Q: How can people give up their adopted children? They wouldn’t give up their birth children.
Some adopted children have lived through events prior to their adoptions which lead to mental disturbances and behavioral issues in the child. Many adoptive parents are not aware of these problems ahead of time and therefore are not prepared to handle them effectively. Birth children of American families do not struggle with adoption-related trauma or behaviors as these children receive the necessary nutrition and positive parental interactions starting at birth.
Q. I have heard of this. Isn’t it called “re-homing” a child?”
NO! Re-homing is the illegal process of a family finding another family through social media or word of mouth, and sending the adopted child to that next home. Re-homing does not follow state adoption laws and processes.
Q. What is a secondary adoption placement?
This means that the child has been adopted once, and when the child had trouble with their adjustment, the adoptive parents found a new adoptive home, a second placement, for the child.
When a first adoption is harming a child and the family, and a new family is found to legally adopt the child, it is a “secondary” adoption. It is important that the secondary adoption is done legally and is approved by all the courts and laws of the child’s state and the new family’s state. ICPC is a process in each state that gives approval to the child’s new placement. It is absolutely necessary that ICPC be approved before the child moves to the new family who has background and training in helping with the child’s particular needs.
There are agencies and lawyers who specialize in secondary adoption placements and can help the first adoptive parent find a new home for the child. The process that works best is for the agency to have the first adoptive parents select the second home from qualified, trained parents that the agency has identified; new parents who have a current, legal home study with current background clearances and all the other state-required components. Some parents find a new home without needing an agency to help.One benefit that an agency has is that they can help assure that the second parent fully understands the child and process, the adoption is done completely legally, that the new placement is going well, and that the new family finalize the adoption as soon as possible.
Q: Everyone says that “adoption is forever”. So, what does that mean?
It is always hoped that every adopted child is adopted into a forever family. Every single adoptive family planned a “forever adoption” when they excitedly brought their child home. Sadly, not all adoptions are forever. When an adopted child, damaged by unspeakable trauma, brings their chaos into a home, the entire family feels the brunt of this, and usually the child himself is miserable. If left without any options, the adoptive family will spiral into crisis and relationships are broken. Sadly, divorce is one common side effect of this chaos.
Q: What percentage of adopted kids does this affect?
There are thousands of adoptions each year in the U.S. Only 1-5% of these end up in trouble. These are the children (and families) who benefit from a secondary adoption. They need a “fresh start”.
Q: Is there any hope?
Yes! Keep reading–below you will see the miracles that a fresh start can mean to a child and their first adoptive family.
Q: What about foster children? Do they end up in this program?
Unbelievably, nearly every state has a “no return” policy on foster children who are adopted. If a foster child is adopted and then starts exhibiting problems that cannot be appropriately handled by their adoptive parents or medication and therapy, the child is unable to return to foster care. Generally if an adoptive parent of a foster-adopted child cannot obtain help (many times insurance will not cover the counseling or inpatient needs of the child), and tries to take the child back to foster care, the family will receive a child abuse charge of neglect or abandonment. This charge involves the whole family–caseworkers and police are involved in investigating the home including other children in the home, even birth children who are doing fine. A child-abuse charge or neglect charge can ruin the career of anyone involved in education, medicine, law enforcement, as well as many other professions. You can imagine the turmoil a family finds themselves in if an adopted child is destroying a family from the inside out.
Q: What about internationally adopted children? What kind of lives do those kids have?
As mentioned above–95% of adopted kids do great in their first adoptive home. Sadly, 1-5% do not.
Internationally adopted children come to the U.S. mainly from impoverished countries. Most internationally adopted children suffer from a lack of good nutrition. Malnutrition causes a young child’s brain to not grow and mature as it should. If the birth mother was malnourished during pregnancy (as is often the case) the child’s brain does not receive the nutrition necessary to develop normally. After birth, the mother may not have enough milk to nourish the child, or sometimes the mother dies in childbirth. It is common for an infant whose mother dies during childbirth to be surrendered to an orphanage. These families do not have enough food to go around so the child is without proper nutrition from day one.
Every single child needs appropriate loving relationships that start in the womb and continue every single day until adulthood. They need parents who make eye contact with them, coo and talk to them, touch them, comfort them when they cry, and attend to their reasons for crying (hungry, dirty diaper, cold, tired). In an orphanage, there may be up to 20-30 children for one every employee. It is impossible for children to have their emotional needs met in this environment. This results in emotionally stunted children.
Some adopted children develop symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The majority of adoptive families handle these symptoms with medication and counseling. RAD has many, many possible symptoms and behaviors. Some children have all of them, and some children have just a few. RAD behaviors can include: having no fear of strangers (would get into a car with anyone); indiscriminate affection (jumping into a stranger’s lap for affection; telling everyone “I love you”); smearing or hiding feces; urinating in inappropriate places (ruining dresser drawers, mattresses and carpets; stealing; lying (sometimes about alleged abuse at home that isn’t happening). Food hording and gorging are common as most adopted children were deprived of normal eating when they were young (many children in US foster care report having lived in conditions where they went hungry on a regular basis before coming into foster care) . These children may have never developed an ability to tell when they have eaten enough and are full. They eat to the point of vomiting on the table, and then eat more, screaming and having a complete rage if the food supply is stopped. Many RAD children develop the feeling that they MUST take care of themselves, so they learn to manipulate every situation to their own benefit. Other RAD children are dangerous to any child in the home who is younger or vulnerable—repeating abuse that they endured themselves (physical and sexual).
