Adoption Dissolution – Facing the Unimaginable Part 2

Part 2. Today we are sharing part two of All Blessings INC. Executive Director, Lucy Armistead’s piece on Adoption Disruption and Dissolution. If you miss the first part, please read it first here. Again, these posts are meant to educate and encourage people walking through adoption hardships AND prospective adoptive parents. Our greatest desire is that everyone would enter adoption with as much information as possible. We believe in order to fully understand such a life choice as adoption, one must know all sides. If there are any negative comments left towards the guest authors or families or children they will be deleted. Thank you.

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Another reason cited for adoption dissolutions is reactive attachment disorder.  When a child’s early attachment to a primary caregiver is interrupted due to neglect, abuse or frequent change overs in care givers, the child may not learn how to attach to anyone. This can manifest itself in severely disordered and developmentally inappropriate interactions with caregivers and in some social situations.  In adoptive children RAD may involve a child who appears perfectly compliant in school or to the outside world, but who sabotages the loving relationship offered by a primary caregiver, often the mother.  Mothers seem to bear the brunt of a RAD child’s rage, perhaps because of deep seated and subconscious anger at the child’s missing biological mother who was tasked with protecting and caring for the child.  A child with reactive attachment disorder may be violent toward the parents and/or other children in the family, some having gone so far as to kill a family member.  RAD is not a choice a child makes to be defiant or difficult, but is rooted in brain chemistry and mapping that goes awry when proper nurturance does not occur.  Treating RAD is a prolonged endeavor that seeks to modify the brain’s response.

Parenting a child from a hard place can place immeasurable stress on even the strongest of families.  Marriages can be broken, particularly when one parent is the recipient of a child’s disdain and the other is treated as a hero, or occasionally as a sexual conquest.  It is vital that parents maintain support for each other and not negate the gut feelings of the other.   The parent who is the recipient of the child’s negative behaviors very often begins feeling crazy and desperately needs a partner who will be supportive and reassuring.  Triangulation not just between the spouses, but also with other family members or others within the family’s circle, such as school teachers, is quite common.  Children with RAD are master manipulators.

Families dealing with a child who has the potential for or who has already abused other family members must devise a very strict schedule and means of accounting for the location and safety of all family members at all times.  It is exhausting to never be able to leave children in a room together or unsupervised even to go to the bathroom.  Families often install video cameras or other security measures in their home, including alarms for nighttime wanderings.  Unfortunately, abuse can occur right under a parent’s nose, making not only the actual task of monitoring exhausting, but also the fear of what may be happening.

Parents adopting internationally are simply not fully aware of all the issues of a child they adopt in many cases.  This may be due to intentional deception on the part of orphanage or agency staff or it may be because the problems that are obvious in a family setting are less apparent in an orphanage.  For example, a child who is unable to attach may not stick out in an orphanage surrounded by shallow relationships and multiple caregivers.  The amount of information given to prospective adoptive parents about their adoptive children is superficial in many instances, glossing over problem behavior.  One must also wonder if an orphanage might not be motivated to relieve themselves most quickly of children they deem more difficult resulting in less than forthcoming information.  Even with the best of agencies the reality is US workers spend a limited amount of time with children in care and can only provide information from brief windows in time.

When seeking outside assistance, adoptive parents are often surprised to find that experienced professionals are few and often prohibitively expensive.  Insurance often covers only a short and emergency stay in residential care and not necessarily the intense therapeutic services that may be needed.  Residential care can cost a family between $2000 to $10,000 per month.  Families can turn to the courts for an out of control petition to try to get assistance in securing a residential placement and possible state assistance. If a child is not necessarily out of control, but a family no longer wants to care for the child a dependent or neglected petition can be made to the local court to involve social services.  However, families who go through either route may be met with an unfriendly system that questions their suitability to parent their other children, work with children in the future or adopt in the future.

There are certainly some parents who seek dissolution for their own dysfunctionality and who were not good candidates for adoption in the first place.  However, the majority of parents who pursue adoption dissolution do so heartbroken and seeking the best solution in a horrible situation.  They are overwhelmed with guilt.  Others outside the family are unaware of the events that have led to a dissolution and many adoptive families choose not to share the full story because they are trying to protect the privacy of the adoptive child.  It is very difficult for a parent who loves a child to realize that he or she may not be the best parent for that child and the child may do better with another parent.  Deciding to dissolve an adoption is never an easy choice.  Not only does a family struggle with their own feelings of inadequacies, but they must also contend with the judgment of those in their social circles and their own families.  Adoptive families may have fundraised for their adoptions and certainly shared all the joy and excitement when they received a referral and upon homecoming, making it even more bitter to admit defeat.  In addition, if the family has other adoptive children, they must deal with the issue of mistrust on the part of the other children who may wonder how soon they too will be sent away.

Families in crisis need the support of others around them.  Even if you do not agree with their choices it is important to remember that you do not know what they have faced and until you have walked in the shoes of someone who is choosing between keeping their family safe or in danger you will never understand.  It can make a huge difference to reach out, offer a listening and non-judgmental ear, and while you are at it consider providing the family with some respite time from the chaos they are juggling by spending some one on one time with the child who is struggling.  Allow the family to share with you what they are comfortable with and be aware that children with RAD are master manipulators and triangulation is common.  If a family does dissolve their adoption please try to offer your support for this difficult decision even though you may not understand.

Families who are struggling can find some relief in support groups.  Learning from others who have walked this path can provide resources, knowledge and strength.  Families should also ask their home study social worker about resources in the area to help as soon as possible.  It is best to seek out professional and experienced therapists, occupational therapists, etc. who can support the family as a unit.  This could make the difference in deciding to dissolve an adoption or choosing to maintain the placement.  Although it may be financially draining, professional help is a necessity and in the long run it could save extended heartache and possible financial ruin should the child need residential care from a worsening situation.  An excellent resource for adoptive parents can be found through the work of Dr. Karen Purvis and Trust-Based Relational Interventions (

A family considering a dissolution should contact an experienced adoption agency or adoption attorney to assist.  Do not ever utilize the internet “re-homing” lists instead of professionals.  Re-homing has received a significant amount of negative press coverage largely because of the underground route that many families are taking, allowing practical strangers to care for their children.  Remember adoption was the choice of the adults in the family – not the children. A second family should be thoroughly home studied with current criminal checks and they should have ready access to professional assistance and be willing to utilize this help.

Please understand that dissolutions cannot always be explained.  Sometimes there appears to just be a bad match between the parents and child.  This article has focused a great deal on the perspective of the parents and could be read as “blaming” a child for a dissolution.  That is not the intent of these postings.  Children from hard places are not inherently and permanently damaged.  They have great depths of resiliency and unlimited potential – but sometimes unlocking this potential may be with a second adoptive family.

A. Lucy Armistead, MA, LPCC Executive Director All Blessings International, Inc. A Hague accredited adoption service provider

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