Disrupted Adoption, Part 1

Disruption of adoption (failure to adopt when adoption is in process, but not finalized) is more common than you think, unless you’re a foster or adoptive parent. If you are, this may be no surprise.

In most cases, disrupted adoption happens quietly. The children are “moved” with little fanfare.

Dissolution of adoption (failure of adoption after finalization) is less common but highly publicized.

Everyone heard about the TN mom who sent her 7-year-old son back to Russia alone. More recently, a mom in the U.K. returned her son after he began having seizures.

She requested a child with no problems, being a single mother. When the child had developmental delays—and then seizures—she returned the boy and went to court so the record would show she was not at fault (and the judge agreed).

She’s now looking for a 3 to 6 year old.

Many factors affect disruption, including

  • age
  • placement instability
  • multiple siblings
  • special needs (behavioral or physical)
  • parental expectations

Disruption of adoptions involving older children can be up to 25% higher than for children under 3 (several sources linked here noted lower stats but did not provide actual numbers).

Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the likelihood of disruption rises 6% for every year the child’s age increases. The chance of disruption also rises with multiple siblings of 2 or 3 (but surprisingly, drops when there are 4 or more siblings adopted).

Compared with an infant, a child older than four is 13 times more likely to have a disruption. Placement instability (the number of times a child is moved) also impacts a child’s ability to succeed in adoption.

The North American Council on Adoptable Children site recounts several stories of disruption stemming from out-of-control behavior.

You may know the “Disney effect” (young girls believe their prince will arrive, bringing “happily ever after,” then grow up disillusioned with their imperfect relationships).

Adoptive parents enter the arrangement with the same starry-eyed expectation. The “Jolie-Pitt family effect.” Just look at that beautiful, happy, diverse family! Adopting a bunch of kids will be AMAZING!

Sure, we all agree. We took the class and understand that kids have issues. But our family will be different. We’re going to change the world for one starfish.

(Pretty sure you’ve read that story, but if not…there’s the link.)

We will beat the odds. This kid will be different. Our love will overcome! 

-Every Adoptive Parent, Ever

And then reality crashes down.

Part of the blame belongs with the agency facilitating the placement; in one survey, 45% of respondents said they did not receive all the information available about the child.

Some of the blame belongs simply on inexperience; it’s no one’s fault. Hubby and I attended many classes, read many books, researched like grad students. We had an idea of the trauma to come. None of it prepared us for the actual experience.

Imagine the difference:

  • reading “Astronauting for Dummies”
  • rocketing into space

It’s impossible to be prepared for all eventualities, but parents should receive all background information about a child before a placement and especially prior to adoption.


Our kids have multiple risk factors:

  • placed as a group of two siblings,
  • they were older children (then 5 & 7)
  • moved seven times in 2.5 years (at least twice due to uncontrollable behavior)
  • they needed services for physical issues (speech therapy, occupational therapy, heart surgery)
  • both had severe behavioral problems requiring in-office counseling, in-home counseling and (for him) a dedicated behavioral aide during school hours
  • social services did not provide full disclosure of the extent of their special needs

We not-so-affectionately dubbed our first two years, “HellonEarth” and “DefCon1,” respectively.

4.5 years from D-Day (D for Drop-off), we’re able to relax and “be a family” most of the time.

Hubby and I acknowledge that we contemplated disruption. Like other bright-eyed new foster parents, we had no concept of life with traumatized children. What saved our family? He and I never freaked out at the same time.

Throughout the summer of HellonEarth (I stopped working to be with the kiddos), I called Hubby every day around 4 pm, angry, frustrated, frazzled and tearful. He joked darkly to a friend that one day he’d come home to the three of us drowned in a bathtub.

Although drowning was never a true danger, there were definitely times I empathized with families who disrupt. He and I experienced weekly “step away from the cliff” moments in which one of us freaked out and the other played negotiator.


Photo Credit: Lorenia

These conversations became sporadic during DefCon1, then obsolete.

By the adoption date, we had full knowledge of the meaning of “I will.” As we said those words, we’d already agreed that dissolution would never be an option.

We survived HellonEarth and DefCon1 thanks to

  • multiple counselors
  • support from our family and church
  • Hubby’s tenacity and strength
  • my hypervigilant attitude
  • our unshakable faith that God put these kids in our lives and will continue to give us grace to deal with their (now occasional) insanity

I’d like to name this year “Cautiously Optimistic.”

There are still days (and weeks) of frustration, but we’ve invested our hearts. We tell our kids, “There’s no such thing as ‘un-adoption’ in this family.” 

In heated moments, we remind each of them, “No matter how horrendous your behavior, regardless of what you say and do, and even when you destroy things like a wild hyena, we will never, EVER let you go. We will always love you.”

After almost five years, I think they finally believe it.

Up yours, statistics.

Coming soon—Part 2: Resources for Preventing Disruption


*Some information in this post is from a previous post. Additional research and information added to update.

About Casey

Adoption = my life. I'm determined to give my kids the chance they deserve. Adoption isn't always easy. I promise, you're not alone in this. Join me at - we're in this together.

Posted on February 19, 2016, in Adoption, Parent and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Dear Lord, it’s not a wonder when such children develop trust issues, if they are tossed back after a while because they don’t quite fit the specifications. I like your families spirit and approach to a situation that is fraught with tensed emotions.


  2. Love it!!Can’t wait to see what God has planned for these amazing kids of yours!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Seven times in 2,5 years! No wonder they came to you expecting a short term placement rather than a home. What a wonderful family you make, a reminder to us that we are all in process.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, definitely in process. When I was a kid, we had a music record that included a song,
      “Kids under construction –
      Maybe the paint is still wet.
      Kids under construction –
      The Lord may not be finished yet.”
      It still applies. A lot. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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