Five Outcomes for Children When Adoptions Fail


Adoptions sometimes fail. We’ve previously written here about why adoptions fail and how to effectively minister to prospective adoptive families when they do.

But what about the kids? What are the outcomes for children when adoptions fail?

Raised from birth in the family of origin

When expectant parents plan for adoption and then change their minds, those parents are like any other biological parents raising their children from birth. Little to no adoption trauma is created for the child in this circumstance, because no adoption happens.


Much like the previous outcome, the decision is made before any adoptive placement occurs. In this case, though, the family with the original referral to adopt the child is passed over for a variety of reasons and a new referral is issued to another family. The second prospective adoptive family moves forward with the adoption, while the first grieves their loss. On a personal note, this is what happened in our family’s recent adoption failure. For children who haven’t been born yet or ones who never met the original prospective adoptive parents, the children may never know about the first referral. As such, additional trauma isn’t always part of re-referrals.


This outcome is encouraging. The child is able to return to the family in which God placed him or her in the first place. Sometimes this is called resettlement. Reunification isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, though. Nothing about adoption or foster care ever is, even in the best of scenarios. Resettlement might not be the end point, as these situations can fail too. The degree of trauma experienced by the child depends on age and number of placements prior to reunification.

Re-placement or readoption

When a child in foster care is removed from one placement, he or she is typically placed in a new home. Meanwhile, when an adoption is disrupted or dissolved, the best case scenario is readoption, in which a new family is found to be a better match for the child. The new foster placement or adoptive family might be an improvement for the child, but experiencing multiple foster or adoptive placements is highly correlated with poor outcomes for children due to instability and trauma.

Retraumatization as the child continues to wait

Additional trauma can occur in any of adoption failure scenario, but the risk for trauma is highest when no consistently reliable and trustworthy adult is investing in the child. Research indicates that involvement of that sort of adult makes a significant difference in the outcomes for those who experience childhood trauma. When the adoption fails for a child who thought he had found that adult, trust is broken. Attachment to future adult caregivers could be damaged. The child waits, possibly with multiple placements. Eventually she might find a family, but some of these children in our country enter foster care and then age out without ever being adopted.

In the church, we have kids from a variety of backgrounds who arrive every week. Some have experienced trauma from adoption losses, like those described above. When adoptions fail, the effects on children may include additional trauma, or they might not. Knowing a child’s story can help you love him well. That said, trauma is more traumatizing for some children than others (here’s a post about why), so you should never assume you know what the effects of a child’s history will be in her future. Only God knows that. Love may not heal all wounds from childhood trauma, but churches can and should be part of that healing process.

In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyCheck out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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1 Response to Five Outcomes for Children When Adoptions Fail

  1. I would argue that when parents choose adoption and the adoption falls through, they are not like “all other parents”. My guess is that there is usually a single mother, and not two parents, and that there are significant challenges present that caused adoption to be considered in the first place. Adoption always means that there was loss, but when children are in a home where they were not wanted, or where is drug use, mental illness, violence or many other issues – the child may be experiencing trauma and loss in an ongoing way for years.


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