The XX Factor

When Adoption Fails, and then Succeeds

Most failed adoptions don’t end, as in the case of Torry Hansen , with a child on a plane back home–but adoptions do fail. The “disruption” rate for older adopted children is relatively high, when you consider the expectations of the families and kids involved: about 8% for 6- to 10-year olds, and 16 percent for children over 11. 16 out of a hundred–nearly 1 in six. It’s an astonishingly depressing statistic, and one that I–an adoptive parent of an older child, although younger than 6–never heard before we adopted our daughter.

At The Daily Beast, Constantino Diaz-Duran asked the obvious follow up question: what happens to those kids? The answer is actually pretty encouraging: most are re-adopted by families more prepared to deal with needs that can range from extreme difficulties in learning to trust to violent and threatening behavior. Diaz-Duran spoke to a woman who’d had to disrupt her adoption of an 11-year-old girl who threatened suicide. “I’m not good for this child, I’m making things worse for this child. She’s miserably unhappy and she wants to be dead.” And he spoke to parents who’d stepped up and adopted children with terrible stories: lying, stealing, attempting to poison a parent. Those parents were honest about their struggles–they’ve chosen a difficult road, and there’s not much help available. But they’re still at it. What’s different about the family who disrupts, and the family who then adopts?

Maybe not that much. Diaz-Duran quotes Joyce Sterkel, a nurse and psychologist who runs a program for emotionally damaged adopted children: “many times, parents have stars in their eyes. They believe that love will heal and overcome all. … But you cannot love away a child’s genetic foundation, his pre-verbal memories or his intrauterine exposure to alcohol. These are facts. You have to stop being silly about this. You can’t love that stuff away.” I’m not sure how one would wipe those stars out of a prospective parent’s eyes–part of me thinks the stars are almost a pre-requisite for adoption in many cases (the parents who step up after failure being a big, and wonderful, exception). But while adoption already requires a large dose of parent education, maybe there should be more. And maybe we need something larger, as well. If we’re going to be a country willing to adopt children who can’t be parented or supported in their homelands, we may need, as a society, to offer them more support. That may be what Russia will seek when meetings regarding a bilateral treaty with the United States on adoptions takes place.

If it doesn’t, things are unlikely to change, and if if does, it’s not clear what might happen next.  What state, what county, has the money for additional services for adoptive families often already stretched by the costs of adoption and travel? One answer, for individual adoptive families in the process, is one often raised by commenters–why not adopt a child from U.S. foster care, a far less expensive endeavor? I didn’t–I’m not one to judge, and I’m not judging. But my sense is that many prospective adoptive parents fear an American child’s history–the extended family and the circumstances which may have led him or her into foster care. But many Russian kids (and others) have those issues and more, compounded by cultural and language differences that make their adjustments even more difficult. More realistic education about all of that might encourage some prospective adoptive parents to consider looking closer to home.

Photograph of child by Michielvd , available under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.