A Mother Describes Her Excruciating Decision To Reverse Her Daughter’s Adoption

She sacrificed time, energy, money - even her marriage - for her beloved daughter. But in the end, love wasn't enough.

Denalee Chapman September 17, 2016

It was after writing an article to encourage hopeful adoptive parents to make sure they’re in the right place, emotionally, before adopting a child, that I began to learn more about adoption dissolution.

Thanks to a well thought-out comment on that article, I can now share with you the shame, horror, complete heartbreak, and hope for help and change from an adoptive mother who has experienced dissolution.

In Shelby’s words:  Adoption dissolution happens when an adoption of a child is completed and then at some point thereafter the adoption is legally dissolved and the child is no longer legally a member of that family. My daughter will always be my daughter in my heart, no matter what—I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me she’s my daughter.

To many of us, adoption is very black and white. We love it, and we want the world to know how wonderful it is. Especially when it helps a traumatized child find acceptance and feel nurtured and loved. For those of us who see the picture in this way, we sometimes find ourselves in judgement of parents who ultimately choose to relinquish their parental rights to an adopted child.

Having never experienced it, many adoptive parents can’t seem to understand anything that couldn’t be conquered with love.  They are quick to condemn these good parents, who were placed in an impossible situation and forced to make impossible decisions. This condemnation simply perpetuates the problem.

It’s up to each of us, individually, to educate ourselves and become part of the solution instead of inadvertently contributing to the problem through our ignorance. As we do this, we’ll come together as a community and everyone will benefit.

Regardless of your current stance, take a few minutes to read Shelby’s experience. Her hope is that by sharing, more help will become available for children with RAD . . . and also for parents who desperately want to help their children.

Starting a Family
1. Starting a Family

My then-husband, Ben, and I had gone back and forth on whether or not to start a family. He was apprehensive, I was not. Eventually we decided to go to a marriage counselor to seek guidance. After several sessions with a highly regarded therapist it was suggested to us that we consider foster parenting. The therapist told us he thought we would both make wonderful parents. By being foster parents we could sort of “test drive” parenting and see what it was really like.

Of course we considered the possibility of having a biological child, but we were both hesitant to go that route for a couple of reasons. First, I had a history of a medical condition I didn’t want to pass on, and my ex-husband had the very same medical condition on his side of the family. We felt it would be unfair to potentially inflict this on another person. Second, with there being so many children in need of healthy, loving families, we had already discussed the possibility of adopting and we knew we were more open to going this route than the more traditional one. We did not adopt because we were unable to bear children, we adopted because that was our choice.

Foster Parenting
2. Foster Parenting

Initially we had to become licensed as foster parents. Our home was licensed with our state to receive one child under the age of two, and we told them that at least the first time around we didn’t feel we were yet prepared to take on a medically fragile child, as we had no biological children and this would be a new experience for us. I was informed that if we were going to be “that picky” that we would likely be in for quite a wait, perhaps as long as two years before having our first child placed with us.

Our foster license arrived in the mail on October 1st of that year. Eighteen days later the phone rang. There was a 9-month-old little girl who needed a home. We had fully expected that we could get a boy and that he may well be from an ethnic background other than our own and we were just fine with that. But, no, we ended up with a baby girl who looked like me.

That same day I went and met with the social worker and the biological mother and brought my new foster child home with me. The biological mother had voluntarily placed her daughter into foster care after signing an agreement that she would if the baby failed to gain a specified amount of weight in a two-week period. The baby was diagnosed with failure to thrive and Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), but other than that, I was aware of no other special needs or care that the baby would require.

Stay-At-Home Mom
3. Stay-At-Home Mom

Prior to our decision to become foster parents, I had volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in the county where we resided. I knew about foster children and attachment issues being a significant concern from both my training as a CASA and from the training we both received in order to be licensed as a foster home. I was perhaps more aware than the average new foster parent of the high incidence and pitfalls of a lack of bonding and attachment in young children. Even with this information, Ben and I felt that since there would be two of us adults and only one child, and that I would be a full-time, at-home mom at least for the first few years, that we would be well prepared to tend to bonding and attachment as needed.

