A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child. --Forest E. Witcraft

Friday, February 18, 2011

Adoptive Parents Beware

Let me start by saying the LAST thing I want to do is discourage adoptive parents.  But I DO want to facilitate successful adoptions.  There is a systemic problem which exists within adopting from state foster care.  This post is intended to be a word of warning to help prospective adoptive parents go into adoptions with their eyes wide open, so that those adoptions can be successful.

The goal of adoption case workers in the state foster care system is to get a legally free foster child into an adoptive family and finalize the adoption as soon as possible. Then the child is no longer a ward of the state.  The child's behavior becomes the family’s problem.  Since many children can go through a honeymoon period in a new home, undesireable behavior is not always seen or recognized right away in the new home.  Unfortunately, this can lead to adoptive parents having more problems than they expected post-adoption. 
I haven’t been directly affected by this with my adoptions since my adopted children were placed with me first as foster children and their case plans were originally reunification; however, one of my former foster children did suffer through a disrupted adoption attempt.
This child was placed with me at age 4 and stayed about 9 months. She was returned to her mom, against my better judgment. CPS closed the case, and the girl and mom moved in with mom’s new boyfriend in a motorhome, where the little girl slept on a couch. She attended public kindergarten and did well. She visited me a few times during that year. Then mom and boyfriend packed up and drove up the western coast, landing in another state about 4 states away. They dropped her on the doorstep of a public agency in the fall. Mom said she didn’t want her daughter anymore, gave them my phone number, and disappeared. She may have signed something first; I don’t remember.

Somehow the government agency (not a child welfare agency) turned her over to a private agency who worked with the state child welfare agency to file all the necessary paperwork that would allow her to be adopted. She was placed with a single mom for adoption when she was 7. The mom had a biological daughter who was 8. Within months, my former foster daughter was sexually acting out with the 8 year old daughter.

The reason the seven year old originally came into care at age 4 was because she was “possibly” molested by her mom’s boyfriend (not the one in the motorhome). No charges were ever filed. But that allegation was definitely in the case file from my state which the other state requested, and I TOLD THE AGENCY in the other state when they called me for information. They NEVER told this adoptive mom! She heard it from me after the incident with her biological daughter. The adoption disrupted before it was finalized (to protect the 8 year old).

Luckily (at least I think) they found another adoptive home for this child when she was 8 in a rural area where she was significantly younger than other children in the home. The parents were supposedly experienced with difficult children. I was told the adoption finalized and she was doing well. The family never contacted me, so I hope all of that is true. This was almost ten years ago.

It could be sexual abuse, or RAD, or ADHD. It is anything that might prevent a family from going forward. Basically it is up to the adoptive family to seek out all information about the child. I don’t believe that a state worker will present it voluntarily if it is not a favorable impression of the child, until/unless a behavior occurs.

Social workers know what happens when they come forward with the information up front – it scares prospective adoptive parents off. I think the practice of withholding information continues, because many adoptions finalize and the worker never knows about the problems down the road. They believe hiding the information was okay, since it resulted in a successful adoption.  Perhaps it is not intentional. Maybe they really believe the child will change in a stable, permanent, loving home. I think many adoption case workers are oblivious to the fact that many of these adoptions are not successful and result in family destruction. It’s not under their watch.

My opinion and advice: The prospective adoptive parents should seriously question the foster placement of the child. They live with that child. The adoptive parent should make it clear that they want to know ALL, even the things that are not pretty, so they can make an informed decision. Ideally this should be done before meeting the child. Once an adoptive parent meets the child, it is hard to remove the rose colored glasses.  Initially the foster parent may not want to “burst the bubble” for the adoptive parent and/or they assume the case worker has already told of all the negative issues to the adoptive parent. But if the adoptive parent persists, I believe that in most cases, good foster parents will likely oblige. Note, however, that some frustrated foster parents may also be hoping the adoptive parents will follow through because they are weary of taking care of a difficult child.

It’s sad. It’s really, really sad. Adoptive parents should know what they are getting into when there is information available. It shouldn’t be kept hidden, with hopes that it will disappear! 

Again, I don't want to discourage adoptive parents.  This situation is probably only relevent in a small percentage of cases, but I'll bet the percentage is higher than we want to believe.  Adoption of these special kids can work, but it is SO difficult unless the adoptive family knows the full story on the way in.  Please do your research and make sure that the child you are considering is right for your family.  There is nothing much worse for a foster child who has already lost their birth parents to later distrupt from an adoption.


  1. Yep, I've seen this so much. And so many hear about all the children available in our US system, but unfortunately don't understand that the majority are "listed" because of significant issues, many of which are why many foster parents don't adopt themselves the children in their care. Not always the case by any means, but many times.

  2. Yes, thank you for this post! It is very true!! I always waiver on what to tell people when they want to adopt from foster care. In our case, we were VERY lucky with the fact that the kids have no real behavior issues. One we suspect FASD, but even at that, it is minor to some of what it is out there.

    Yet, those kids need love and a family. Just the family who is prepared! So many people go into adoption thinking 'love will conquer all' when often, it is just NOT enough!

  3. Similar situation with us. Our adopted son came from a disrupted adoption attempt. He moved in with us in March, we adopted in November. We started seeing his worst behaviors a couple months before finalization. We are managing, but I feel like the agency really pushed us to finalize quickly.

  4. I dont even look at profiles anymore. I would advise prospective foster parents to get a copy of a psychological profile to review before making a final decision. Come by http://foster2forever.com