Why Desperate Parents Go to the Internet List-serves:
These adoptive parents were reportedly desperate and wanted to be relieved of the burden of facing yet another day with a child whose behavior was noted to be out of control. But instead of finding a family who was better suited to parent a particular child, some of these children were taken in by those with more sinister motives. The articles focus on stories of the children who were placed in less than ideal situations, where some were even abused. These placing parents are most likely the same people who shared ideas on other adoption list serves when they were eagerly awaiting their adopted child. Although any list serve can bring in those with nefarious intentions, often those on these now shutdown rehoming list serves were good-willed foster and adoptive parents willing to provide either temporary respite care or a permanent home while bypassing the help offered by agencies and attorneys.
For the parents struggling, many of whom adopted internationally, they also have found support from others on these forums who also faced similar circumstances with their adopted children. It is understandable why these placing families did not want to incur any further expenses in finding another family for the child. They had already paid tens of thousands to adopt a child. Not all parents were seeking a new family placement for their children. Some simply wanted to know what to do with their situation and they had no agency to turn to. Some parents had adopted independently or their agency had gone out of business.
In these circumstances, self-matching may seem easy, and initially it can be far less expensive. Plus many of these families did not want to face an agency social worker questioning them when they were already feeling out of control and like failures. Placing a child for adoption –the same child that the family longed for—is not exactly what the neighborhood, school, and church gossip committee needs to circulate. Parents are alone and bewildered. Like the rest of us, when these parents wanted help, they turned where most of us do when we have a question: Google!
The Secrecy and Shame:
When such struggling adoptive parents call Nightlight, if they were not formerly Nightlight clients, we recommend that they call their placing agency or home study agency—if still in operation. Some have said that the agency would not help, but perhaps some families have found that calling their social worker is too hard. This means now telling someone that they feel like they have failed—telling the same home study provider whom they showed off their best attributes to and explained why they would be great parents and how their marriage was rock solid—that they are now struggling and barely coming up for air. These parents may have also pressured their placing agency a few times to make sure that their adoption was moving along as quickly as possible, and now it is too shameful to call the same staff and tell them that the child they were desperately seeking to bring home is now causing them tremendous heartache. To add further shame to their situation, the family may have had the support—and even encouragement—from their church leaders, their friends, and family to adopt but found too little support from these same people once the children were home.
Because such problems are sometimes shrouded in secrecy, it is hard to know how many people are silently suffering. In fact, there are no accurate statistics regarding dissolutions—or many types of adoptions for that matter. What we do know is that during the same five-year time period that 183 children were noted by the recent Reuters story to have been “rehomed” by their adoptive parents, nearly 60,000 international children were placed in the US. And there are many more dissolutions than those sited by Reuters. After all, during the past ten years, about 500,000 children were adopted out of the US foster care system, and since the late 1990′s another 243,000 were adopted internationally.
Most of these children originally entered into orphanages or foster care due to abuse or neglect. Early trauma combined with life in an orphanage or being dropped off at one foster home after another can have a long lasting negative impact on a child. Yet, parents and their children adopted through social services can receive post adoption services at no charge. Because Medicaid often picks up the tab, children who need intensive therapy and even in-patient interventions can receive this at no charge to the families.
The Cost of Counseling:
However, for children adopted internationally—often without clear or accurate background information—their adoptive parents must rely on private health insurance to cover the cost of counseling and other therapeutic interventions to help them and their children heal. Such care does not come cheaply, and most insurance policies do not cover the cost of mental health problems in ways that make such care optimal or easily obtainable. Insurance carriers, for example, often do not allow billing for family counseling and, therefore, against best practices the adopted child is the “identified patient.” In addition, some of these children need more than once-a-week counseling, and insurance usually will not pay for extra sessions. Some kids do better with in-home interventions, but specialists who may need to travel to get to the adoptive home—and stay there for a few days—are not covered by most insurance plans. Therapeutic in-patient care costs over $300,000 a year—something foster children can experience but due to prohibitive costs, most others cannot.
