Why Do Some Adoptions Fail?

Too often in our line of work we get the bad news that an adoption placement has disrupted, and even worse, we occasionally get the news that there has been a dissolution in an adoption. In both situations, the parents, or parents-to-be have decided to give the child back to the state-run foster care system. "Disruption" is the term used when the relationship breakdown occurs before the adoption has been finalized in a court of law. "Dissolution" happens if the familial relationship is ended after the adoption has been legally finalized. At an adoption finalization, the presiding judge often reinforces to the adult(s) that the child(ren) that they are adopting are just as much (legally) their child(ren) as if they were biologically born to the family. We always hope that the parents are absorbing that point and embrace being a family even before the finalization occurs. So, what happens in these relationships that causes these breakups? Why is the disruption rate so high, especially in older youth placements?

I attended a training given by Pat Carter-Sage, M.Ed, NCC LPC, where she opened my eyes to some core issues that tend to be the root of disruptions. Pat Carter-Sage’s work centers around attachment theories and because many of our youth have attachment difficulties these points hit home. Briefly, here few of the core issues that she covered and that I have seen at work in cases of disruption that I have witnessed.

Entitlement. Often parents will struggle with what they are entitled to feel towards the child. They may question “Do I have the right to parent this child?” The child, after years of abuse and shame, may ask “Do I deserve this love? Family? Security?“ These questions in the child’s mind often lead to sabotaging the placement.

Unmatched Expectations. Unmatched expectations go in both directions, from parents and from the youth. Parents, along with their support systems, expect youth to come in their homes overflowing with gratitude and always displaying good behavior. This is not the feeling that most of the youth are experiencing. They are truly experiencing great loss from not being able to live with their birth families. For their part, youth often come with unrealistic expectations for the families. They may have been dreaming of their “perfect family” for years before being adopted only to realize that no family is going to be perfect.

Separation, Loss, and Grief. Again, this is experienced by both the parents and the youth in adoption. A friend, who is an adopted father of two, once told me “Adoption is the happiest ending for the most tragic event.” His statement made me think deeply then and I still think about that now, years later. The children are experiencing a tragedy of not living with their biological families, no matter how terrible the situation was, this is a very real trauma. We must allow them to grieve this. We cannot just assume the kids are happier now that they are out of the biological home, since the home was not suitable to care for them. From the adult's side, we often work with parents who have experienced infertility, or loss of a child, and have not fully grieved these experiences. Without properly dealing with these feelings, one cannot properly move forward and be a successful home.

With that all being said, how can we lessen the rates of disruption and dissolution? I think the main solution is asking for help. These issues are just a few of the issues that will come up, and they are all deep and complex. Education and counseling pre-adoptive placement, during the placement, and post finalization are vital to a successful adoption. No one goes into the adoption process thinking, well if this doesn’t work out then I can always just give the child back, no one thinks that their family will add to the statistic, but it does happen. Parenting in any capacity takes hard work, and there is no shame in asking for help.