Bringing Cricket Home
4. Bringing Cricket Home

She was tiny---weighed less than 15 pounds at nine months---but Cricket was all smiles and I was on Cloud 9! The first time I gave her a bottle she instantly tried to hold it for herself—of course I didn’t allow that. I held it for her and she ate and ate and ate! I was blissed-out having a baby in my arms to fawn over!

My mother drove over that same day from 5 hours away. The baby room was ready and bursting at the seams with baby clothes and supplies. We had to have diapers in multiple sizes as well as clothing for either a boy or a girl on hand since we wouldn’t know what gender or what size of a little one we would have until s/he arrived.

I had a sling which I tried several times to use to wear her close to me, but she was so accustomed to being carried facing outward and on a hip with one arm wrapped around her middle that when I put her in the sling she wouldn’t snuggle in to me. She would lean out, away from me. I tried everything I could think of to get her to adjust, or for me to adjust, but after a while my back would really hurt from leaning backwards to keep her from falling out of the sling.

I read to her every single day and every single night and played together with her for hours on end. My then-husband and I discussed the possibility of co-sleeping with her, but ultimately decided against it. Sometimes she would come and sleep with us for short periods, but for the most part she slept in her crib in the next room.

Because she had a history of GERD I was told to not allow her to sleep on her stomach. Whenever I put her into her crib while she was still awake, she would pull her knees up under her belly and just cry, while in the fetal position. I realized very quickly that I was going to need to rock her to sleep in my arms and wait until she was fully fast asleep before I laid her in the crib on her back.

She desperately did not want to be left alone in that crib. She cried and cried in my arms while I hummed “Lullaby and Goodnight” to her over and over again. I stood with her in my arms and swung her back and forth in an over-exaggerated way, using my whole body to rock her. Some nights we would do this for an hour straight before she would fall asleep. Once she was asleep, though, she almost never woke up. Or, if she did she was as silent as could be because we never heard her. She would sleep at night for 12 hours straight and as best as we could figure she must have been an expert already at self-soothing. This led us to believe that she had been left alone for long periods and that her cries had not been met with any sort of response.

Doctor Visits
5. Doctor Visits

Our daughter was two-and-a-half years old when the adoption was completed. Up until that point I had taken her to the same pediatrician that was seeing her before she was placed with us (and the same one who made the referral to CPS on her behalf) for the sake of consistency.

On a side note, I first took her to see her pediatrician about two weeks after she was placed with us. At that appointment the doctor gave me precise feeding instructions and asked me to try to help her gain one-half an ounce in weight per day for two weeks straight—so when we came back in 14 days he wanted her to weigh at least an additional 7 ounces. When we came back after those two weeks she weighed in at exactly 14 ounces more than she had at her last appointment! She had gained double what the doctor wanted! He told me he was so happy that if it wouldn’t have been considered unprofessional he would have hugged me.

6. Evaluations

Once the adoption was final I began taking our daughter to the same family practitioner that my husband and I went to. At that first appointment with the new doctor, the doctor noticed that my little girl was extremely busy and simply would not be still. She asked if she had been evaluated for ADHD. When I told her she had not, she made a referral. Up to this point Cricket had been tested for many things, including DNA abnormalities, and had been to many specialists. She had fine and gross motor skill delays and language delays. But we were made aware of them early on and were able to address them all in short order.

I knew she was a busy girl who had a whole lot of energy, but I wasn’t overly worried about it at the age of two-and-a-half—I thought she was within normal range. But, because the new doctor was concerned, I took her and had her evaluated for ADHD. The results of the evaluation were inconclusive—they said she was too young for them to be able to tell for sure, and said that if we still had concerns when she was four to bring her back and have her reevaluated.

