Enfance, filiation, adoption

Claudine Combier, Taïna Tuhkunen et Aubeline Vinay présentent en juin 2016 à Turku (Finlande) leurs travaux sur le bien-être des enfants adoptés, à l’occasion de la VIIe conférence sur les Childhood Studies.

Ces travaux pluridisciplinaires (psychologie, études filmiques) s’inscrivent dans le cadre de l’axe 2 « Filiations, familles » du programme EnJeu[x]. Voici leur proposition de symposium:

The well-being of adopted children in everyday circumstances


Child adoption has become a complex, collective reality of everyday life, both nationally and internationally. But as adopted children grow up, to what extent does their everyday living milieu impact and help them construct their identities and re/shape their self-image through the new daily routines, culture-bound customs and habits?

To interrogate this question, three scholars working at the University of Angers (France) propose a three-fold, transdisciplinary approach and reading of the adopted child’s family and social environment. Professors of psychology, Aubeline Vinay and Claudine Combier, and Taina Tuhkunen, professor of American literature and cinema studies — all actively involved in a transdisciplinary, 5-year regional research project on child studies headed by the University of Angers — propose a self-organised symposium on filiation and family-related questions.

During this symposium, we intend to focus on the adopted child’s (1) caretaking in a nursery (« crèche »), before moving on to examine (2) his/her relationships and bonding with the adoptive parents and family, before the final focus on (3) contemporary « adoption films » which often seek to complete the depiction of the adopted child’s everyday, ordinary life by taking into account the child’s frequently non-recorded, and thus somewhat « extra-ordinary » and fanciful pre-adoption experiences.


  1. Aubeline Vinay, Professor of Clinical Psychology (Université d’Angers, France): « Everyday caretaking of the adopted child in a nursery » http://okina.univ-angers.fr/a.vinay/publications

The adopted child generates immediate representations, distress, fears, and idealized images. Today’s media representations on adoption often convey stereotypical ideas which end up complicating the social integration of adopted children. On the other hand, adoption both problematizes and recalls the fact that we are all, in a sense, « adopted children ». Although all life stories are unique, adoption leads too frequently to the stigmatization of the child and the family, and it is when we consider the child not as an adopted child, but first and foremost as a child that our practices best respond to everybody’s needs.

When informed of the family context of the adopted child, or when this is visible due to international and/or interracial adoption, the nursing staff’s personal representations may hinder the creation of a building up and promoting of a genuine relationship with the child. It is possible to observe, for instance, that a professional caregiver’s attitude can be affected by his/her imagination regarding the child’s early life marked by abandonment, rejection, or loss of biological parents. The caretaker may, indeed, bring the conduct of the child down to the issue of adoption, as the behavior of the child is observed and described.

In order to better determine the professional everyday practices in a nursery in contact with the adopted child, we shall start by outlining the common key stages of the adoption trajectory, before dealing with the question of separation (arriving and leaving the day care/nursery, absence of the caregiver the child is used to, etc.) from the viewpoint of the child’s well-being. This presentation will close on remarks resulting from our research on educative attitudes to the everyday situations of the adapted child in a nursery.


  1. Claudine Combier, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology (Université d’Angers, France): « Daily parent-child links within international adoption »


Adoption is an atypical situation of filiation which is not rooted in kinship based on biology, and thus requires other ways to determine a family. It is chiefly through the shared daily life that the elaboration of bonds between the adopted child and his/her new parents will be organized.

The aim of this paper is to present how the child adopted abroad undergoes different stages marking his/her inclusion in the family and social structure.

My method is that of clinical observation within the framework of a psychodynamic approach based on case studies associated with my professional practice as a psychologist. The presented research relies on the experience of psychological consultations with children and their adoptive families. It will be dealt with and illustrated in the light of a clinical situation.

I wish to demonstrate how for a child adopted abroad, all his/her previous landmarks have been disturbed, both in terms social and geographic guidelines, as well as in terms of the child’s integration into the new family and affective environment. This concerns the various customs and patterns of everyday life: food, sleep, language and educational habits, as well as the different faces around him, his links of filiation, and the representations of the family.

As a conclusion, we shall see how within the framework of international adoption, the adopted child is ultimately faced with psychological issues which have to do just as much with the question of neglect as that of uprootedness. This has as a consequence a necessary day-to-day process of familiarization in the form of « taming » of the environment, to ensure the setting up of a « double transplant » which is, both at the same time, genealogic and socio-cultural.


  1. Taina Tuhkunen, Professor of American Studies (Université d’Angers, France): « Creating the everyday life of the adopted child on screen » http://okina.univ-angers.fr/t.tuh

Until the 1960s and 1970s, the « family film » was a successful form of mass entertainment promoted by Hollywood where parentless and homeless children tended to be depicted as brave orphans whose daily struggle against harsh everyday circumstances finally led to a perfect « home » thanks to the child hero’s perseverance and moral integrity. Since then, this metanarrative has gone through a number of changes, as the generic « family film » has broken down into a series of sub-categories.

One of them is, this paper will argue, « adoption films »: a category which frequently focuses on international and/or interracial adoptions, as well as on other forms of social, cultural and ethnic otherness.

To what extent contemporary adoption films, such as Approved for Adoption (Laurent Boileau, Jung, 2012) distance themselves from earlier film scripts that pivot upon melodramatic child heroes inspired by 19th century romantic novels is the main question we shall raise, when examining how recent adoption films reimagine the figure of an orphan or an adoptee in Peter Hedges’s The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012), or in such far less sentimental and distressing adoption movies as Esther (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2009) and A Deadly Adoption (Rachel Goldenberg, 2015) which represent the adoptee as an intruder rather than an « adoptable » human being, capable of integrating into the everyday life of the foster family.

We shall argue that when seeking to overcome archetypal polarities, Boileau’s deliberately hybrid film Approved for Adoption — which relies on documentary as well as fantasy elements (family photographs, home movies, official documents, interviews, animation sequences, etc.) —improves our knowledge of the adopted child’s daily experience, and allows to view in a different light some of the questions raised by the two other contributions to this symposium.