Many thanks to Dawn Friedman for this very nuanced article, "The Myth of the Forever Family" in Brain, Child magazine about adoption myths and specifically, the best article I've read so far on the really, really difficult and complex inner-workings on a family who is considering or has considered dissolving an adoption.
I have know adult Korean adoptees who were "re-adopted" after their first placement(s) were dissolved or disrupted, and while working in a county public child welfare agency most of the children and youth on my case load had experienced multiple adoption disruptions, and a few had experienced complete dissolutions (one after 6 years with their "forever family"). The subject, as Dawn writes, is adoptions "dirty little secret." It's something that as a child welfare professional, I struggle with. How do we both encourage adoption as a form of care for children in need of placement while at the same time be honest, real, and transparent about the needs of the children without scaring away prospective adoptive parents? What kind of "marketing" are we doing in terms of soliciting the public to consider adoption?
Adoption is not just "a way to build a family." Adoption is much more complex. I sometimes think about how the military markets and advertises for recruits and the television ads they create compared to how it is in real life. In the ads on television, it's all about looking for the best, the brightest, the ones who want action and have a lot of initiative – "Be the best you can be." In reality, it appears to be more about filling the seats with warm bodies, as the recruiters to go to the high schools and talk to all the students who don't have college plans.
Okay, so neither of these scenarios tells the whole story – just like the way the public thinks about and the way adoption agencies solicit prospective adoptive parents. In reality, the military recruits and enlists both. And in adoption it is the same. We market and accept both as well. We tell adoptive parents "You don't have to be perfect" and then we expect adoptive parents to be mental health specialists, parenting specialists, educational specialists, experts on child development and oh yeah, make sure you love them like your own too. But if you can't be all those things, oh well – the kid just needs a family, because "families are better than institutions."
On the one hand what we really would like is "the best" (and by the best I totally do NOT consider how much money prospective parents have in the bank, what their house looks like or that they are a white, heterosexual married couple. To me, the "best" is a parent that can understand and provide for the needs of a child that has likely been traumatized, hurt, neglected in some (or multiple) ways). Not parents who expect an adopted chlid to behave like a child "born to them" (whatever that means) nor a parent who is just a temporary station, i.e. a warm body, for the child. Yet, agencies are often so desperate that they're willing to take the warm bodies. Because, as we've said, over and over again, "families are better than institutions" – and that leaves us with little choice in the end when we've set ourselves up for placing children in unprepared families just because we have this idea that "families are better than institutions" and then totally blame the families when it doesn't work out.
Anyway, please read this article, and participate in the discussion that will accompany it at the Brain, Child blog. And thanks to Dawn especially for including adult adoptees in this article as well. I am quoted, as is Astrid Dabbeni from Adoption Mosaic.