All of the above described situations lead to stunted social behavior as well as learning disabilities. Many adopted children are several grades behind in school. They also may have severely stunted emotional needs: sometimes a 12 year old child needs to be swaddled and rocked like a baby; or needs to be given toys or read books that are years below their calendar age.
Q: The news is always full of resources that adoptive parents could use if they have a problem child.
Sadly, the resources available for an adopted child are very limited, and often not covered by insurance. Appropriate counseling and therapy is rarely fully-covered by insurance. Also, counselors and therapists trained in adoption-related trauma are few and far between. Sometimes a family does have mental health coverage in their insurance plan: it generally has a monetary cap, and only covers certain facilities. Many times, the child will charm the therapist into thinking there is no need for continued counseling and the child ‘graduates’ from therapy. If a psychiatrist is willing to send a child to an insurance-covered residential home, the home will have a certain length of time that the child can stay and then the child must return home. Every residential program has a “return home” date—regardless of the child’s progress, or the family’s ability to continue parenting the child. The goal in these centers is usually to try to mix and match the various drugs to see if a combination of drugs help and send the child home.
Q: Medications help these children, right?
Most children with adoption-related behavior problems are on a plethora of medications. Most common are Risperdal, Guanfacine (a blood pressure medication that has shown some improvement in children’s behavior);ADHD drugs—both stimulants such as Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, and non-stimulants such as Strattera and Intuniv; Seroquel for bi-polar; anti-depressants like Zoloft and Trileptal; various anti-psychotics; and sleep medications.. This is just a small sampling of drugs that psychiatrists are hoping will help. Sometimes the child will make temporary improvements on a medication and then relapse; sometimes there is no improvement. Sometimes a child will have a big improvement. Doctors spend a lot of time trying different combinations of drugs, always hoping to minimize side effects of multiple medications.
Q: This all sounds like my worst nightmare. Who would ever adopt a child like this?
Wait, don’t give up! About 90% of these children seem to have a reset switch that gets flipped when they are given a fresh start in a secondary adoptive home. We don’t know why, but children who are struggling in their current adoptive home, usually make vast improvements in a new home. A sad, struggling child can become happy and well-adjusted.
Q: How can there be good news in all this?
When a child comes into the first adoptive home, the expectation is often that the child needs love, food, and security to thrive. And, this is true for most adopted kids! But for the estimated 1-5 % who have developed extreme mental and emotional complications, this doesn’t happen. The child wants to thrive, wants to feel loved and safe, wants to attach to the family successfully— but with the history and habits that have developed, the child just cannot.
When the child gets a fresh start (as with our program), it is now with a new family who knows what kind of behavior to expect. Our program builds a very in-depth and honest profile of the child’s strengths and weaknesses and shares this with the secondary adoptive family. This includes sharing medical, educational and psych records, as well as talking via telephone to the first adoptive parents. All of this honest sharing prepares the secondary family for any issues that will come up. We also encourage the secondary adoptive family to educate themselves about RAD and how to be successful with an older-child adoption. The secondary adoptive family goes into the adoption with eyes wide open! The honest in-depth information sharing, along with the reset switch in the child’s mind, sets the secondary adoption up for success. 90% of children who receive a fresh start through our program generally leave behind 90% of their problems by simply going to a new, appropriate, prepared home!
Q: This sounds really traumatic for a child who may have been with his family for a number of years. What if the current family is all the child remembers?
This sounds likely, doesn’t it? If your 6 year old birth child left your home for a new family, it would cause untold trauma. But an adopted child who needs a fresh start is as miserable as the rest of the family. They know that things are not good—they realize that things are beyond saving in the present situation. Many of them are already asking for a secondary family. To our knowledge, there has not been a child leave the first adoptive family screaming and crying, “Don’t make me leave!” This has never ever happened! It is just the opposite. The child is overjoyed at the chance to start over. Especially helpful is a carefully planned 3 day transition (once the secondary family has been found and has completed the necessary home study and legal process) for the child to go into the new family.
The trauma and heartbreak is confined to the first adoptive family that struggles to accept that years and years of love, and possible many thousands of dollars of therapy not to mention international adoption costs, have had no positive results and they must admit defeat. Eventually, they “get their healthy family back”. They return to having family outings, without risk of a child’s meltdown or bossy manipulation. They remove door alarms. They take family vacations. They begin to help their family heal.
Secondary adoptions can be a win-win situation! The child whose behaviors were destroying himself and his first adoptive family is given a fresh start. The first adoptive family is able to heal and move forward from the tragedy of this failed adoption. And, the secondary adoptive family, armed with all the necessary tools for success, becomes the Forever Family for a special child.
Watch Our Fresh Start page to read testimonials from families who made the crushing decision to admit defeat and give their children a fresh start. Read about the families who gave these children a fresh start. And best of all, read about these special children whose lives were headed nowhere—many who were confined to residential treatment–who now have regained their enthusiasm and love for life and their new families.