Adoption Disruption, Part 2

Adoption disruption* destroys families.

*For this series, “disruption” is used as an umbrella term, to include dissolution.


“Crooked House.” Photo Credit: Alan Strakey


Having already discussed the nature of disruption and some risk factors in Part 1, let’s look at effects of disruption.

But first, our own disruption story. 

About a year after our kids arrived, a social worker called, frantic.

“We have to find a place for an 11-month-old child.”

When I agreed to provide occasional respite months earlier, I was clear: no children under age two. We have dogs and cats and many sharp edges and corners. Our house wasn’t baby-proof—or even baby-safe.

“We’re getting ready to place her with a permanent family, but they’re not approved yet. The current foster family is going on vacation and they had expected her to be moved, so they didn’t plan to take her. We’ve called everyone else. You’re our last hope.”

I reminded her of my concerns.

“No problem;” said the social worker. “She’s not walking. In fact, she’s not even crawling yet. She’s used to being on the floor or in a carrier when no one can hold her. The foster family said she is very low maintenance and she’s a beautiful little girl. You’ll love her.”

Against our better judgement, Hubby and I agreed to take her. It was just for a week. How bad could it be?

On Saturday, the foster father met me at a gas station (which, in itself, seemed a little weird), transferred baby paraphernalia to my vehicle and left. He barely looked at the child, whom he’d parented for ten months. Odd.

The baby was unbelievably good. She slept through the night in her portable crib. The next morning, she seemed a little warm to me but I didn’t have an infant thermometer. I asked a friend at church. She was instantly concerned. “That baby is too warm.” I decided to stop at the pharmacy after church. Even so, the baby slept, cuddling against me during the church service. She never budged.

Nothing gets to me like a sleeping baby. Starry-eyed, I looked up at Hubby and whispered, “Maybe we could adopt a baby, too.”

He rolled his eyes. “No.”

Yeah…we already had our hands full with the hyenas.

That evening, she started screaming. 

She refused to eat. She pulled her ears. After a childhood of chronic ear infections, I knew exactly what that meant.

She screamed for hours.

I left messages for the social worker. For the emergency contact. For the doctor on-call. I couldn’t take her to urgent care; the foster family forgot to leave her insurance card.

NO ONE called me back.

She finally stopped screaming around 2 am but started again every time I tried to put her in her crib. Afraid I’d roll over on her if I fell asleep, I strapped her in the carrier and lay beside her, drifting near sleep and rocking the carrier. If I stopped rocking, she screamed. All. Night. LONG.

The next morning I threw water on my face and called the doctor. She was okay until he touched her. That kid may grow up to sing opera. She screamed for the next three hours.

Yes, double ear infection. He called in a prescription. The antibiotic did not work immediately. It did not appear to work at all.

By Wednesday, I was a sleep-deprived zombie. She screamed. And screamed. When I encountered our son in the hall, rocking with hands over ears, I gave up and left a voice mail for the social worker. “You have to move her. We can’t keep her. It’s affecting my kids.”

On Thursday afternoon (after I’d left four similar messages), she called with an address.

I have never felt such simultaneous guilt and relief.

Yes, it was only a respite week, but we had to move her prior to the intended date. Instead of staying in one home, she ended up in two.

Why did this placement fail?

  1. We did not receive all information. There is NO WAY that a foster mother with ten years of baby experience didn’t know the little girl was sick, but she wanted her baby-free vacation.
  2. We had no support available.
  3. The child’s behavior (although involuntary) created high stress for everyone. I couldn’t risk my children’s already-teetering mental health.
  4. We took on a child for whom we were not prepared.
  5. We allowed the agency to “guilt”us into accepting.

That experience is part of the reason I advocate for disruption prevention.

Perhaps (adoption disruption) should be referred to as adoption catastrophe, or devastation, or casualty; because it is that significant to all involved.

Simi Riesner, Living Hope Adoption Agency Staff


Why Prevention is Important


  •  Disruption is Expensive

For families: especially in international adoption cases, which can cost upwards of $30,000. That money isn’t refunded if the adoption is ended. Families may be responsible for legal fees or court costs.

For agencies: hours of time for social workers, court costs, transportation, respite care…the agency may have to bear the expense of placing the child twice.

For taxpayers: in a normal adoption (no special needs), parents take on all costs for children, including health care. Children in foster care receive Medicaid. I’m not saying it’s bad or good; it’s just a fact. If the adoption disrupts and the child ends up back in state-funded care, taxpayers foot part of the bill.

Reducing the odds of disruption is in everyone’s best interest. If your wallet is the only way to get your attention, I’ll use it. (When it comes to the kids, I’ve been known to hit below the belt. Because most of us keep our wallets below…never mind.) 

Cost isn’t the main—or even a major—consideration when compared to other effects. I throw this one in for the individuals who think disruption won’t affect them. It affects EVERYONE. 


  • Disruption Affects the Foster or Adopted Child’s Self-Perception

Children are ego (self)-centric. This can make them appear selfish, but also causes them to tend toward blaming themselves in cases of failure (consider the children who feel they caused their parents’ divorce). Especially in the case of a child who knows his or her behavior is less than ideal, self-incrimination and perceived guilt is likely.

