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Disrupted Adoptions

Some adopters decide they can't handle the problems that show up in their adopted child. Learn about "disrupted adoption."

Disrupted Adoptions

Some adopters decide they cannot handle severe physical, emotional, or psychiatric problems that show up in their adopted child. What happens when a child's behaviors fall too far short of the parents' expectations?

Researchers at the University of Southern Maine identified several stages of an impending adoption failure:

  1. In the first stage, diminishing pleasures, the joys of parenthood were far overwhelmed by the hardships.
  2. Next, the parents want the child to change his behavior, but he can't or won't change. The parents may begin complaining how difficult this child is. It's a good idea for the parent to gain feedback and support from an adoptive parent group at this point.
  3. At the turning point stage, an event causes the parents to feel they can no longer parent the child. The child may exhibit frightening or cruel behavior, or he may run away repeatedly. The parents start to imagine what life would be like if the child were no longer part of the family.
  4. The deadline stage is just what it sounds like: The parents give the child an ultimatum. If the child doesn't do what the parents ask, they take steps to take the child away from the family.

A disrupted adoption generally refers to an adoption that fails before finalization, although many people also use the term for any failed adoption. (Some people use the term dissolution for adoptions that fail after finalization.) How adoption disruptions are handled depends on state laws.

Sometimes the adopters ask the agency or attorney to take the child back and place him with another family. In other cases they request that the state social services department take over the child's case (however, if they do so, they usually lose control over what happens to the child). These situations are referred to as disrupted adoptions. They are extremely rare for children placed in infancy. If an intercountry adoption disrupts, then the adoptive parents must find another placement. This can be very difficult. In the extremely unlikely event it happens to you, contact an experienced adoption agency for help.

Keep in mind that disrupted adoptions are rare. Some factors that may lead to disruption are prior severe abuse, multiple homes, and foster homes—although children who fit this profile can do well and should not be ruled out as adoptive candidates.

Adoption researcher Victor Groze estimates that only about 2 percent of all adoptions fail. Of course, the best plan is to work on resolving the problem well before it reaches the latter stages and before the parents and the child give up on working together.

Bottom line: Although the large majority of adopted children turn out just fine, sometimes they will experience serious medical or psychiatric problems. If that happens, then, of course, you will need to seek treatment for the child. First, get the child a physical examination to rule out a readily treatable problem. Then, if the problem may be behavioral or psychiatric, seek out a competent therapist. Finally, take into account your own needs as a human being. Don't blame yourself and don't obsess on the problem. You're one of the good guys!

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