commentary by Dee Wilson, November 14 2022
This investigative story from the Colorado Sun found that 1094 adopted children in Colorado have returned to foster care either through disrupted or dissolved adoptions during the past decade. Concretely, this means that 13% of completed adoptions in Colorado have disrupted or been legally dissolved during the past 10 years, mostly due to extreme child behavior problems, including violent attacks on either adoptive parents and/ or siblings. However, almost a quarter of disrupted or dissolved adoptions were due to abuse or neglect. Neither Colorado or most other states ( including Washington) or the federal Children’s Bureau keep careful track of what the Sun calls “failed adoptions”.
I question whether a brief foster placement in adolescence deserves to be called a “failed adoption”. Nevertheless, this is a shockingly high rate of adoption disruption/ dissolution; due mostly, it seems, to a lack of adequate post-adoption services for families who adopt children with explosive behaviors associated with trauma histories. The story asserts that the rate of disrupted or dissolved adoptions has decreased in recent years, but this assertion seems highly questionable as there has been less time for adoptions to disrupt for recently adopted children. The median time to adoption disruption/ dissolution in Colorado was 8.5 years following adoption.
To put these stats in perspective, the reentry into care rate for reunified children is 25-30% over 3-7 years, according to a Chapin Hall study released a year or two ago. Main point: adoption is not as safe or stable as widely believed, and it is appalling that this information comes from a news story instead of administrative data, or scholarly studies. In addition, children with trauma histories often continue to be highly emotionally reactive and liable to “meltdowns,” and will need high quality mental health services throughout their childhoods. The idea that adoption resolves these trauma histories is a public policy fantasy, another product of wishful thinking, and an unwillingness to invest in children’s mental health services.
A six-part investigative reporting series on failed adoptions from foster care in Colorado