The press has adopted (no pun intended) the phrase re-homing to describe a situations when a child is adopted, that adoption is disrupted, and the child is placed in a different home. A much kinder description is disrupted adoption or second placement adoption. The term has also been applied to any parent-child relationship when the child goes to live with another adult who assumes the parental role.
Re-homing is an unfortunate name for an unfortunate situation. It has received an undue amount of attention considering the very small number of occasions when it occurs.
Why Adoptions May Fail
When an adoptive family accepts the responsibility of parenting a child, those parents are relying upon someone else—whether an agency, the government, or another person—to tell them the truth, the whole truth, about that child’s needs and history. Those parents assume a tremendous responsibility. They are entitled to know all that there is to know about that child’s situation.
Sometimes adoptive parents are not told the whole truth. The placing agency may not know. Placements from foreign countries are particularly challenging in this regard. Sometimes the placing agency knows, or suspects an issue exists, but does not tell. Sometimes the problems are worse than they appear.
In my experience, adoptive parents are parents because they choose to be. They have expended great effort to become parents. Like all of the rest of us, they have their limitations. Sometimes, despite their best efforts, they are unable to meet the unanticipated special needs of that child, whether it is reactive attachment disorder (RAD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), or sexual aggression resulting from a history of sexual abuse.
We should learn about challenges presented by these severe disorders before condemning those parents who have not succeeded in parenting a child who suffers from one or more of these conditions. This is not about the typical teen who is testing boundaries. This is about a child with serious mental health conditions that are very difficult to treat effectively and that present real safety issues for everyone in the home. These are situations not faced by the typical intact family. This is not to say that the “typical” intact family could not have a child with serious mental health issues, but rather, that those issues are often realized at an earlier age and over time.
From my observation, it is difficult for adoptive parents to accept they are unable to meet the needs of their children. They are parents. The relationship was intended to be permanent. The decision to place that child in another home is painful.
Limited Help Available for Adoptive Families
Adoptive parents sometimes contact the local Department of Social Services for assistance for themselves and the child. They often do not find any help except for short-term residential treatment facilities. Instead, the parents are told they must meet the child’s special needs. They are also told they must protect all other children in the home—and if the parents fail, the other children will be removed.
When an adoption disrupts, there are procedures and laws in place to ensure the safety of the child. There are certainly cases in which people go outside the existing child welfare laws to place children without appropriate legal or social service safeguards. More laws will not stop those who choose to circumvent the system.
The most challenging part of the process, aside from accepting failure, is to locate an alternative home. The agency that placed the child may offer some assistance. The Department of Social Service does not assist with placement, unless they take the child into foster care and charge the placing parents for the costs of care. Most parents are left to rely upon their own network and on-line networks of families in similar situations to find an appropriate new home, an alternative placement.
Proposed Bill May Hold Adoptive Families Held Unfairly Responsible
The NC legislature is considering a bill that would criminalize the most challenging part of the process. The bill would prohibit adoptive families from searching for a new home for the child, making it a felony to do so without the direct involvement of a private child placing agency or Department of Social Services. The bill also treats adopted children and families differently from all other families.
Senate Bill 652 could be voted on before the end of the current session. This bill was presented in the Judiciary Committee just days before the cross over deadline, without any real opportunity for comment by interested parties.
How to Better Meet The Needs of the Child
I encourage you to contact your local representatives and senator and the bill sponsors Senator Barringer and Senator Stein. The bill and contact information is available from the NC General Assembly website.
Encourage your representatives and senators to vote against Senate Bill 652. This bill is a well-intended overreaction to the exceptional case. In reality, it seeks to punish those who are doing things the proper way for the past misconduct of a few others. It will not protect children or help families.
There is a better way. We can protect children without exposing adoptive parents to the risk of criminal charges. Encourage the Senators to refer the bill to committee for further study.
Rep. Stevens and Rep. Glazier are sponsors of a House Bill 408 to appoint a legislative study commission to examine postadoption services which could provide important resources for families.
There is also a federal bill, which would provide post adoption services.
Lawyers and judges talk about the polar star in making any decisions about a child. The guiding principle is what is in the best interest of the child. It is not about the parents. There is a home for every child. Sometimes another family can meet a child’s needs more effectively. When that happens, the child and everyone else benefit. It is about meeting the needs of the child, not about holding parents unreasonably accountable.