Broken Adoptions: When Parents “Re-Home” Adopted Children

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Parents who give up their adopted children have been making the news with increasing frequency of late. There’s Torry Ann Hansen, the now-infamous Tennessee nurse who sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to his native Russia on a plane, alone. Then there’s Joyce Maynard, the writer who made headlines last year when she admitted to giving her two adopted Ethiopian daughters to a new family. And many have read the recent Reuters series on parents who send their problematic adoptees to live with online strangers offering free “re-homing.”

As it turns out, broken adoptions are far more common than one might imagine. According to statistics from the federal Children’s Bureau, as many as 10 percent of adoptions are “dissolved,” meaning the parent-child relationship is severed after the adoption is finalized. As countries such as Guatemala and China close their international adoption programs or implement strict new rules, the pool of adoptable babies has shrunk dramatically in recent years, leading to a rise in more challenging types of adoption of older or disabled children that are more likely to end in dissolution.

The problem is twofold, experts say. First, adoptive parents are often underprepared for the challenges of raising a child who has been in an orphanage or the foster care system.  Second, once adoptive families encounter trouble, there are woefully few resources to help.

Tina Traster had no idea what she was getting into when, in 2003, she and her husband flew to Siberia to adopt an 8-month-old baby girl. They were told only that the baby might have some muscle weakness – airbrushing of a child’s true health status on the part of adoption agencies and orphanages is common, Traster would later learn. “Nobody gave us the heads up about what an institutionalized child might be subjected to, physically and emotionally,” Traster says.

Once Julia, as Traster and her husband named the baby, was home in New York, the extent of her problems became obvious. She was “feral” and “detached,” Traster says. She wouldn’t make eye contact or be held. As a toddler, she threw wild tantrums and hid in her room. Traster grew frantic and depressed, wondering why she couldn’t do anything to help, even questioning whether she was the right mother for the child.

Once Traster and her husband recognized that Julia’s issues were likely a result of institutional neglect, Traster read every book she could on adoption issues and worked extensively with Julia to help her bond and heal.  While today Julia is a healthy and thriving 11-year-old, other families with fewer resources or more severe problems might have had a very different outcome, Traster says. As a blogger and author of an upcoming book on her experience, she frequently talks to parents on the verge of relinquishing their children.

Some parents describe horrific behavioral and psychological problems on the part of children who have been abused or neglected before their adoptions. “We have experienced multiple school expulsions, physical assaults, fires, psychiatric admissions, ER visits for self mutilation, sexual acting out, stolen credit cards, multiple police calls, etc.,” writes one Wisconsin father of an adopted son, commenting on a New York Times article. “We didn’t have the slightest idea of what we were getting ourselves into and every school or social service agency basically told us we were on our own.”

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which studies adoption issues, says post-adoption support services are shamefully inadequate.  “Unless we support the new family and provide them with services and resources and support and mental health facilities, we’re just setting them up for failure,” Pertman says.

Pertman believes that adoption agencies, which get paid $40,000 or more from parents for overseas adoptions, have a “moral responsibility” to provide post-adoption services. And while there are some supports in place for parents who adopt from the foster care system in the US, these need to be much stronger. Mental health professionals need to be trained in adoption and attachment issues – at present, few know how to deal with these problems, Pertman says.

Most families who break their adoptions have been trying for years to find the right kind of help for their children, says Julie Beem, the executive director of the Attachment and Trauma Network, a volunteer organization that offers online support to families dealing with difficult adoptions. Often, adoptions are broken when parents realize they simply can’t keep their children safe from physical self-harm, or can’t protect their other children from abuse by the troubled adoptee.

“The parents don’t want to give up on the child,” she says. “It’s an incredibly traumatic thing when that happens.”

Adoptions are far more likely to be broken when the child is adopted at an older age or has special needs. And since the number of infants available for adoption has fallen steadily over the years thanks to legalized abortion and a reduction of stigma against unwed mothers, many prospective adoptive families are adopting from a pool of children likelier to have preexisting problems.

“It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t adopt these kids, it means they need training and education and support to make it successful,” Pertman says. “If you think love conquers all, you’re not paying attention.”

Emily Matchar writes for publications such as The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Washington Post and others. She is the author of Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity. The views expressed are solely her own. 

18 comments
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ARick64
ARick64

Foster care agencies should also do a better job of providing post-adoption support. We adopted a special needs child from foster care and received little to no help afterwards. It was and has been a very situation to deal with.

LoriGertz
LoriGertz

This is NOT just an international phenomenon. We adopted our daughter domestically and she suffered from many wounds of in utero exposure to alcohol. Reactive attachment disorder is a common diagnosis in adoptions relating back to the abandonment from the birthmother and the lack of formed attachments in the early development period and CAN be treated. But, FASD is organic brain damage and is permanent. It is fully preventable and knows no international bounds and between the two conditions and any additional comorbid conditions, a child has virtually no chance of a normal life and a family, no matter how much love they give that child or how much money they throw at resources has a snowballs chance in hell of turning it around.

