Three years ago I wrote a feature for Brain, Child called “The Myth of the Forever Family,” which examined adoption disruption—when adoptive parents decide they are unable to parent their adoptive children. Part of the article discussed the underground re-homing movement, specifically quoting two posts from adoptive parents asking people to take their children from the group Christian Homes and Special Kids (CHASK). Movement from family to family like this often happens underground via yahoo group or online message board, out of reach of agency homestudies or social work visits.
Recently a series of articles published by Reuters, The Child Exchange: Inside America’s Market for Adopted Children, looked at the phenomena of re-homing in terrific detail, highlighting the risks for these vulnerable children as well as the lack of post-adoption support, which could make these disruptions less common. Children who are sent to through these underground networks are sexually, physically and emotionally abused.
Now, just in time for November’s Adoption Awareness Month, the Evan B. Donaldson Institute (America’s adoption think tank) has released a 176-page white paper, A Changing World: Shaping Best Practices through Understanding Of the New Realities of Intercountry Adoption, which addresses concerns about international adoption, disruption, illegal re-homing, and the needs of the children in question.
The report highlights the importance of helping countries keep children in their countries of origin whenever possible and when that cannot happen, internationally adopting families should have a great deal of pre-adoption education and post-adoption support. Currently, many agencies pay lip service to educating prospective parents on the special needs of adoptive kids but do very little in the way of real training and do even less when it comes to supporting families post-placement. As the report states, nearly half of all adoptive parents who adopt overseas end up parenting a child with special needs although only a quarter of them realize this pre-adoption.
Many families go overseas to adopt with the understanding that they will be able to avoid some of the challenges of domestic adoption. They hope that there will be fewer birth family complications, a clearer timeline and more control over their choices (a boy or a girl, a child with a physical disability or not, etc.). But as the report states, international adoption has its own unique challenges including the possibility of adopting a child who was trafficked and who was not legally free to adopt, a child whose health history is unknown or deliberately hidden, or a child who was abused while in care. Too, children who spend time in orphanages have institutional behaviors that require a different kind of parenting. They may be developmentally delayed, have feeding challenges or have problems with attachment.
Domestic agencies who serve hopeful families here in the states to adopt internationally may collude with unscrupulous brokers overseas or they may know as little as the adoptive parents they serve. Some downplay the problems that most internationally adopted children have or do little more than recommend books for families to read beforehand. Once the children are home, most agencies offer nothing in the way of support.
Potential adoptive parents need to be smart consumers, researching the agency, the state of adoption in the country of origin, and identifying the support in their community before they adopt. For example, a family lives in a rural community where there is little in the way of special needs services; they may need to reconsider their adoption plans given the likelihood that they will adopt a child who will need those services.
These are difficult conversations to have and potential adoptive parents are sometimes so enamored with the idea of adoption that they have a hard time hearing the potential pitfalls. The responsibility then falls to the agencies who are placing the children.
Social workers who do homestudies and therapists who help families make adoption decisions need to be firm and direct in order to best serve those families as well as the children who may arrive. Families need to be screened more carefully and a safety plan should be in place, addressing what the family will do if they begin to feel overwhelmed, where they can ask for help, and to identify their local community supports.
Hopeful parents also need to understand that children who have faced tremendous loss and trauma usually have challenging behaviors. This does not make them damaged goods; it makes them children who need more loving support and parents with the skills to parent them. We must understand that the children are ultimately innocent parties to a complex, sometimes corrupt and always difficult system. Children who act out or struggle post-placement have the right to have their challenges understood and appropriately treated.
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