When a Forever Home Isn’t Forever: The Reality of Adoption Dissolution

adoption dissolutionPicture this: You see a photograph of an adorable child in need of a loving and caring home. As you look into his eyes, you want nothing more than to see him happy and to be a part of making that happen. You take all of the necessary steps (home study, training, etc.) to become a foster adoptive parent and you gain access to more information. Once all of the proper steps have been taken, you finally meet him. You instantly fall in love and proceed with everything needed to begin the adoption process. The child is now in his new home, and after a few months you begin to notice things that were not as obvious as before. Not too long after that, you begin to realize that you may have made the wrong decision in bringing him into your home. It can be heartbreaking, to say the least. While it is a harsh reality, it’s a reality that more than a few homes have to face – and it is worth addressing.

When you open your heart and home to a child in need, there is an undeniable feeling of hope. There perhaps is nothing more gratifying than knowing you are making a difference in someone’s life. You have plans on how life will unfold in a marvelous journey of continually learning from one another and blossoming into a family that will grow for generations to come. There are times, however, when that dream of having a forever home with a child in care does not work out as planned. For reasons beyond your control, the adoption does not succeed. The first question that may come to mind is, “What causes this to happen?” It is a fair question and one worth exploring as we offer some perspective and dig a little deeper into some of the factors that can cause adoption dissolution.

Nationwide Statistics in Adoption

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway (the Children’s Bureau), there were approximately 136,000 children that were adopted in the United States in between 2007 and 2008. The trend has been steadily increasing for the last 24 years. In 1990, the number of adoptions was slightly under 120,000. There are three major categories of adoption types in the United States. The greatest numbers of children, over 46%, are adopted via a private agency. Adoptions from foster care or the public child welfare system account for another 41%. International adoptions are up to 13% of the total. The process to adopt in the United States is regulated by individual states.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports, “Very few adopted children have parents who reported ever having considered dissolving the adoption. The number of children whose parents reported ever considering dissolution was too small to generate reliable estimates of its frequency.” According to the Children’s Bureau, “Studies consistently report that only a small percentage of completed adoptions dissolve—probably between 1 and 5 percent.”

Causes of Adoption Dissolution – The Unpleasant Truth

What are some factors that can cause adoption dissolution in the one to five percent of the adoption world? First, it is important to note that there is not one particular cause or person to blame for dissolution. There are many layers to this issue. While the causes have not been thoroughly researched, a report that was completed in 2002 by T. Festinger and posted on childwelfare.gov noted two reasons as to why dissolution can occur. The first is a lack of information on services that are needed and the second is the cost of those services. Miseducation or the lack of education can leave families ill prepared to address any possible issues the children adopted from foster care may be facing. The fact is that a child who is available for adoption has most likely been exposed to an unhealthy environment or has had a traumatic experience that is going to take time and therapy to set him on a path to healing. Unfortunately, he may be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, or may have issues with behavioral conduct. Depending on how severe his past has been he may even receive a diagnosis of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). This very serious condition alone can be overwhelming to face with the proper training – and much more so without it.

Every child, whether coming from a private agency, the public welfare system or from another country has one thing in common – a need for a stable and loving environment with a parent or parents that are dedicated to educating themselves to give their children what they need for a successful life.

There is Help – Available Resources

There are resources available nationwide that provide helpful information on the myriad of services for families adopting children from foster care. In New Jersey specifically, one state funded agency that offers assistance is the New Jersey Adoption Resources Clearing House (NJ ARCH), a statewide one-stop adoption information and resource service for those touched by adoption. NJ ARCH provides adoption advocacy, support, education, information and referral services to adoptees, adoptive and pre-adoptive families. Additionally, the state administers the New Jersey Subsidized Adoption Program. About 98% of children adopted through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) receive adoption subsidies. These subsidies can help adoptive families by providing a regular monthly payment including a clothing allowance and Medicaid coverage for the child to assist with any physical or psychological condition that is not covered by the family’s own insurance. Children with disabilities may be able to receive special services for a specific medical, health or equipment need, which may be approved on a case-by-case basis. Post-Adoption Counseling Services (PACS) are available for adoptive families.

