Knowing how many couples are desperate to have a child of their own or how many families would love the opportunity to minister, it may surprise you that, as of now, in Alabama alone, approximately 6,000 children are in foster care (Alabama Department of Human Resources). Unfortunately, for several reasons, the adoption process can go wrong and result in legally failed adoptions.
As a home for many children in foster care, we have seen the damaging effects of failed adoptions on both children and the families they’re separated from. To learn more about the two main types of failed adoptions, what causes them, and, in turn, how to prevent them, read on.
The Two Types of Failed Adoptions
There are two forms of failed adoptions. The first occurs when the adoption process is hindered in the stages before finalizing the adoption, like when a judge declares that a family will not carry out the rest of the adoption process before even making it official. This is known as adoption disruption.
The second type is adoption dissolution, which occurs after the adoption has been legally completed. Although both types of failed adoptions can be heartbreaking, dissolutions are especially devastating because of the serious issues that lead to them.
Risk Factors for Failed Adoptions
Some Adoptee Children Are at Higher Risk Than Others
Adoptive parents with a great track record of quality guardianship throughout the fostering stage and after finalization don’t typically have to worry about adoption disruption or dissolution. So when an average person first hears about “failed adoptions,” they might assume that the root causes are always parenting-related.
However, there are a few reasons that an adoptive parent may have to choose adoption dissolution or disruption, which is related not to the quality of parenting but rather to the child’s own risk factors.
By no means are we implying fault or placing blame on the children, but frankly, there are some risk factors of failed adoption that have little or nothing to do with foster or adoptive parenting and have more, or everything, to do with a child’s experiences, such as:
- Emotional disturbances: Lack of bonding with adopted family, depression, anxiety.
- Behavioral disturbances: Aggressiveness, ADHD (hyperactivity in particular), PTSD symptoms.
- Placement history: Children who have experienced multiple placements are more likely to experience adoption disruption/dissolution.
- Psychological history: Children with histories of trauma/abuse/neglect are at higher risk for disruption/dissolution.
- Demographics: Age, race, gender, physical disability, and mental disability are all risk factors for children both in terms of being adopted and in the likelihood that the adoption will disrupt/dissolve.
Four (Parenting-Related) Factors of Failed Adoptions
Although the parents aren’t always at fault, adoptions are at greater risk of being dissolved or disrupted as a consequential result of one or more of the four following parenting-related issues (with or without the added detriment of any aforementioned child-related factors):
#1: Unrealistic expectations regarding the adoption process (pre- and post-placement)
Not everyone realizes it, but adoption is usually a legally exhaustive process that can be extremely draining on the parents—emotionally, financially, mentally, and interpersonally.
Many foster and adoptive parents start the process with some naive misconceptions and unrealistic expectations and fail to realize when they are grievously unprepared or underqualified.
#2: Unmet Personal Needs
Do you know why passengers on a high-altitude plane are instructed to put on their own oxygen mask before helping others? It’s because you can’t help others if you can’t breathe yourself!
In the same way, an adult must ensure their own personal needs (work, school, extended family issues, mental health, moderated adult substance use, etc.) are met and healthily managed before making the deliberate choice to raise a foster or adoptive child.
#3: Marriage Problems
Similarly to unmet personal needs, unmet needs and unresolved issues in interpersonal relationships (especially marriages) can make parenting all the more difficult. Not to mention the fact that divorce and separation of guardians make the adoption process even more legally complicated for the parents and extra confusing or distressing to the children.
#4: Lack of Adequate Support
When foster parents lack financial stability or other means of supporting their children, they will likely not be allowed to adopt. If parents already adopted a child but then unexpectedly lose their resources or ability to provide in uncontrollable ways (due to disabling injury, unemployment, tragedy, natural disaster, etc.), adoption dissolutions are sometimes a heartbreaking necessity.
Now that you understand the risk of failed adoptions a little better, let’s discuss prevention. A few potentially helpful strategies to try during the process of fostering or after adoption include:
- Attend pre- and post-placement professional counseling sessions to address family/child needs.
- Invest time into your informal support systems (family, friends, fellow church members); don’t forget “it takes a village” to raise a child!
- Ensure children have access to ongoing educational/health services.
Offering Support After Failed Adoptions
Failed adoptions are hard to cope with, especially for children who often feel abandoned and confused in these situations. It’s also quite tough on the parents who lose their children. It is important that families and children impacted by failed adoptions have social support, like the comfort of peers or family, and are able to access the resources they need to recover, such as therapy.
If you’d like to make a positive, substantial impact on the lives of children impacted by foster care and failed adoptions, consider supporting our ministry and our residents at the Alabama Free Will Baptist Children’s Home. We provide a safe, loving home to children (ages 6–18) from broken homes or foster care, with the stability they need to heal, flourish, and succeed in life after our care. To support our children, please give your gifts as you’re able.