HelenKoenig
HelenKoenig

Something else to consider - I know of quite a few instances where international adoption agencies have either outright lied about the child, or have glossed over disabilities or emotional challenges of the child.  Worse yet are the domestic adoption agencies - who not only have at times (fairly often in fact!) outright lied about the emotional challenges of the child and when the child does disrupt - have put the child right back out there IMMEDIATELY without ANY intervention by anyone to be adopted again.  I've seen it happen again and again!  

I've seen people and the agencies blame the prior adoptive couple for the problems when in fact it is the birth parents who may be to blame - or even the agencies (through frequent temporary placement in foster homes or repeated exposure on the adoptive market despite problems that have been unresolved with the child).  

I've seen too many times where the agency or agencies have promised all kinds of help/assistance of one kind or another - to suddenly vanish or turn a deaf ear when the adoptive parent tries to get help for his child.

Answers?  Hmm - not sure there is one single answer - but maybe it starts with really regulating and screening the agency, creating situations where agencies are FORCED to be upfront about the child, making across the board medical, psychiatric, scholastic - and really any care needed to be available to the adoptive AND to the foster child - and actually mean it!

Then maybe to go through and problem solve as to WHY in this day and age there is still so much problem with institutionalization - and what can be done to change that for real, this time!  

This only for starters!

Mbat
Mbat

There is hope and healing for these kids!  Check out Texas Christian University, The Connected Child and www.empoweredtoconnect.org.  AMAZING research and training for parents in a desperate place!

DLH
DLH

**Be very cautious about Liberian adoptions if and when they open up again. Find and talk to those who have already adopted before you choose an agency. 

amberrose
amberrose

          Now that some countries such as China and Guatemala are enforcing stricter international adoption programs, people are choosing to adopt older children or children with disabilities because the adoption process is easier. Since more children who have disabilities are being adopted, there needs to be more programs that offer support to these children’s parents. The federal Children’s Bureau said “as many as 10 percent of adoptions are dissolved,” and this percent could continue to increase if more programs are not created to give parents the resources needed to make their adoption successful.

            People who have adopted children who need more individualized attention, sometimes realize they are unfit to take care of the child. Such as Joyce Maynard who gave away her two adopted Ethiopian twins to another family. It may be easy to make a quick judgment about Joyce Maynard or other people who gave up their children, but this is happening because adoption agencies are not giving adoptive parents support. Adoption agencies get paid $40,000 or more in an overseas adoption, and according to Adam Pertman this means adoption agencies are obligated to help, and they should.

            Adopting more challenging children may lead parents to their breaking point, but with specialized programs and help from adoption agencies, the process could be much easier. These children need someone who will stick with them through the hard times. Most importantly, these children need a permanent family.

TandyKoffal
TandyKoffal

A good place to start would be better screening of pre-adoptive parents AND laws to reduce the number of high risk adoptions, i.e. no simultaneous adoption of unrelated children, 12 month wait (so the newly adopted kid can settle into their family) before beginning a subsequent adoption, etc.

Ethically-challenged adoption "ministries" like Reece's Rainbow and Rainbow Kids, that result in a horrific number of failed adoptions also need to be shut down.

ARick64
ARick64

Sorry.....meant to say *difficult situation*

beemommy58
beemommy58

@TandyKoffal What are your stats on the failed Reece's Rainbow adoptions? These children, if not adopted, will be sent at the age of 4 to an institution for the insane. Many of them have physical disabilities and no cognitive delays so they would be completely aware of what's happening to them. This includes: having their mouths taped shut, being raped by other patients, being left in beds for days leading to extreme bedsores. I don't think they'd be better off being left in Eastern European orphanages. Yes, I've been there.

TandyKoffal
TandyKoffal

Beemommy58: The dead and disrupted Reece's Rainbow kids are detailed by "moon girl" here, complete with links to the blogs of the disrupted/dead/maimed kiddos adoptive parents:

http://getoffmyinternets.net/forums/mommy-bloggers/christian-blogger-parents-who-adopt-from-foreign-countries/page-54/

Highlights include:

Nicolai Emelyentsev - murdered by his forever mommy and daddy. His also adopted with DS from Russia Rr sibling was dumped in US foster care when Kim and Fyodor were convicted:

http://www.sltrib.com/ci_10688930

Selah Clanton could walk, eat and breathe independently in her grim mental institution. Her forever daddy "accidentally" dropped her in the Erie Canal strapped into a stroller a few months after "rescuing" her and she's been comatose and trached ever since. She WOULD be better off in Ukraine:

http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/clanton-family-of-zephryhills-wins-fight-with-state-to-continue-nursing/2140142

Henry Dobrovits died about a year after he was adopted: bringinghenryhome.blogspot.com

Chrissie Davis died all of 3 wks after being adopted by Denise and Gary Davis -- CPS IS INVESTIGATINGVFOR NEGLECT. the girl lived 3+ yrs in one of the worst orphanages in Bulgaria (Pleven) but a mere 21 days with her godly forever family!! Nachalaadopt3.blogspot.con