“Wrongful Adoption” Lawsuits

Occasionally one hears of adoptive parents suing an agency for “wrongful adoption”. The parents usually claim that after they adopted the child, the child began to exhibit special needs and/or behaviors that were unexpected. For example, a child who sustained extensive sexual and physical abuse is considered at risk for attachment disorders. Children who were abused themselves also are at risk for becoming abusers of others. A child may have disabilities related to fetal alcohol exposure. The parents claim that the agency either knew about these problems, or factors putting the children at high risk for these problems, and withheld the information, or that the agency was negligent in not knowing about the problems. The parents say that if they had known of these things, they would not have adopted the child.

I have a problem with wrongful adoption lawsuits. At the same time, I am outraged that agencies would be too concerned with getting through their caseload than with making the best possible fit between child and family, which naturally includes giving the parents all relevant information. Some of these are not small issues. In some cases the adopted child is violent. There are even cases where an adopted child has injured or tried to kill other children in the family.

Still, “wrongful adoption” sends the wrong message to children, adoptive parents, and society. It sends the message that adopted children are different from other children, more disposable, more on trial lest their behavior lead their parents to change their minds.

Sometimes wrongful adoption suits go along with adoption dissolution—the adoption is legally dissolved and the child returns to state custody. (When an adoption is halted after placement in the home but before finalization, it is called disruption. If the adoption is negated after being finalized, it is called dissolution. For more adoption terms, see blogger Anna Glendenning’s excellent series on “Glossary of Special Needs Adoption Terms.”)

I cannot pretend to know what it’s like to be in the shoes of some of these adoptive parents. I have never had a child who is too damaged to know that I love him. I have never had one of my children try to kill another of my children. Agencies absolutely need to be held accountable for giving false information or for negligence in obtaining or passing on information.

Still, to love is to risk. All parents need to be aware that tragedies can happen. It is not only adoptive parents who have children with mental illness or children who, for some reason, do not appear to return the parents’ love. Parents cannot adopt for their own gratification. This falls into the same category as parents who do not set limits for their children because they want the children to like them. Parents have the power in the relationship. Parents are there to act for the good of the child, whether the child loves them back or not.

If my biological child ever, through a brain injury or for whatever reason, becomes a danger to others, it would be a tragedy. Sometimes children need to live in residential treatment centers, therapeutic group homes or other institutions. But I would still visit, and he would still be my child. Same for my adopted children.

I suggest that we need to create a way of holding agencies liable for misinformation via malpractice suits, or negligence suits, or creating some other legal term that puts the emphasis on the fact that the information was missing or wrong, not the adoption itself. This would enable parents to obtain some compensation for the expenses and problems they never expected to have to deal with. At the same time it wouldn’t send the message to the child that their parents wish they were not their parents.

Please see these related blogs:

Parental Claiming of An Older Adopted Child

Barriers to “Claiming” an Older Child in Adoption.

Glossary of Special Needs Adoption-Related Terms “D”

“If Only We Had Known…” Couples Sue over Wrongful Life

Wrong reasons to adopt

Getting a Baby vs. Parenting a Child

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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!