What Is a Disrupted Adoption?

When you research adoption, like many of us did when we were in the process of adopting our children, you may hear about disrupted adoptions, meaning the process has started, but doesn’t end up working out. Though this does happen, childwelfare.gov notes that each year, the number of disrupted adoptions has been decreasing. By being prepared and fully understanding adoption and the child you’re bringing into your home, you can ensure that you’re doing your best to support that child. 


What is a disrupted adoption?

A disrupted adoption is when a child is returned to foster care or is placed with another adoptive family before the adoption is finalized. According to afamilyforeverychild.org, a 2010 study from the University of Minnesota and Hennepin County explains that “6-11% of all adoptions disrupted before they were finalized. For children who are older than 3, the rates are 10-16%. For teenagers, it jumps up to 25%.” Though it does happen with younger children, as you can see, most adoptions that are disrupted impact older children and teenagers, some of our most vulnerable. A disrupted adoption can happen in infant adoptions, typically when an individual or family feels unprepared to parent after bringing a child into their home. 


What reasons would cause an adoption to be disrupted?

Multiple sources explain that lack of training is the number one reason that these adoptions do not become finalized. Many children coming out of foster care have experienced severe trauma. Perhaps that is physical and mental trauma from abuse, being left alone, the death of a person who was raising them, etc. But, they may have additional trauma from the foster care system if their life is disrupted frequently due to moves to other homes. Remember that your home may not be the first they’ve been in and they may have already experienced a disrupted adoption, which would leave a child to question the process and perhaps, act out. This Washington Post article explains that this kind of trauma can also cause issues with brain development and other health related problems as well, so fully understanding the nuances of trauma, adoption, and foster care is very important. 

Those who are seeking to foster and adopt tend to go through multiple trainings to ensure that they are prepared, but due to the pandemic, some of these trainings were held in different formats and some people, though they are well intentioned, don’t do enough research or learn from others how best to support children who have experienced trauma. 

According to adoptuskids.org, children who have experienced trauma—especially ongoing trauma—may have developed unhealthy habits and behaviors, including increased aggression and distrusting or disobeying adults. These behaviors may have helped protect the children from neglect or abuse in the past and may be strongly rooted. It will take time, patience, and often therapeutic support to address and overcome them.”

It is extremely important that those seeking to parent children from foster care are aware of this and help to understand the child more fully through social workers, reading, and additional training, as well as committing to get the child any professional care he or she may need. 


Can an adoption be disrupted after the adoption is finalized?

Once an adoption is finalized, it’s no longer considered disrupted, but dissolved. This is a little more legally complicated, but it is the same process–the child is then returned back to foster care or another adoptive family, but this action, following a court case that welcomes a child into a family, can add to a child’s trauma and further perpetuate their feelings of belonging.


International Adoption Disruption 

Though there has been a decline of international adoption disruption, it still occurs. In fact, the decline of international adoption disruption could be from the decline in international adoptions. The reason for this can be the change in adoption laws. Some countries no longer allow adoptions to the United States or other countries and sometimes, sadly, these laws change in the middle of the adoption process. War and crisis can also cause a disruption for the protection of the children themselves, who may not be orphaned, but displaced from a war. We are seeing this now in the Ukraine. Occasionally, there are also instances where an older child doesn’t adjust well to a new country, culture, and the adoption, or that the individuals adopting are unprepared for the placement, but more often than not, the disruption occurs prior to the child being placed in the home in this instance.

Read these five reasons why international adoptions are disrupted


What can you do? 

Though adoption disruption is not extremely common, it does happen and it happens most often to those individuals who haven’t had enough training or done enough research. 

As you likely know, adoption can already be a tough process to navigate, but reach out to your local agencies, who will have trainings you can attend and other suggestions for you. Read books to help you fully understand trauma and adopted children, and if you can, speak to adult adoptees or adults who were in the foster care system. 

I, personally, learn the best from others’ lived experiences and though I’m not an expert, I have learned so much about my daughter and what I can do differently from adult adoptees, so seek out resources to help

Remember, a disrupted adoption doesn’t just affect you, but it can cause great harm to a child who has already had more difficulties than they deserve. Being as prepared as you can may help a child find a family and a permanent home.