The demographics of children being adopted, especially from abroad, is changing. The children available for adoption now tend to be older and have more special needs. Adopting older children who have experienced abuse, neglect, or institutional living is hard work—often wonderful and immensely rewarding, but always hard. It is the type of parenting that requires much preparation pre adoption, continued education post adoption, and lots and lots of support for the family and the child throughout the process. In short, it is not for everyone. Let me repeat. Not every loving, caring, well-meaning, and spiritually strong family should adopt these children from hard places. Period.
Weeding out the loving, caring, and well-meaning families who should not adopt is not easy, even when adoption agencies are trying their best. And, my friends, not all adoption agencies are trying their best. Preparing families for all the possibilities when adopting abused and neglected kids is also hard work, and not all agencies are up to the task. As a result we are seeing a rise in adoptions that are falling apart. The correct term is “adoption dissolution”, but it is more often called “adoption disruption” or a “failed adoption”.
NBC News, Reuters, and the Today Show are beginning a series on adoption this week. I’ve heard some grumblings in the adoption world of “more negative press about adoption”, but I think we need to embrace the scrutiny, while at the same time dissecting what is media hyperbole. We can only improve if we are open to learning. Playing ostrich is not an option. We have a problem folks.
Problems with the Reuter and NBC News Investigation on The Child Exchange
The Today Show and Reuters both ran stories on “an underground world of ‘re-homing,’ where parents give their children to new caretakers, sometimes people they have met only over the internet, with little or no government oversight.” They focused primarily on two cases–one child adopted as a teen from Liberia and the other adopted at almost 13 from China. In both cases desperate adoptive parents posted online to find a new family for their daughter, no agency was involved, no home study was completed, and no pre-adoption education took place. The children were simply dropped off with the new family presumably with a power of attorney transferring guardianship. The new homes in both cases were a disaster. One family had a record for child abuse, and the other should have.
However, when you dig through the actual 261 cases Reuters list at the bottom of the report, many, perhaps most, of these cases involved an adoption agency, or family working with an adoption agency, seeking a home for a child from an adoption disruption. A home study, with background checks, and adoption education would be required just as with all adoptions. In other words, if there is “an underground world of “re-homing,” where parents give their children to new caretakers, sometimes people they have met only over the internet, with little or no government oversight”, it may not be a very large world, and clearly not as large as is being reported.
Of the 17 postings for children between the ages of 0-4 listed in the Reuters report, only 5 did not clearly state that an agency was involved and a home study would be required. And even in those 5 cases, it is not clear that the families were seeking to re-home on their own without a completed home study. I found the same in a quick sampling of the postings for the other age groups. Here’s a sampling of what I found in the postings for 0-4 year olds:
- An agency looking for a home for a 3 and 5 year old sibling group adopted less than a year ago from Ethiopia. They were up front with the challenges the children face and what type of family would be best. It was clear that a home study and new adoption would be completed.
- Two cases where a family posted asking for advice on what agency or attorney to use to help them find a new family for their child.
- An agency looking for families for two separate kids from disrupted adoption. Stated up front that any family responding must have a home study.
- A mom who adopted from foster care posted seeking advice about how to handle behaviors and her own lack of attachment, not looking for a new family. I would assume this case was included because the word “disruption” was used when she mentioned that he came from an adoption disruption.
I see nothing wrong with looking for families online to adopt harder to place children, as long as no identifying and sensitive information is shared online. (For the record, in some of these postings, far too much sensitive information was shared publicly, in my opinion.) This practice is not new, in fact, it is used by every state in the US to find adoptive homes for children in foster care. I am not familiar with the specific Yahoo and Facebook groups mentioned, but in theory, a group where people understand that these will be harder to parent children with special challenges is a good starting place to find competent families. The next step, of course, is to complete a home study and start preparing them to be successful parents to these children. I wonder if the investigative reporters simply didn’t understand how families are usually found for these children.
The Danger of Defensiveness
It is so easy for those of us who care about adoption to slip into defensive mode. There are all these flaws with the reporting; the problem is not as bad as they state; and on and on. But the reality is that even one case of dumping a child with no home study or preparation is too many. The other reality is that far too many adoptive families are ill prepared for the realities of parenting children who have experienced abuse and neglect. Reading through the postings listed by Reuters on their report were heart-wrenching. While this is not the focus on the Reuters and NBC News investigation, perhaps it should be. They would not have needed to inflate their numbers for that report.
Parents who adopt abused, neglected, and institutionalized kids sometimes feel like they are drowning once they get home. While this feeling is not unexpected in the first months post adoption, with support most families move past it. Others do not. When the situation become unbearable, parents have few options. Residential treatment is expensive and most often not covered by insurance. Relinquishing custody to the state foster care system may require that the parents receive a record of neglect or child abandonment. Some states require parents to remain financially responsible for the child, including the cost of residential treatment.
Once parents have reached the edge of their coping abilities, in my experience they are often hard to help. The key is to be there with support and education as soon as they get home. Once at the edge, they want the child removed, and they want it done immediately.
It is easy to judge from the outside, but you won’t hear that from me. These parents are not evil people; in fact, in my experience they are very often good people who went into adoption with the highest of hopes and best of intents. They are almost always scared and confused. They feel like a failure. Interestingly this mirror the exact feelings the child is experiencing. Failed adoptions are a tragedy for all concerned.
When Adoption Disruption Becomes Inevitable
However, once this point of no return has been reached, there are ways to protect the child. We had a terrific Creating a Family show on How to Disrupt or Dissolve an Adoption When it Become Inevitable. Please share the link to this blog with any groups to which you belong so others can hear this show and use these resources.
Friends, we need to take a serious look at why so many adoptions are failing. Adoption disruptions increase when more children from hard places are placed. (Children “from hard places” is a wonderful phrase by Dr. Karyn Purvis–check out our interview with her.) This is to be expected, but can’t we do better? Let’s start a dialog right now about how to help these kids and help their families.
- Why are the children involved with the “re-homing” described in the report overwhelmingly adopted from abroad? (Reported to be at least 70%)
- How can we better prepare pre-adoptive families for the reality of adopting children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and institutional living?
- Why are parents turning to the Internet to find families to take their troubled children rather than going to their adoption agency?
P.S. This week’s Creating a Family show will be at interview with Dr. Ira Chasnoff on Prenatal Alcohol and Drug Exposure. Prenatal exposures are one of the risk factors for adoption disruption. Send us any questions you may have to info at CreatingaFamily.org.
Image credit: NBC Today Show