Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Postadoption Experience: Child, Parent, and Family Predictors of Family Adjustment to Adoption

Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Postadoption Experience: Child, Parent, and Family Predictors of Family Adjustment to Adoption

Article excerpt

Eighteen to 24 months after they adopted children in state custody, 159 parents were surveyed regarding their postadoption experiences. Most children remained with their new families, with parents reporting the adoption experience to be "about as hard as expected," and rating the past year of caring for the child as being more "smooth" than "stressful." Parents saw how the child contributed positively to their lives, were less positive about available social supports, and expressed dissatisfaction with the speed of the adoption, the availability of community supports, and the ability to link with supports. Children's special needs (e.g., older age at adoption) were predictive of postplacement adjustment.

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]. …

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