The history of child welfare policy and practice in this country has been shaped by an ongoing tension between two perspectives. One perspective emphasizes protection of children and removal of children from the custody of biological parents when there is imminent risk of harm. The other perspective focuses on the rights of biological parents and the goal of preserving the biological family. Policy in the early to mid-1990s placed primary emphasis on family preservation, as demonstrated by the passage of the Family Preservation and Support Services Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-66). More recently, child welfare policy and practice have focused on child protection and timely permanency, with quicker termination of parental rights and placement with adoptive families. This focus is reflected in the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-89) which, among its provisions, excludes certain cases from reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families, requires reasonable efforts toward adoption for children who cannot return home, reduces the time frame for permanency hearings from 18 to 12 months, and requires states to file a petition to terminate parental rights and move to adoption any child, regardless of age, who has been in foster care for 15 out of the most recent 22 months.With this emphasis on adoption, attention often focuses on the urgency of placement rather than on the maintenance of the children in their new families. There is more to the adoption process than simply bringing children and families together. Equally important are preserving and supporting adoptive families once they are formed. Therefore, attention to postadoptive experiences, including adoptive family needs and factors associated with healthy and successful adoptive experiences, is needed.Adoptive Family Needs
Because the problems and challenges associated with special needs adoptions do not dissipate in a steady, predictable fashion, but rather occur in a succession of achievements and setbacks over time [Rosenthal & Groze 1994], it is important to determine the supports that adoptive families need well beyond the initial placement. The work conducted to date on the postadoption experiences is limited, particularly regarding postplacement services and needs [Barth 1994], but suggests that families historically have experienced many obstacles to obtaining postadoption services, often due to lack of funding within agencies [Groze 1996b]. Groze [1996a] found that adoptive families have an increasing need for services and service involvement over time, but they express much frustration regarding their ability to obtain these services and find adoption-sensitive service providers. Families typically report that they need such services as parent support groups, group services for older children, informal contact with other special needs families, adoption subsidies, and respite care [Rosenthal & Groze 1990; Groze & Rosenthal 1993; Groze 1996a; Erich & Leung 1998].Factors Associated with Adjustment to Adoption
A second critical area related to adjustment to adoption concerns the child and family characteristics associated with adoption outcomes, specifically adoption disruption. Although examination of such characteristics may lead to more conservative recruitment and retention efforts, identifying the types of children and parents who may experience difficulties in the adoption process can also be used to target adoptive families who need more comprehensive pre- and postplacement services [Barth 1994].Child Characteristics
A number of child characteristics have been associated with negative postadoption outcomes: older age at time of placement, behavioral problems (externalized acting out), emotional and/or psychological difficulties, a history of abuse or neglect (especially sexual abuse), and multiple previous placements [Rosenthal & Groze 1992; McDonald et al. 1991; Festinger 1986; Earth & Berry 1988; Reid et al. 1987]. Although McDonald and colleagues  found that adoption disruptions are more related to child characteristics than other factors such as family or service characteristics, it is important to note that many of these child characteristics (e.g., number of placements, time in foster care, prior adoption disruption) have to do with children's environmental experiences, which are within the control of the child welfare system to some extent.Parent Characteristics
Although child characteristics are often found to be strong predictors of poor postadoption outcomes, as discussed earlier, parent characteristics also have been found to play an important role. The parent characteristics often associated with adoption disruption include high parental expectations of the child, lack of experience with adopted children or children with disabilities, having a strong religious belief, and negative parent attitudes about the child and the adoption process [Barth & Berry 1988; Glidden 1991; Groze 1996b; McDonald et al. 1991; Partridge et al. 1986; Groze & Rosenthal 1993]. For example, in Glidden's study  of families who adopted children with developmental disabilities, maternal experience or familiarity with disabilities, and a strong religious belief not only predicted long-term family functioning but more strongly predicted family functioning than did demographic variables.Parental attitudes about children and satisfaction with the adoption have also been found to be associated with adoptive family functioning. Satisfaction is high among adoptive families of children with special needs [Glidden 1991; Groze 1996a; Marx 1990; Nelson 1985; Rosenthal & Groze 1990; 1992]. Rosenthal and Groze  found that 88% of parents, when asked how close they felt to their child, indicated that they felt "close," "very much so," or "for the most part" close to their child. Similarly, 68% of the families in the study reported that the adoption had an overall "mostly" or "very" positive impact on the family. Glidden  found that parental satisfaction and functioning was high specifically among families who adopted children with developmental disabilities.Family Characteristics
Although child and parent characteristics are often associated with adoptive family functioning, such associations can vary with the characteristics of the families. For example, the relationship between child characteristics and the occurrence of adoption disruptions varies with the ethnic/racial background of the family. The attributes of the child have less of an impact on the parent-child relationship in minority as opposed to Caucasian families [Rosenthal et al. 1991]. Socioeconomic status of the family is also associated with adoption outcomes. Rosenthal and Groze  note that parents from higher socioeconomic status households often express more dissatisfaction and difficulties in adjusting to an adopted child with disabilities, whereas parents from lower socioeconomic levels, lower educational levels, and minority families report high levels of satisfaction [Rosenthal & Groze 1990; Groze 1996b].
- McDonald, Thomas, Propp, Jennifer & Kimberlee Murphy; The postadoption experience: child, parent, and family predictors of family adjustment to adoption; Child Welfare; Jan/Feb 2001; Vol. 80; Issue 1.
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Reflection Exercise #5
The preceding section contained information
about postadoption experience with the child, parent, and family predictors of adjustment. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
What parent characteristics are associated with adoption disruption? Record the letter of the correct answer