Why Parents Do Not Seek Help from Social Services:
If the child could come under the care of social services, then some of the expenses could be covered. However, calling social services for respite care or assistance may result in further complications and the parents could be billed by social services—instead of receiving the help they need. For example, if adoptive parents have a child who is a danger to other children in the home, and the parents contact social services for assistance, the parents may also be charged with child endangerment because they are not protecting the other children who may be victimized. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, have solid resources in place to support struggling adoptive families—others fail miserably.
Why Parents Need Support from an Agency
Parents who find themselves in these very difficult circumstances are usually good-willed folks whose only intention was to expand their family and provide for a child in need. However, the adoptive parents cited in the NBC Reuters investigation have been highly criticized (and some rightfully so) for allowing their children to be sent off to strangers in other states with not so much as a child abuse and criminal clearance being completed on the “new parents.” If these placing parents had taken the difficult, and perhaps embarrassing, step to call their agency staff, then they may have found the support they needed. If the parents’ agency cannot help them, then an agency like Nightlight can provide support and counseling. Getting such assistance may not result in the child’s remaining in the home, but it could result in access to the right resources and perhaps a placement for the child in a new family.
Why do parents want to dissolve their adoptions?
Couples do not incur the large emotional and financial cost of a wedding, if they think divorce is likely. Yet, divorce results in over half of all marriages. Similarly, adoptive parents do not enter adoption with an expectation of disruption. Although the parent-child bond is often perceived as more unbreakable than marriage, sometimes good parents find themselves with children they feel they cannot parent. As with marriage, there may even be a honeymoon stage when a child first arrives. Then some adoptive parents become overwhelmed and not prepared for the child who has behavioral problems that seem to be out of control. (Few parents actually dissolve the adoption based on a child’s medical condition.) The child and parents get caught into a web where there is conflict, and although the parents may still love the child, they do not feel attached to the child. Even when some of the negative behavior is age appropriate or typical, the parents see all the child’s behaviors as being manipulative and find that the web has spun around them.
Other families have said that adopting more than one child at a time combined with the responsibilities of caring for the children already in the home is more than they can handle. If a mom is responsible for caring for four pre-school-age children and the new children require lots of time to attach as well as requiring physical, occupational, and/or speech therapy, this could be overwhelming. No one’s needs are getting met including the children already in the home.
Sometimes parents have other issues, whether internal issues such as depression or anxiety triggered by the child’s behavior. Or the parents may be facing a crisis that overwhelms the family. The child’s behavior is one more factor that can cause a downward spiral and more strands weave their way around the relationship. If one spouse has become ill or died, the parents are divorcing, or if the family has faced yet another move or job loss, these conditions may prove too difficult with a child who already has many scars from his past.
In other instances the child is causing havoc in the family and may even be abusing the younger children. Such behavior is usually not tolerated—nor should it be—regardless of how the child entered the family. All children in the family deserve to be protected. Making other arrangements for the child causing so much pain is not always easy. Sometimes a relative can take in a child as a temporary fix—while a child goes through a difficult phase—but if no family resource is available, the family must seek outside help.
In some instances a family may have entered adoption with naïve expectations, immature motives, or ignorance of the challenges. Later they find that parenting is very different from what they expected. Although adoption agencies do a better job of educating and screening potential parents, the fact remains that even parents can fool themselves and others. These parents may then decide that placing the child with another family is better than trying to parent a child that they believe they cannot love as their own.
Some parents have been educated and were conscientious in learning about adoption related issues. But pre-adoption counseling, like premarital counseling, cannot prepare parents for every situation they will face. Most families in the adoption process, as with engaged couples, believe that they will be spared the really hard stuff. But when difficulties arise, this is the time when what is learned can be applied. Often most of us learn best when there is a need to apply the information.
What have we learned?
The field of inter-country adoption has evolved in the last twenty years, and those involved have learned important lessons over that time.
