Adoption disruptions are an unfortunate part of the family-building process. While no hopeful parent wants to think about this possibility, it can happen to anyone. So, it’s important to be prepared — and understand exactly why this may occur.
The statistics on “failed” adoptions are too complex to summarize neatly. Like disruptions themselves, the statistics are complicated and messy. There are different adoptee age groups, types of adoption and different adoptee experiences to consider.
Some adoptions are more likely to disrupt than others. However, pre- and post-adoption support and education for everyone involved seems to be the best way to prevent disruptions as much as possible.
The birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptee, the adoption professional — everyone wants the adoption placement to go well. And most placements do have happy endings. But some won’t, and it can be traumatizing for everyone. There are simply no guarantees in life.
There are a few different ways that adoptions can disrupt or “fail.” They have different technical terms based on the situation, but for everyone involved, they’re always heartbreaking. There are:
- Failed matches: This is where expectant parents have already chosen an adoptive family, but they decide to parent before placement is finalized.
- Contested adoptions: In these situations, one expectant parent is unsupportive of the other’s intent to place the baby for adoption and refuses to sign consent.
- Disrupted adoptions: This happens after placement but before the adoption is finalized. The adoptive family decides to not finalize, so the child enters foster care or is placed with a new adoptive family.
- Dissolved adoptions: This is after the adoption has been legally finalized, and the adoptive parents legally give up their rights. The child enters foster care or is placed with a new adoptive family.
It can be hard to imagine how or why these things would happen. Every situation is different, but there are a few common reasons why adoptions fall through. In this article we’ll primarily focus on private domestic adoption, but keep an eye out for our upcoming looks at international adoption and foster care disruptions.
Here are the most common reasons why private domestic adoptions fall through:
1. The expectant parents change their mind before the placement is finalized.
This is the most common reason why private domestic adoption placements fall through before they even begin. However, it’s not really a “failure,” despite how difficult it can be.
Expectant parents have the right to change their minds about adoption up until they sign their consent and the placement is finalized. While most are certain of their decision and will ultimately choose to place, sometimes parental instincts kick in as the pregnancy progresses (or after the baby is born) and catch them by surprise.
There are many reasons why expectant parents may choose to parent after they’ve considered adoption — a spouse or significant other may step up to help raise the child, the expectant parents may find support that wasn’t previously available, or a situation at home may stabilize.
If an expectant parent does decide to parent, they often experience a lot of sadness and guilt to have to dissolve the match and hurt the adoptive parents. However, if parenting is what the biological parent feels is best for themselves and their child, it’s still a positive outcome — even though it can be sad to break the adoption match.
Counseling and support is the best way to prevent failed matches before they occur. Experienced counselors can help expectant parents look at their options and determine whether or not they want to parent earlier in the process. That way, there are fewer disruptions later on after adoptive parents have been selected.
2. An adoption match is out of the adoptive family’s comfort zone.
Expectant parents are the ones who select their child’s future family. But waiting adoptive parents can decline the match. The expectant parents and adoptive parents may even mutually choose to end the match if it’s not the right fit and continue searching.
It can be hard to imagine saying “no” to someone who is, in many ways, ready to share their heart and family with your own. However, it’s important for both expectant and adoptive parents to know what they want in an ideal adoption partner, and it’s okay to wait for the right match.
A match may be ended for a number of reasons. The baby may have been exposed to drugs or alcohol, and the probability of developmental difficulties is high. The baby may already have serious health issues of some kind. The expectant parents may have an ongoing struggle with addiction, and the adoptive parents are concerned about how an open adoption may affect the child in the future. Ultimately, the adoptive parents may decide a match is too far outside of what they’re able to handle.
Declining an adoption match is often a difficult choice, and it’s not something that should be done without consulting the adoption professional. Sometimes a match that seems out of a person’s comfort zone is actually not as intimidating as it appears.
3. A prospective birth father contests the adoption.
While many expectant fathers are involved in and supportive of the adoption process, that’s not always the case. The expectant mother must make every attempt to notify any man who might be the baby’s father if she’s unsure of his identity. A man may come forward claiming paternity through a Putative Father Registry. Or, the expectant father may have originally been supportive of the adoption plan but changes his mind later in the pregnancy.
If the biological father refuses to sign his consent alongside the mother’s, the adoption will be put on hold. Typically, the father would need to prove in court that he is willing and able to parent the child in order to fully overturn the mother’s decision, but this may still leave the mother in limbo in the meantime.
Again, options counseling and support for both expectant parents is the best way to prevent contested adoptions. However, this can be tricky if the expectant mother isn’t sure of the father’s identity or location, or if they have a difficult relationship. There will always be some circumstances that are “riskier” than others, in some ways, but all anyone can do is what they feel is best for the baby.
Set Yourself Up for Success
As you can see, adoptions can disrupt for a lot of reasons. And, as painful as it may be, the main consideration should always be the best interest of the child. While some disruptions happen despite everyone’s best efforts, there are measures you can take to minimize the risk of it happening in your situation:
- Educate yourself. Read up transracial adoption, international adoption, foster care, open adoption relationships and more. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to choose the adoption paths that are best-suited to your family with open eyes. You’ll also be better-prepared for all the challenges and benefits of different types of adoption, and you can begin mentally preparing to raise your adopted child.
- Seek out support. Work with an adoption professional that provides plenty of support before, during and after the adoption process. They should offer that support to both expectant and adoptive families! Take advantage of outside support resources whenever possible, like adoptive parent groups, adoption-competent therapists and more.
- Work with a good professional. Again, a good professional will provide counseling and support to expectant and adoptive parents and will know how to minimize the risk of disruption. They should also educate everyone honestly about options within the process. Talk to the people who have worked with your potential professionals to make sure everyone involved felt supported and well-educated. What’s the professional’s policy if an adoption does disrupt? How would they help you handle it emotionally and financially?
There’s a lot of grief involved when an adoption disrupts, as well as trauma for children being placed in a new home. If you’ve experienced an adoption disruption, be patient with yourself and consider working with a professional to help you through difficult emotions.