should you adopt a child who has been sexually abused

Adopting a child that has been sexually abused is scary for most adoptive parents, especially if they already have children in their home. Families that are open to adopting a child with many other risk factors will often shy away from a child that has been sexually abused.

This fear is so strong that several adoption social workers have told me that any mention of sexual abuse or even a suspicion of sexual abuse in a child’s file makes it incredibly hard for that child to ever be adopted. In many ways the young victims of sexual abuse are being doubly victimized–once by their abusers and now by family and agencies.

It’s almost as if we believe that there is no hope for a child that has been sexually abused. Nothing could be further from the truth according to Dr. Jennifer Shaw, a clinical psychologist specializing in childhood sexual abuse at the Gil Institute for Trauma Recovery and Education.


In this interview, we talk specifically about signs of sexual abuse, what to look for in the child’s pre-adoption life that would indicate a higher likelihood that the child has been sexually abused, and safeguards that need to be in place if you have other children in the family.

What Helps Children Recover from Sexual Abuse

According to Dr. Shaw, in order to heal and go on to live healthy happy lives, children need one person.

  • One person who tried to prevent the abuse or tried to help the child.
  • One person who believed the child when he/she disclosed the abuse.
  • One person who reached out for professional counseling once child disclosed they were abused.
  • One person who was willing to go the distance with the child and says “We’re in this together.”

What’s the Prognosis for Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused

After our interview, I asked Dr. Shaw if it was possible for children to heal and live full healthy and happy lives after childhood sexual abuse. She responded:

The recovery process takes different forms as there are many abuse-specific factors that can impact the course of recovery including chronicity and frequency of the abuse, type of relationship with the abuser, child’s capacity to cope pre-abuse, age at the time of the abuse, and absence or presence of protective factors following discovery of the abuse. For all children, full recovery depends primarily on how the world around them engages and supports them following discovery. With appropriate therapy, responsive and nurturing caregiving, and efforts to create a world for the survivor that is safe and secure, children can and do heal.

Resources to Help Families

Is sexual abuse a risk factor that you would consider when adopting? Why or why not?

Image credit: JON_CF