One lesson that adoption agencies, adoptive parents, and foreign authorities have learned is to become more vigilant at providing accurate and complete background information on the children. The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption requires such transparency. The US fully implemented the Hague convention in 2008. As of July 1, 2014 all agencies that process intercountry adoption are required to be Hague-accredited and abide by Hague standards. These standards require the foreign government to provide detailed information on the children referred for adoption. And although not all medical and social information is still totally accurate due to limited medical standards in other countries and other cultural barriers in sharing social background information, whatever child information an agency receives must be shared with the adoptive families by both the placing country authorities and by the placing agency. In years past sometimes medical and other known social information was withheld by the placing country authorities or facilitators and by unscrupulous adoption agencies.
Of course, even with the best of intentions, medical conditions can be misdiagnosed or background information on a child from a less than certain beginning in life can be lacking important details. Fortunately with better standards and improved technology parents can have more comprehensive information regarding their child.
Next, agencies and adoptive parents have learned to approach intercountry adoption with an understanding of the issues children face after they have been institutionalized. Nightlight requires an ever-increasing level of education as part of the home study. Many people assume that a home study means we send a social worker to ensure your knives are locked in a cabinet. But in reality, Nightlight’s home studies are 80% education. We connect families with experts in attachment, medical issues, and parenting.
Another lesson that all parties involved have learned is the need for post adoption support. Most foreign countries require detailed post adoption reports to be sent by the home study agency. These reports require a personal visit by a social worker to the adoptive family’s home, and this reporting process continues for years beyond the adoption. At Nightlight, we require these reports even if the foreign country does not. That’s because we know how important it is to follow up with adoptive families to ensure long term success.
Nightlight offers post adoption counseling not only for our own families, but for any family in our community who wants counseling for adoption related issues. We have qualified, experienced counselors, many of whom also happen to be adoptive parents.
Like everyone in the field of intercountry adoption, we have learned to approach every adoption as a “special needs” adoption. In this sense, intercountry adoption has some similarities to adoption from foster care. Yet the disruption rate of adoptions from other countries continues to be drastically lower than (our estimate is 1/10th) the rate of disruption among foster placements.
What Happens if the Family Cannot Continue Parenting the Child?
Nightlight has implemented a program called “Renewed Hope,” which aids families in making a transition plan if the adoption is disrupted. Fortunately, disruptions account for less than 1% of Nightlight’s adoptions, and in each of rare but very difficult situations, Nightlight has been able to find a new adoptive family for the child. Of course, even a disruption/dissolution rate of 1% requires serious consideration for how to improve the process and support our families.
Nightlight makes the following recommendations to government officials and agencies:
- Begin to see inter-country adoption as similar to adoption from foster care. This will encourage governments and agencies to provide the same level of services to children adopted internationally as those adopted from foster care receive.
- Parents facing disruption will be viewed in the same way as foster parents who decide they cannot continue with placement and the stigma and embarrassment of struggle will be eliminated.
- The same level of generosity shown to foster/adoptive parents, such as supporting them each step of the way with such services as counseling, medical care, and respite will be provided.
Nightlight makes the following recommendation to the media:
- Begin to see intercountry adoption as similar to adoption from foster care. This will:
- Provide a point of comparison for the astonishing rates of successful international placements and will help readers understand why disruption occurs.
- Put in context the issues children face. By comparing intercountry adoption to foster care, this will encourage prospective adoptive parents to prepare for those issues.
- De-stigmatize parents who struggle with intercountry adoption, and esteem them like the heroes that foster parents are rightly regarded.
Nightlight makes the following recommendation to adoptive parents.
- Seek help from a therapist or adoption agency for post adoption counseling.
- Don’t go it alone. Get support and help from friends, family, and your church.
- Do not make private long-term arrangements without the help of an agency or attorney. Use the legal system to avail yourself of the help and protection you and your children deserve.
- Begin to see intercountry adoption as similar to foster care. This will help you prepare for the types of challenges that children may present after having been institutionalized.
Nightlight offers the following help:
Nightlight has implemented a ReNEWed Hope program for families facing disruption or dissolution. We strongly encourage any adoptive parent to seek the help of a licensed adoption agency, rather than to address the difficulties alone. We strongly discourage families from making private long-term arrangements without arranging for a legal adoption. Click here to read more about our ReNewEd Hope program.
By Laura Godwin