March 6th, 2008
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I’m following an online conversation among adoptive parents. It all started with the announcement that one mom has an acquaintance who is looking to “rehome” their newly adopted child. There has been a flood of opinion about adoptive parents who would decide that they can’t/won’t parent a child, presumably because of his/her challenges.

There are parents who are totally appalled that these parents would “give up” on the child so quickly. There are others who hop into the fray announcing that they themselves have either dissolved an adoption or given it serious consideration. Still others have adopted children from a disruption situation and have a completely different take on things.


But one of the opinions I find most interesting is that of those who believe it is easier for parents to “give up” on an adopted child than it would be if the child is their own biological child. (I even hate that they use the word “own” biological child; as if an adoptive child is not your “own”.) This group of adoptive parents seems to accept this opinion as fact. But I question whether this is true or not. Here’s why.

First off, I believe that most of the time when adoptive parents are looking at relinquishing their adopted child, there is something seriously wrong, some type of disability. Usually this is in the emotional, behavioral or neurological realm. I suppose that parents relinquish children because of physical disabilities. But my experience of knowing families in this situation tells me that the children are more apt to have “hidden” disabilities that weren’t apparent or clearly understood (or disclosed) at the time of adoption.

Families looking to relinquish a child have generally not received the support they needed to keep parenting the child. Maybe they haven’t known where to look, maybe they haven’t been able to afford what they’ve found, maybe they haven’t been willing to accept the support they have been offered. The issues faced by adopted children and their families – abuse, neglect, malnutrition, lack of stimulation and nurture – are just not common issues among biological children. While biological children can, and do, develop PTSD and RAD, it is an extremely small percentage of biological children who do, compared with the percentage of adoptive and foster children with the same condition.

Secondly, the “it’s easier for adoptive parents” to relinquish feeds into the thought that somehow adoptive parents themselves think their adoptive child is “less than” worthy of sticking it out than a biological child would be. Perhaps there are adoptive parents who feel that way. I just haven’t found them. In fact, I’ve come to believe the opposite, that the vast majority of adoptive parents have worked so hard to adopt their child, that the idea of relinquishing them is a devastating one for which many parents will go to great lengths to avoid.

And disrupting/dissolving an adoption is not easy to do. Nancy, over on the Reactive Attachment Disorder blog has much more information on this than I do, but finding another family for an adopted child, especially one with emotional, behavioral or neurological issues, can be very challenging. Not to mention, that if you go through the states for such a relinquishment, the parents are generally charged with abandonment, often assessed with child support payments, and even have their professional licenses revoked. (These laws generally apply to both adoptive and biological parents.)

The assumption of those adoptive parents having this conversation was that biological parents never “give up” their children with disabilities. This, too, is flawed thinking. Institutions and group homes are filled with children who have been relinquished by their biological parents. In some cases the parents have custody, but the child is not living with them. For years parents of children with autism, Down’s Syndrome, mental illnesses and other disorders have been encouraged to institutionalize. And then there’s all the informal arrangements out there – children sent to live with grandparents or relatives – or if finances permit, to boarding schools.

So, I question the bias of adoptive parents assuming that adoptive parents are willing to “give up” faster than biological parents on children with challenging issues. It just doesn’t make sense to me. In general, adoptive parents have had to try harder to become parents (yes, I know I’m generalizing). So, it just doesn’t make sense that they would also be more likely to give up or to succumb to that “blood is thicker than water” mentality that others may believe about adoption.

And I’m definitely disturbed when a group of adoptive parents who are parenting challenging children condemn other parents for seeking to relinquish a child. What type of message is this from parents who often cry out that society doesn’t understand, doesn’t support and condemns them? Can we not even fathom how some families might not be equipped to deal with the level of challenges a child, regardless of how the child entered the family, presents if there are other circumstances in the family? (It may be something as simple as keeping the other children safe.) Can we not work toward a solution of providing more resources, information and support to special needs families without judging them when they are too overwhelmed to continue parenting the child in their home?

Disruptions, dissolutions, placing children in treatment centers and institutions are not decisions that most people make lightly. They are heart-wrenching ordeals that are no-win for everyone involved. Judging parents, adoptive or biological, as taking the easy way out is just plain wrong.

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5 Responses to “Is It Easier to Give Up An Adopted Child?”

  1. MamaS says:

    A very fair presentation of all sides. Thank you, Julie.

  2. Julia Fuller says:

    In Michigan, if an adoptive parent wants to disolve an adoption of an adopted foster child, DHS will press charges against them for child abandonment. The family will never adopt again, or be a boy/girl scout leader, or run a daycare, or coach a t-ball team. The disrupting parents are put on the CPS registry.

  3. getting old says:

    I actually think it is easier for biological parents to rehome or send their bio child to RTC…

    we have a couple of large basically nursing homes for children, and all a parent has to do is call up and say I can’t deal with this any more.. and get their child placed their..

    also it seems easier at CSB-MH etc… and even the bio-grandma of this one kid I know had a much easier time..

    here also you basically get a founded case of neglect if you try to get help through public DSS… I see why re-homing is out there..

  4. Great post Julie! I just wanted to add one thing … of the many, many families who have contacted me about disruption (or support to avoid that decision), there have only been TWO that I can specifically recall that struck me as wanting “designer kids” or who were otherwise not willing to put forth any effort to make the placement work. The vast majority of families with whom I am privileged to work have put forth a great deal of time, energy and resources to maintain a difficult placement. This is not a decision that most folks make lightly.

  5. deb donatti says:

    Good post.
    FYI, the show 20/20 is currently looking for families who have been through, are in process of, or are currently considering a disolution of an adoption.
    They are seeking anyone who is willing to talk to them about the underlying reasons, and perhaps bias against those who have been through the experience.
    This may be an opportunity for someone to better inform the general public about what a disolution is really like, how hard it is, and how poorly those who experience this are understood.
    Here is the link…

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