In addition, New Jersey’s Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) plays an integral part in the adoption from foster care process. The FAFS team provides basic information and responds to inquiries from prospective adoptive parents. The DCP&P Family Recruiter then contacts the prospective parent to arrange a meeting, where detailed information about adoption is provided. This information includes the formal criteria and the types of children needing adoptive homes. Adoption home studies are completed only for families that qualify for having children placed in their home. FAFS also offers services specifically to Licensed Resource Parents in New Jersey with web-based training, home correspondence courses as well as face-to-face and online support.

To learn more about services in your area, click here.

Stay Educated Throughout the Adoption Process and After

Although the number of cases of dissolution may be small, each adoptive family that faces separation is met with many challenges that will have a lasting impact for everyone involved – especially the child. So, how can one avoid adoption dissolution? Education is key. It is vital that every prospective adoptive parent is well-informed of the child they are interested in making a part of their forever family. Remember, you can never have too much information. Entering into an adoption openly with all knowledge of the child’s background will make a world of difference in the long run. Knowing the child will be the right fit within your family will contribute to his well-being and yours alike.

The truth is while the child in your care legally belongs to you and is now a part of your loving family, there is an entire back story and previous life that he has experienced. Since he is no longer living with his biological parents, there is some mending within him that needs to take place. Like in any family there will be trying times, so it would benefit every parent to be aware of, and utilize, the support systems in their community. Your personal recipe for adoption success will involve knowledge, patience, caring and the ability to know when to seek assistance. If you blend all of these ingredients together successfully, you will have a greater chance at maintaining a forever home and moving your new family forward on that new and fulfilling journey you have always envisioned.

18 thoughts on “When a Forever Home Isn’t Forever: The Reality of Adoption Dissolution

  1. My wife and I adopted 2 mentally challenged sons in I think 73 and 76. It has been hard raising one because even though he is 39 years old his mentality is that of a 5 year old from brain damage as a baby. But I love him and my older adopted son like they were born to us. Now that my wife is gone I raise them alone. But they are both my sons and will be forever.

  2. In your article you write the 98% of NJ DCP & P Adoptions receive subsidies. I believe that number to be far lower than you write. It seems to me (and the people I talk with in NJ DCP & P) if your adopted child is white with no disabilities you get no subsidies as in our case. The subsidies go to minority placements, sibling placements of minorities and children with disabilities or problems. I have many friends who adopted thru DCP&S and DYFS and they adopted Caucasian children with no disabilities and were all told like us that we were not entitled to subsidies because ANYONE would have taken our placement, the ONLY give subsidies to minorities or children with some sort of disability. Thanks,\

  3. Pingback: Adoption Dissolved - An Interview with an Adoptive Parent | Add Water and Stir Podcast

  4. Actually, we dissolve because we cannot get our whole family to adjust the presenting behavior challenges of our child. After, feeling scared for trouble adopted child’s lives, our lives, and our other children’s lives (biological and adopted), after burning out, after chasing the elusive resources (ones that rarely include respite) we decide to give our child a better environment/family that can meet their needs without making them feel bad about themselves and we decide to save our entire family unit, not just one person. Because we love them and we would do anything to see them thrive including dissolve their adoption so that they have a better chance. It has little to do with our knowledge of resources or the financial costs- it has everything to do with well-being and the psychological toll a troubled child takes on the family unit.

    • Kristine nailed it! For the last 5 years we’ve been on a journey like no other and, unfortunately, to our detriment. The saddest story is knowing you can’t access the services your child needs.

      • We’ve been doing this for 6 years. We are at our wits end also. Kristina did say it right. What steps are you taking if you dont mind my asking.?

    • We are in that predicament now. Shuffled around doctor to doctor and no one has an answer. How did you precede in helping your child find a fit for what they needed? We are at our wits end. Thank you for your time

    • That is too true! We are going through this after having our child for over 14 years. The behaviors have now become not only erratic but dangerous with no help in site. That is what is leading us to dissolution. We love our child but the dangers to the other family members is too real to be ignored.

      • I’m in the same place. My child attacked me and has threatened to kill me and my other children. I need help. I don’t know what to do. We have been unhappy for 6 years.

