Disruptions & Rehoming in Adoption Part 1

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Disruptions & Rehoming in Adoption Part 1

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We all love a happy ending…

a great fairytale, an uplifting story. This is even more true when we hear about orphans being placed in loving homes, finally with a family to call their own. For those who have not adopted, the implications of anything but a happy ending are not usually considered. For those who are steeped in the adoption world, the realities are not quite so simple.

“Disruption” is a term that is not commonly heard amongst those who are not deeply involved in the adoption community. Yet recent media reports on disruption as well as “rehoming” of adopted children have brought the issue to light publicly….and my inbox is full of questions! While the topic really deserves far more than one blog post, consider this a simplified version of what those of us who struggle daily to heal abandoned, abused, and neglected orphans and children know all too well. Please don’t allow a few media reports to cause you to simplify the issue and make quick and harsh judgements. The struggles are too real; the reality is too complex.

Basic definitions:

Disruption: When a family feels they are unable to continue to care for a child they have adopted, they may opt to disrupt the adoption, dissolving their parental rights.
Rehoming: The efforts of an adoptive family to find another home or family who is willing to take on the legal responsibility of the child previously adopted.
These definitions are very basic, meant only for the purpose of understanding the discussion here.

For anyone who has not adopted, or known someone closely who has, or for someone who had a successful transition after an adoption, it can be extremely easy to criticize a family who might choose disruption, and very difficult to understand the decision. In very simplistic terms, there are two basic categories for those who disrupt. The sad reality is there are some (very few) families who disrupt for what most of us would consider shallow, unreasonable reasons (don’t like the way a child looks, did not expect any grieving from a child at all, etc.). I’m going to address here, though, the other category: those who disrupt an adoption for larger, more significant and complicated reasons.

It is difficult for those in the adoptive world to discuss the deeply private struggles some families face after an adoption. And for good reason. As an adoptive parent, you have the entire world looking at you and judging your parenting skills (or, at least, that is what it feels like!). Social workers pry deeply into your family life, agencies interrogate you on very private matters, friends and family ask you questions they wouldn’t dream of asking about your practices in raising biological children, and even a simple family outing can often involve the eyes of multiple strangers watching intently your interactions with children who are clearly not biologically related to you (I once had a woman scold me in a restaurant because she didn’t think I was giving my daughter her food quickly enough when I was busy cutting it for her). Families home with their children are constantly asked, “Well, how is everything?” with a big smile by others we are well aware are looking for the answer, “Awesome!”, not, “It has been really hard & I don’t have a clue what I’m doing!”

So while you may not have heard personally of the inner workings of a family in the adjustment struggles after an adoption, let’s be clear….it can be a long, complicated, and at times very difficult process. Families may not share that with you, but it is true. One of the questions quickly thrown out during any discussion of this subject is, “Well, why don’t they just get help?” If only it were that easy. There are multiple reasons a family may not be able to get help when they are in over their heads with an adoption, but here are just a few:

~Fear of being labeled an unfit parent, which would also jeopardize their rights to other children in the home.
~Fear that they are the “only ones” dealing with difficulties, and so it must be their fault.
~Eternal optimism (even false hope) that it will “get better” on its own (adoptive families are used to believing in the impossible BEFORE an adoption with so many obstacles, it can be hard to let go of the dream).
~HUGE lack of resources for help (there was not one single therapist within hundreds of miles of me with our first adoption who had actual experience with an internationally adopted child with adjustment problems). Our first agency didn’t even return my desperate phone call for a solid month after struggling to help our first daughter adjust. By then, some families may have already given up!

The equally frustrating truth for those of us who work closely with orphans and adoption is that many of the political and social assaults on the access of adoption in recent years is a direct contributor to many subsequent failed adoptions. While that is a whole issue to be handled at another time, put simply: recent shut-downs on younger and healthy adoptions (and let’s be clear, we are NOT running out of healthy infant orphans globally; we are, however, for social and political reasons limiting access to their adoptions) have cause agencies to push harder for the adoption of older children with greater and greater special needs. Families who have a passion to adopt often feel limited in their options and rush to adopt children that are statistically and realistically more prone to attachment and adjustment issues that many families are not adequately prepared for.

While this particular post does not even scratch the surface of the issues that need to be addressed on this topic, let me summarize by simply saying a few cautionary words for now as the reality of disrupted adoptions explodes onto the public forum:
~If you have not adopted, please withhold your judgement from those who have sacrificed enormously to bring a child into their family, even if they fail in ways that are hard for you to understand.
~If you have adopted or will adopt, PLEASE do your research and ASK FOR HELP when you need it, no matter how embarrassing or difficult it may be.
~Please do not assume that this confirms the need to shut down, slow down, discourage adoption. Done the right way and with the right resources, families have HIGH chances of success in adoption. The failed adoptions are still the minority.

~And please, I am begging here…..to anyone who will listen…..

The assault on the credibility of adoption and care of orphans globally in recent years is not helping the children. While we do need to continuously work for a cleaner, clearer, safer process for everyone involved, if you continue to simply criticize, judge, and scandalize the failings, you will drive away, scare away, and completely halt a process that may have failings, pot-holes, and messy spots, but, ultimately, is still a miracle and a beautiful chance of hope to children who deserve our every effort to BETTER adoption….not STOP it.

  1. Marlin Greer
    Marlin GreerSep 11, 2013

    Timely, well put article, Dawn. We all need to rally around those we know who have adopted. They need our moral support, and deserve our approval. Those of us who have not adopted (or have and have had very few problems) need to be very cautious about passing judgement on apparently troubled situations. We may have NO idea what those parents are facing. They need our love, not our criticism!