Thursday, September 1, 2011

Risk Factors for Adoption Disruption/Dissolution

Interesting paper from the University of Minnesota, identifying child risk factors, adoptive family risk factors and placement agency risk factors; I'll give you the executive summary for each cohort and then fill in a little more from the body of the paper for those who aren't interested in digging, but who might still want to know!

Child Factors
Although the research is varied, findings in the literature suggest several risk factors for adoption disruption and dissolution. For child characteristics, older children, children with an enduring attachment to their biological family, and children with special needs (particularly children exhibiting externalizing behaviors) are at greater risk of adoption disruption.
I don't think there's anything terribly surprising here; older children (defined as age 3 and up) and special needs children are more challenging to parent, period. As to children "with an enduring attachment to their biological family," the report is talking about children adopted at a much older age from foster care after having spent years with their biological families. That doesn't really surprise me, either. I've heard a lot about older kids from foster care running away to find their biological families.

Adoptive Families Factors
For family characteristics, higher education of adoptive mothers and adoptive parents who lack previous parenting experience are at greater risk of adoption disruption.
The report identifies both of these factors as relating to unrealistic expectations of adopted children. For highly-educated parents, that might mean little tolerance for academic under-achievement. And for first-time parents, the unrealistic expectations might relate to everything!

Agency Factors
For agency factors, adoption by strangers, multiple workers assigned to the case, and placement instability of the child prior to adoption are all linked to increased risk of adoption disruption and dissolution.
Another agency factor discussed in the body that did not make the summary -- inadequate pre-adoptive and post-adoptive services. Surprise, surprise!

Policy Prescription

The ultimate conclusion is sensible:
The literature on adoption disruptions highlights the need for efforts in the following areas: developing adoption-competent services in mental health, school and community settings to better support adopted children in multiple contexts; flexible subsidies and supports for adoptive families that recognize the changing needs of adopted children over the course of their development; the use of strategies to help adopted youth address issues of grief, loss and a sense of identity, including ethno-racial identity; recruitment and support of kinship and foster families as adoptive resources.
Of course, all of these prescriptions cost money, something in short supply for government services these days. A lot of promises of adoption subsidies are being broken right now. Consider this story from Massachussetts:
State law says many adopted kids are entitled to free tuition and fees at any state college.

However, Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve found out, once accepted, these kids are being told there is no money.

Catherine O’Malley of Marshfield adopted Alexis when she was nine years old.

“I can not believe that you go to court and these are the terms. I did not renege on my part of the agreement…here she is!”

Yes. There she is, Alexis who is now 18-years-old. This past June Alexis graduated from Marshfield High School and was accepted into the arts program at Bridgewater State University.

State law says adopted children like Alexis are entitled to free tuition and fees at state colleges. The promise is right there in black and white and Catherine has all the paper work. But Bridgewater State said, sorry pay up.
Another broken promise.  Is it any wonder that the title of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute's post-adoption services report is Keeping The Promise: The Critical Need for Post-Adoption Services to Enable Children and Families to Succeed.

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