When Adoptions Don’t Work Out

No one wants to talk about it—not adoptive parents who know how wonderful adoption can be, not prospective parents who desperately want to believe that love will conquer all, not professionals whose reputations and self-image are based on facilitating the happily-ever-after family.

Adoptions that don’t work out are a small percentage of adoptions . However, they can represent ten to twenty percent of older-child adoptions (different agencies define “older child” differently when keeping statistics. I believe it generally refers to children over age seven.) Adoptions of older children are ten to twenty percent more likely to eventually disrupt than adoptions of infants.

The above statistics–and much information about preventing disruption and dissolution–can be found in the book, Adopting and Advocating for the Special Needs Child, by psychologists and adoptive mothers Anne Babb and Rita Laws. This book focuses on adoption of children from the U.S. foster care system. It is recommended for current parents, and also for prospective parents to help them evaluate what kinds of problems they are truly equipped to deal with and help them “ask the questions we didn’t know to ask”, as one reviewer put it.

Some definitions are in order here. An adoption disruption is when the child has been living with the adoptive parents but leaves—whether at the initiative of the parents, the state, or through the child running away–before the adoption is finalized. A dissolution is when the adoption is legally set aside after it has been finalized, sometimes years after. In a dissolution, the parents relinquish their parental rights. Dissolutions usually involve costly court actions and more trauma for everyone. If the parent is not totally confident, he or she should ask the caseworker for more time before finalization.

No one authority keeps good statistics on disruption/dissolution of adoptions of internationally adopted children. Although the problem seems to be rarer than in domestic adoptions from the foster care system, experts are now seeing a troubling spike.

This may be in part simply because there are more international adoptees. Approximately twenty thousand children from other countries are adopted by Americans each year. This is almost triple the number of such adoptions in 1990. Also, children adopted in the 1990s are reaching adolescence, when troubling behavior can become more dangerous.

Experts say that many parents were unprepared for the challenges these kids faced, either because they underestimated them in their desire to become parents or because agencies glossed over or omitted complex medical histories. Treatment for reactive attachment disorder and other attachment problems did not come into its own until very recently, and the effects of prenatal alcohol,even without the facial features that signal Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, are not well known. Some children may have simply never learned to love.

Please see these related blogs:

A Mother’s Hope–My Little Girl Returns From Residential Treatment

“Wrongful Adoption” Lawsuits

Parental Claiming of an Older Adopted Child

Behavior Characteristics: For People Affected By Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

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About Pam Connell

Pam Connell is a mother of three by both birth and adoption. She has worked in education, child care, social services, ministry and journalism. She resides near Seattle with her husband Charles and their three children. Pam is currently primarily a Stay-at-Home-Mom to Patrick, age 8, who was born to her; Meg, age 6, and Regina, age 3, who are biological half-sisters adopted from Korea. She also teaches preschoolers twice a week and does some writing. Her activities include volunteer work at school, church, Cub Scouts and a local Birth to Three Early Intervention Program. Her hobbies include reading, writing, travel, camping, walking in the woods, swimming and scrapbooking. Pam is a graduate of Seattle University and Gonzaga University. Her fields of study included journalism, religious education/pastoral ministry, political science and management. She served as a writer and editor of the college weekly newspaper and has been Program Coordinator of a Family Resource Center and Family Literacy Program, Volunteer Coordinator at a church, Religion Teacher, Preschool Teacher, Youth Ministry Coordinator, Camp Counselor and Nanny. Pam is an avid reader and continuing student in the areas of education, child development, adoption and public policy. She is eager to share her experiences as a mother by birth and by international adoption, as a mother of three kids of different learning styles and personalities, as a mother of kids of different races, and most of all as a mom of three wonderful kids!