  5. I think the issue is that with children who are adopted, there is an option to “give them back” or “find another home for them.” I’m not exactly sure how to word it. With biological children, there is no choice but to keep parenting them. I believe the best thing to do would be to treat them exactly how you would if they were your own blood.. even if that means sending them away to a mental health facility or utilizing whatever resource they might need (therapy, case management, medications). Even in the extreme cases where the child is threatening to harm, treat them as you would your own child. If they were your biological child, you couldn’t dissolve your relationship with them and have them taken out of your home.. you’d have to call the police or take other measures. I am not trying be insensitive. I know it’s very hard to adopt and not have it work out, but these adopted children need families who will treat them like they are completely theres no matter what. Thank you all so much for adopting. Keep it up!

    • We have suffered for 30 years with the disruption caused by a troubled adopted child. At 17 she had a baby and we have now raised that child as well. She continues to live a dysfunctional life causing never-ending grief. Five children to 4 different fathers, no job, no ambition. She has done everything she can to punish us and constantly draws us back in if we try to withdraw. Adoptions must be banned. Has ruined our whole family and destroyed our lives.

    • Really? You have no idea and wouldn’t last a day in the life of a parent of a child with RAD. Not one person knows what to do with our son. He is violent, vulgar,and dangerous. We have experienced broken bones from him, being choked, and oh so much more. His teachers and school staff fear him. His peers fear him. I wish he was able to fear himself. You have no clue. If I do not dissolve the adoption we will be required to take him home when he gets kicked out of the program he is in due to dangerous behaviors. He has been treated like my own,he has had a beautiful opportunity with my family. It’s just not enough as nothing is enough for a RAD child. It’s hard to understand if your not experienced with it so do not judge.

      • MOMOFMANY, how did you go about dissolving the adoption?

        We are in a similar predicament. My adoptive daughter has pummeled my head brutally and we are in the middle of a delinquency matter in court. We’ve had her for 7 years and now after a few days of turning 14 she of all a sudden wouldn’t take her consequence for misusing her electronic gadget and refused to go to her room (which by the way, is installed with a big flat tv screen with access to Netflix, Amazon, Disney movies, her adjustable queen-sized bed, art supplies, books, etcetera) and demanded for me to give her back her IPAD.

        And she has run away twice, but only to seek friends to borrow their phones so she can get back online.

    • You don’t think we treat our adoptive children like “our own children?” Im sorry, but you have no idea what you are talking about. We do everything in our right mind to make sure our adoptive children get what they need. For years we have been in family and individual counseling, sought different types of therapies, gone to many specialists, fought with the educational system, etc. to help our children an family unit survive. The pre and post adoption services is a joke. We become advocates for our children and constantly running into brick walls due to lack of community support/resources and financial resources to get better services. When I’ve utilized the most intensive resources available to us with little to no changes adoptions told us our only option left is to put him in a group home. Very pathetic. It is so frustrating when there are people judging us from the outside not having a clue what it’s really like having a child with severe behavioral issues.

    • that’s just awful. Never ever was the though of ‘give her back’ on our minds, until one of our other children was in the hospital in crisis caused by her. We had to make a serious choice. It was heart breaking and gut wrenching. We just don’t have the skills needed to heal her the way she needs. But we are good people and we tried.

  6. My wife and I are in agreements with Kristine. We are heart broken but concerned for our other two children and ourselves. He was diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). continues to be demanding, attacking, belligerent, stating he wants to kill you and denies to be a part of the family. Tonight he attacked me and wife we had to hold restrain him for over an hour and right now he will not move from the living room. We are at our wits end and I mostly am ready to dissolve the adoption. the financial and health care is not the issue. WE HAVE NO PEACE in our home. Other two kids who are also adopted are tired and the same old same old. What do we do next?

    • Tom,

      Have you dissolved your adoption? If so, how did you go about it?

      I am in a similar situation with our older adopted daughter who just turned 14, and who has been with us since 6 1/2 years old.

    • We are in the same place right now. We are emotionally exhausted and just dotn know how we could possibly move forward. I tried one on one and group and sit down serious talks and everything. I just can not get through to this child. With 3 other kids to think about I have to make the choice to send her back and get her the help she needs from people who know so much more then I do.

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