top of page

The Real Reasons Adoptions Fail from the Perspective of a Parent of a Failed Adoption

Updated: Dec 8, 2022


Updated on December 5, 2022


News about broken adoptions is not new. From The Colorado Sun to USA TODAY, media outlets large and small have covered the topic. Adoption disruption is a widespread issue nationwide, even worldwide.


The statistic shared by USA TODAY—66,000 failed adoptions in a 12-year period—is acknowledged as an undercount. I think we can all agree, this is tragic for the kids and their adoptive parents.


As the adoptive mother in a failed adoption myself, readings these articles comes with mixed emotions. I’m glad news networks are covering the issue and the lack of post-support for adoptive families. Awareness of the problem is critical. But we need to get to the root of why adoptions fail and how we can improve outcomes.



In my opinion, we have some more digging to do as a society in that regard. I am grateful that RAD Advocates gives parents a voice and platform to work toward solutions. Few others invite us—those who step in to raise troubled children—to the table as subject matter experts.


Adoption Permanency Obstacle #1: Poor Education and Support for Reactive Attachment Disorder and Other Complex Issues


As pre-adoptive parents, we’re sold the narrative that all kids in care need is love … and stability, and maybe some basic therapy. While this may be the case for certain children, parents of children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and other complex disorders learn the hard way that it’s just not that simple.


I am grateful that RAD Advocates gives parents a voice and platform to work toward solutions. Few others invite us—those who step in to raise troubled children—to the table as subject matter experts.

The USA TODAY article scratches the surface of the more complex mental health issues many foster children are dealing with: “Children labeled in federal records as ‘emotionally disturbed’ are nearly 40% more likely to reenter foster care, according to the USA TODAY analysis. The data does not specify what diagnosis the child was given; the emotionally disturbed category combines conditions such as anxiety and bulimia with schizophrenia, which makes it difficult to pinpoint specific problems caseworkers should watch for to head off adoption failures.”


The article lent an ideal opportunity to talk about reactive attachment disorder and the big role it plays in many broken adoptions. Yet, attachment is only mentioned once and reactive attachment disorder is not covered at all. This reflects the fact RAD isn’t well taught to prospective parents or professionals.



In TODAY, the diagnosis is included by name in its article: It takes more than love: What happens when adoption fails. But while this major news outlet recognized reactive attachment disorder back in 2012, many professionals still outright refuse to acknowledge the condition even if they've heard of it.


There are many misconceptions around reactive attachment disorder. An article in The Colorado Sun states that certain "experts question whether the extreme behaviors — which can include dangerous aggression toward family members and animals — are the result of the neglect and abuse the child suffered with their biological parents, or whether they are caused by the adoption itself."


If experts blame adoption itself for such extreme behaviors, imagine the blame placed on parents when those adoptions then fail. My husband and I were placed at fault entirely, a common experience for most parents of failed adoptions.


To me, this is like the age-old question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do youth fare worse because of their adoption or failed adoption or because of their extensive issues and the lack of quality treatment before and during adoption? Or all of it?


As pre-adoptive parents, we’re sold the narrative that all kids in care need is love … and stability, and maybe some basic therapy. While this may be the case for certain children, parents of children with reactive attachment disorder and other complex disorders learn the hard way that it’s just not that simple.

As I wrote in these previous blogs, reactive attachment disorder falls on a spectrum and is not rare. In my opinion, we need correct diagnoses and treatment of children in foster care, full disclosures to adoptive parents, a better understanding of attachment and reactive attachment disorder among all parties, and better post-adoption support for the entire family, including effective treatment options that are fully covered by the child’s insurance or the state.


Adoption Permanency Obstacle #2: Lack of Disclosure


The USA TODAY article touches on disclosure—surprisingly calling it controversial. A social worker quoted says full disclosure is rare in any interpersonal relationship, so why should adoption be any different?


This surprised me.


When we adopt, we are taking full legal and financial responsibility for a dependent minor. This is not the same as an adult friend or even a significant other not fully disclosing something. If you are asking families to take full legal and financial responsibility for a dependent, then of course they need the full picture before they agree to it.


Do youth fare worse because of their adoption or failed adoption or because of their extensive issues and the lack of quality treatment before and during adoption? Or all of it?

The article states that 21 states require that a child’s mental health history be disclosed, and just 11 states require that parents be informed whether a child suffered abuse or neglect.


We were our children’s second adoption, but they had never received psychological evaluations and were not currently being treated by a therapist or psychiatrist at the time of placement into our home. The social workers hadn’t even requested records from the kids’ first removal and adoption in a neighboring state, so they had very little information to give us.


It wasn’t that they were purposefully not disclosing, it was that they hadn’t done the leg work to give us key information, which resulted in the same issues as if they hadn’t disclosed: We were flying blind.


