An adoption disruption or adoption dissolution is a family's nightmare, but they can and do happen. You can reduce your risk of a disruption by working with a licensed adoption agency who in turn works with an attorney that specializes in adoption. This can help assure the process proceeds as smoothly as possible and that a full range of services is available to you, the birth mother, birth father, and their families.
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The term disruption is used to describe a situations where a child is placed into the custody of an adoptive family with the intent to adopt but, due to a change of mind by the birth mother, birth father, or adoptive family, the adoption does not take place and the child is returned the birth parent, to foster care, or placement with new adoptive parents.
In every U.S. state the birth mother, and in many cases the birth father, cannot irrevocably terminate their parental rights until sometime after the baby is born. Until the birth parents rights have been ended (called termination, surrender, or relinquishment) they are the parents and, if the child has been placed for adoption, they can ask for the baby to be returned. This is the most common type of disruption found in private adoptions and private agency adoptions.
A disruption can also occur if, prior to the finalization of the adoption, the adopting parents do not want to proceed with the adoption. This is most commonly found in state-sponsored adoption programs. In over 40 years of working with approximately 900 private agency adoptions, I (Dr. Berger) have had this type of disruption happen only one time. And that was due to a fatal accident involving the adopting mother and the adopting father traveled and could not raise the child as a single parent.
It is difficult to get an accurate picture of the frequency of adoption disruptions since many private adoptions result in disruptions but do not appear in statistical reports. However, in general it appears that in the U.S. the rate of adoption disruption runs between 10%-25% depending on the population that is being evaluated.
The term dissolution is used to describe an adoption that ends after it is legally finalized, resulting in the child's return to (or entry into) foster care or placement with new adoptive parents.
The frequency and accuracy of adoption dissolution rates is harder to evaluate than adoption disruptions. It appears that adoption dissolutions occur somewhere between 1%- 10% with the rate being at the higher end in adoptions that have involved special needs children and children from a state's foster care system. Three factors contributing to these higher rates are the emotional and physical demands that these children place on the family, the lack of information about where and how to find needed services, and the cost of services.
You can reduce your risk of a dissolution by carefully evaluating the behavioral and health history of the child you are planning to adopt and by educating yourself about the impact of special needs and behavioral problems.
Data Sources for Disruptions and Dissolutions
No national data are collected on the number of disruptions and dissolutions or the percentages of adoptive placements that end in disruption or dissolution. Most of the data that are collected are for adoptions from public agencies or those under contract from public agencies.
No national studies are available on disruptions or dissolutions of intercountry adoptions or adoptions from private sources.
There are no national data collected on the number of independent, private, or tribal adoptions.
You may find the Child Welfare Information Gateway article Adoption Disruption and Dissolution: Numbers and Trends interesting.
Additional Adoption Resources
For additional help with an adoption disruption or dissolution you can find a list of adoption agencies in your state and neighboring states at the link Domestic Adoption Agencies.
If you need or want some specific personal advice contact your state child welfare agency or state adoption contact or adoption attorney. You can also call Dr. Vince Berger, a psychologist and adoption professional.
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