And even more about adoption disruptions and dissolutions

* Edited on 9/11/07 – If anyone can point me to any statistics on international adoption dissolutions or disruptions, I would be very appreciative. I think that the actual number of adoption dissolutions are probably much lower than 10-15%, but if you include all the disruptions that number might be a lot higher (disruptions include those that have not finalized yet). I also wanted to add that I’ve learned from some social workers I work with that some of these numbers of dissolutions occur when the child is older – teenagers – and they come through the child welfare system as runaways or juvenile delinquency or mental health cases and those dissolutions would likely not be marked as international adoption cases at that time. Anecdotally, several people in my office have told me about teens they’ve worked with in foster care who were adopted internationally and a couple have shared stories about some of their clients who were internationally adopted and ended up having children who were removed through child protection. One colleague told me that she’d once worked in a group home for teen girls and it just now struck her that she never put two and two together that she had an unusually high number of Korean adopted teens in placement there. Keep in mind, though, that I am not suggesting that internationally adopted children have a high or higher chance of ending up using child protection/child welfare services. I am just hypothesizing that they are not separated out or tracked for research or further study. — Jae Ran

The post on disruptions and dissolutions sparked a lot of conversation so I thought I would follow up on a few things. I found I was commenting to comments more than usual, so instead of filling up the comment box, I wanted to share a little more here.

The disruption/dissolution rate given to me was not a statistical "fact" but an estimate by someone I know who works for my state’s governing child welfare department. It was in a meeting I attended and was not meant to be "fact" but as a way to "enlighten" us about how little we know about international adoptions and disruptions and the abuse of children adopted internationally by their adoptive parents.

Keep in mind that most of the research and data collected is about foster care adoptions. We do a very poor job of tracking data and research on international and private domestic adoptions, as well as tracking our US kids who are adopted to Canada, England, Germany and other countries.

Additionally, according to this website, "Individual studies of different populations throughout the United States are consistent in reporting disruption rates that range from about 10 to 25 percent—depending on the population studied, the duration of the study, and geographic or other factors (Goerge, Howard, Yu, & Radomsky, 1997; Festinger, 2002; Festinger, in press)." So my colleague’s estimate of 10-15% falls right within that range.

This site also states that adoption dissolutions generally do not come to attention unless the child protection/child welfare agency in a state is involved. This means that there are adoptions that dissolve by voluntary termination of parental rights where perhaps the child is transferred custody to other people, family members or friends others and happens under the radar of the child protection agency.

Again, from Child Welfare Information Gateway:

No national data are collected on the number of disruptions and dissolutions or the percentages of adoptive placements that end in disruption or dissolution. Most of the data that are collected are for adoptions from public agencies or those under contract from public agencies. No national studies are available on disruptions or dissolutions of inter-country adoptions or adoptions from private sources. There are no national data collected on the number of independent, private, or tribal adoptions.

As mentioned above, while AFCARS includes two data elements to show previous adoption for a child in foster care—whether the child was ever previously adopted and, if so, age at adoption—those data are reported only for children in public foster care and do not capture adoption dissolutions if the children do not come to the attention of the public child welfare system. Also, some researchers have observed that these data are inconsistently reported by the States.

Egypt4 asked if I thought that adoption disruptions happen because of the expectations held by adoptive parents (or in this case, likely they are pre-adoptive parents). I think adoption disruptions and dissolutions happen for many reasons.

  • Prospective adoptive parents over-romanticize their "ideal family" and have a difficult time if the child falls outside of their idealized picture
  • Prospective parents have not received all the information about a youth’s medical and psychological history, including what was known about the youth’s parents medical and psych history; or it was not disclosed that the youth had been abused in former foster placements.
  • Prospective parents have not dealt with personal issues that affect how they will parent; this includes marital issues (recently married/divorced, being in an unhappy or struggling marriage or being single and not wanting to be), infertility or miscarriage or loss of biological children, their own bad childhood or past abuse history and mental health or substance abuse issues (how they’ve managed mental health diagnoses and substance abuse is often more telling than the diagnosis itself).
  • Life situations change (divorce, death, bankrupcy) and the adoptive parent feels they can no longer adequately parent.
  • The adoptive parent abuses the child.
  • The pre-adoptive parent decides the loss of foster care income is too great and they can’t afford to adopt.
  • The child develops a mental illness, substance problem, sexually acts out or gets involved in the juvenile detention system and the parent gives up.
  • After spending months harassing their home study worker wondering why they hadn’t been matched with a child, one couple was finally matched and within three months decided it was too much of a "lifestyle change" for them. They "returned" the youth, a 14-year old teen.
  • Another family disrupted because she decided the kids were too difficult to manage. This parent did not believe in medication and her son had ADHD. The family felt the youth should just "control himself" and when they couldnl’t manage the resulting behaviors, they resorted to physical abuse and child protection became involved. After five years post finalization, the family just gave up and voluntarily terminated their parental rights.

In many of the scenarios I gave above (and there are many more reasons why adoption disruptions and dissolutions happen) I still go back to the question of, would the prospective or adoptive parents treat a biological child the same way? And for most of them, I believe the answer is "no."

Here’s my problem as a social worker and adoption worker. How can I read a home study and *know* whether the family is in denial or actually really understands the multiple challenges that adopting will bring to their family? Truthfully, there is no secret code we adoption workers have; no magical Special De-coder Ring that can spot the potential disrupters/dissolvers in our midst. We have all had that experience of championing a family only to find ourselves heartbroken when the family comes knocking at our door at 1 am. with the kid’s belongings in a Hefty bag. How do I know if I’m looking at a family who won’t give up, no matter what? Who actually believes in the saccharine "forever family" fantasy?

I will say that one of the things I always look for in a home study and in conversations with prospective adoptive parents – whether the person has flexibility. This is not to be confused with lack of structure. I’m referring more to whether the family is able to go with what the child needs at any given time versus having this pre-set idea of how things should be. I’m not looking for someone who can give me all the "right answers" but someone who can tell me that "it’ll depend on the what the child needs."

We give a lot of lip service to a child’s "resiliency."

I’m waiting for the day when we give equal time talking about the resiliency of prospective adoptive parents.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

3 thoughts

  1. Question for anyone to answer, please give your thoughts, feelings or experiences. I’m doing an english paper on this question and I would like to get some feed back from actual parents, your assistance will be appreciated.
    Should adoption laws be changed to exclude the possibility of birth parents reclaiming their child? Yes after papers are finalized.

  2. Question for anyone to answer, please give your thoughts, feelings or experiences. I’m doing an english paper on this question and I would like to get some feed back from actual parents, your assistance will be appreciated.
    Should adoption laws be changed to exclude the possibility of birth parents reclaiming their child? Yes after papers are finalized.

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