How can we, as adoptive parents, determine if we can meet a child’s needs if we don’t even know the full extent of those needs? How can we have realistic expectations if we have no idea what to expect?


Adoption Permanency Obstacle #3: The Parent Blame Game


As a society, we tend to blame parents for the “bad” things kids do—whether it’s a tantrum in the grocery store or early delinquency.


I blamed myself for not being able to get our son on track until I read book Before It's Too Late: Why Some Kids Get Into Trouble--and What Parents Can Do About It by famed psychologist and writer Stanton Samenow. He devotes the beginning of the book to explaining the faulty logic of assuming parents are completely responsible for their children’s actions. For example, many parents raise siblings; one turns out “successful” while the other struggles with crime and drugs or other issues. They were raised the same, but we are all individuals with individual tendencies and genetics.


In the case of adopted children, there’s the added complexity of layer upon layer of trauma. Adoptive parents are expected to deal with very complicated issues that even experts have trouble addressing.


How can we, as adoptive parents, determine if we can meet a child’s needs if we don’t even know the full extent of those needs? How can we have realistic expectations if we have no idea what to expect?

You truly can’t understand what an adoptive family dealing with reactive attachment disorder is facing unless you’ve walked in our shoes. It’s important we don’t oversimplify what adoptive parents face or what’s in our control.


The USA TODAY article noted: “Experts told USA TODAY adoptions may fail if parents haven’t dealt with their own histories and traumas, or if they are too rigid, unable to adapt.” I agree that dealing with our own histories and traumas is important and should be better emphasized in the home study and foster care/adoption training process.


As for being rigid, many adoptive parents are forced to become highly structured to manage difficult behaviors. Kids with complex developmental trauma may act younger than their chronological age or make unsafe decisions. All of this can lead adoptive parents to appear rigid or be judged by outsiders as overly strict.


Adoptive parents are expected to deal with very complicated issues that even experts have trouble addressing.

Of course children are not to blame for the abuse, neglect and in-utero exposures they have faced. Adoptive parents did not inflict those injuries, but are left to try and pick up the pieces. Both deserve much better than they’re currently getting.


Adoption Isn’t Always the Answer


If children in foster care cannot be reunited with their birth parents, adoption is seen as “the answer.” However, adoption isn’t right for every child. For example, for children with severe reactive attachment disorder—who see caregivers as enemies—they need effective treatment outside the home before they have any chance of success in a home.


In The Colorado Sun article, RAD Advocates President and Founder Amy VanTine states, the "child welfare and behavioral health systems are not set up to help kids with such severe developmental trauma...kids with reactive attachment disorder cycle from home to home, everything going fine until they are expected to reciprocate some level of closeness. And then the placement blows up."


Of course children are not to blame for the abuse, neglect and in-utero exposures they have faced. Adoptive parents did not inflict those injuries, but are left to try and pick up the pieces. Both deserve much better than they’re currently getting.

Not all children want to be adopted. A couple of the adoptees interviewed for the USA TODAY article stated they didn’t want to be adopted but were talked into it. If a child’s concerns can be addressed and worked through, that’s one thing. But a child shouldn’t be forced or “talked into” a placement. That’s a recipe for failure. For older children who don’t wish to be part of a new family, they should be given other options.


What Now?


There’s no easy solution to any of this, which is why RAD Advocates takes a multifaceted approach, including education, support and advocacy.


In The Colorado Sun article, RAD Advocates President and Founder Amy VanTine states, "The child welfare and behavioral health systems are not set up to help kids with such severe developmental trauma...kids with reactive attachment disorder cycle from home to home, everything going fine until they are expected to reciprocate some level of closeness. And then the placement blows up."

As a society, we need to do more to support birth families and prevent abuse and neglect. We need better foster care/adoption training. We need to correctly diagnose and treat children who have suffered trauma, including recognizing reactive attachment disorder. We need to have multiple options for kids in care to best meet their needs—for some, this will not be an adoptive family. And for those situations where adoption is the best option, we need much better post-adoption support and services.



About the Author:


Micaela Myers and her husband adopted a pair of siblings from foster care in 2015, when the children were 9 and 13. Since then, she has become an advocate for foster care reform and the support and education of adoptive parents. She was a member and is a supporter of RAD Advocates. Micaela earned her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and works as a professional writer and editor in Wyoming.



8,025 views1 comment

1 Comment


Kaitlyn Forno
Kaitlyn Forno
Aug 29, 2023

I actually just went through a failed adoption, me being the adoptee. I was 14 when I was adopted. I had originally said no until my caseworker had talked me into it. I was adopted three months into living with this family, I now discovered I had severe RAD. and I was made to believe I was selfish and ungrateful even though I could never figure out how to get close to people, I was shamed and punished for something I couldn’t control. Thank you for writing this.

Like
bottom of page