide them in this type of experience. However, the love and trust of parents at all times is the most important factor.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Understanding adoption: A developmental approach. (2001). Paediatrics & child health6(5), 281–291.
  • Ilioi, E., Blake, L., Jadva, V., Roman, G., & Golombok, S. (2017). The role of age of disclosure of biological origins in the psychological wellbeing of adolescents conceived by reproductive donation: a longitudinal study from age 1 to age 14. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines58(3), 315–324.
  • Lamçe, J. y Çuni, E. (2013). El derecho de los niños a conocer su origen en la adopción y reproducción asistida médicamente. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 4 (6), 605.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.