(Disruption) can cause lifelong issues of distrust, depression, anxiety, extreme control issues and very rigid behavior. They don’t trust anyone; they have very low self-esteem.

They’ll push away teachers and friends and potential parents and if you put them in another placement and they have to reattach again and then if they lose that placement, it gets tougher and tougher.”

Mia Freeman, as quoted in It Takes More than Love

Our daughter happened to break a coffeepot the day she and her brother were removed from their biological family. She was five. Three years later, she casually mentioned their removal was her fault. For THREE YEARS, she carried the burden of thinking she’d destroyed what she knew as a family.

Our children were moved several times as a direct result of their negative behavior, and someone unfortunately informed them of this.

For two solid years, our boy tested us at every turn, sure we would “kick them out” for misbehaving. Only when he truly believed that we were committed to keep him did he relax. The first time I read Mia Freeman’s quote (above), I thought, “she must know our children personally.”

Disruption causes emotional and mental anguish for children who are already at-risk. 


  • Disruption Affects Parents

Parents who’ve lived through disruption experience great loss. They may feel guilty or feel that they’ve failed. The loss of a child through disruption or dissolution can, I imagine, bring many of the same feelings associated with the death of a child.

We hosted “Monster Baby” over three years ago. I still feel guilt about not being able to finish the week.

Sammie, who was placed with a family at age seven, exhibited problems and behaviors that turned her family´s life upside down…

By the time Sammie left (three years after placement), the family was scarred and traumatized by the ongoing stress and the guilt they felt for ending the adoption.

-North American Council for Adoptable Children, Disruption Support is Crucial

I didn’t follow this thread of research to the fullest extent because, to me, the conclusion seems obvious. However, in the brief Google searches I performed, I found a glaring absence of studies on families after disruption. If you find some you’d like to contribute, please post links in the comments and I’ll revise this section. 


  • Disruption Affects other Children in the Family

When we had to return the infant (dubbed “Monster Baby” by our kids), I worried how it would affect our not-yet-adopted kiddos. Sure enough, negative behavior ratcheted up. We explained again and again, “We were only supposed to keep her for a week. You are staying permanently. Your well-being has to come first.”

Still, bringing the behavior back to an acceptable level of “crazy hyena” took months. They worried we might “send” them back, so dedicated themselves to testing our commitment in every possible way.

When Brady joined his new family, his dad and brothers tried hard to make him feel at home. “I accepted him 100 percent,” says one brother. “I learned to endure his rages and hoped to help him somehow.” After Brady tried to seriously injure his grandmother, the family knew he needed more help than they could offer. When Brady left, however, at least one of the remaining brothers (also an adoptee) suddenly felt insecure about his role in the family. As he explains:

Several months [after Brady´s disruption] I decided to leave home, to run away. Dad was being his firm self about my curfew and I just decided that I wasn´t going to take it. I don´t know if it was because of Brady or not, but I remember feeling unsure about my own place in the family when he was removed from the home. It seemed that I looked at Dad differently. Though I knew why he had to have Brady removed, I wondered if he would do the same thing to me.

-North American Council for Adoptable Children, Disruption Support is Crucial   (Emphasis mine)

Other children in the home may feel less secure after another child is removed. 


  • Disruption Affects Education

We saw firsthand the effects of multiple moves.

Upon arrival, our seven-year-old girl couldn’t read three-letter words. Before coming to us, she attended Kindergarten twice (failing the first year), plus summer school after the second year of Kindergarten. She knew the alphabet but did not understand all the sounds, nor could she decode letter combinations.

Our boy, then five, knew less than half the alphabet. His vocabulary was limited (and yet, when I suggested we learn the alphabet by attaching words to the letter sounds, he knew a curse word for each of the sounds A, B, C, D, F, G and H). He couldn’t visually recognize words like “the” or “cat” on a page. He’d never attended pre-school; instead, the foster family left him almost 12 hours each weekday in daycare.

This blew my mind: half of children in foster care do not finish high school by age 18. While 84% of foster youth want to attend college, only 20% attend. Fewer than 9% earn a Bachelor’s degree. (See below for additional stats.)

Educational Experiences of Children and Youth in Foster Care: Reasons for Concern

-Table from Practice Notes Vol. 21

Here’s good news (if we can reduce moves):

Regarding education, a 2003 Casey national study found that youth who had had one fewer placement change per year were almost twice as likely to graduate from high school before leaving care.

David Sanders, Casey Family Services, delivering plenary address at the Third National Judicial Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas. (Emphasis mine.)

Education and literacy are key to success for any child.

Disruptions cause academic delays and even failures. Education and literacy become secondary to survival.


The above list is not comprehensive. What are some other ways disruption interferes with healthy lives? Add your voice below. 


Coming up next: Ideas for Disruption Prevention


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 23, 2016, in Adoption, mental health, parenting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Wow! I have learned so much more about fostering and adoption through your posts! That is so sad about how your girl blamed herself for her disruption, for being moved! It shows how even when children are so very young they still can remember things that cans seriously impact them cause of not understanding fully!!

    Liked by 1 person

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