School, Education, and Therapeutic Parenting
7. School, Education, and Therapeutic Parenting

Between the ages of 2.5 and 4 she was enrolled in a Montessori preschool. I gave the teachers there some background information on our daughter and let them know she was an extra busy girl. They assured me initially that she was doing just fine. Slowly, however, the phone calls started coming in.

One day she “purposefully” slammed another little girl’s fingers in a doorjamb.

Then there was the fire alarm, which was mounted on the wall low enough that my daughter could reach it. Yes, she pulled it, and the fire trucks came . . . twice.

Then there was the crawling around on her hands and knees and meowing like a cat and completely ignoring her teacher’s instructions—she even climbed up in the window sills.

Some days, I would learn, she was spending the entire time she was at preschool sitting with the adults in the administrator’s office because she was too disruptive in the classroom.

Finally the camel’s back broke. In a single day, at recess, my 4-year-old little girl pushed a younger child off of a piece of playground climbing equipment (fortunately, I was assured, there were no serious injuries) and and pulled aside a group of boys. She threatened those boys and told them she was going to cut their eyeballs out and cut their penises off. That day my daughter was no longer welcome at her preschool, and I was given the name and number of a mental hospital for children.

While I did not take her to the mental hospital, I did take her in and have her reevaluated for ADHD. That was when I was first told that my daughter had Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD. Shortly thereafter she was also diagnosed by a child psychiatrist with ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

First there were the two attachment therapists who believed in holding therapy—after my daughter and I were both traumatized by their practices, we switched camps and took her to a therapist who believed that holding therapy was child abuse. This next therapist did play therapy. None of the therapy made any difference.

The medications the child psychiatrist put her on helped with the ADHD and the anxiety, but RAD cannot be treated with medication. And RAD was the diagnosis that really was the major cause for concern. I started reading and talking to experts and learned everything I could about RAD.

Ben and I became skilled at therapeutic parenting. When our daughter began kindergarten I told them when I enrolled her that she was going to need an IEP. Of course, they knew best and wanted to wait and watch her and see for themselves. And so they did. And then they did the IEP.

My daughter’s kindergarten teacher and I developed a good system for communicating about Cricket’s daily behaviors. Thank goodness for email! We both knew her well enough to realize that hand-written notes would not make it to me. Often times though, I was able to speak to her teacher in person when I came to pick my daughter up from school early. Since her IEP was not yet complete, she was being disciplined in the standard way (that the general population was disciplined with), so as often as 4 days in a week she would get sent home early for bad behavior. One time she managed to smuggle several tennis balls out of gym class and into the girl’s restroom. She attempted to flush them all down the toilet and in doing so flooded the entire girl’s bathroom floor.

RAD Escalating
9. RAD Escalating

In the meantime, while my daughter’s RAD behaviors were escalating, my own stress levels rose. The appointments with specialists were multiple times a week and involved driving from the suburbs into the city for sometimes an hour each direction. During these drives my daughter would unfasten her seat belt and force me to pull the car over on the freeway. Sometimes while I was driving she would throw books or toys at my head. She called me names and threatened me. I knew I needed to be like a duck and just let it all roll off of my back, and believe me I tried with all of my might! Knowing you need to do that and actually doing it are two different things.

Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD
10. Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD

I asked the school district to provide an adult chaperone on the bus with my daughter to and from school. They declined---until one day my daughter walked to the front of the bus and tried to pull the emergency break lever while the bus was in motion and filled with 1st-graders.

She got kicked out of her childcare center, the childcare center we had decided to send her to on a part-time basis, not because I was working outside of the home in addition to my husband, but because I needed more down time.

I was beginning to fall apart. I was having nightmares, not sleeping well, my anxiety was through the roof, and years later I would learn I had PTSD. I was actually fearful of being left alone with my daughter. Not because I thought I might hurt her, but because of the emotional abuse she exposed me to. Yes! I know! That sounds completely crazy! A 5-year-old emotionally abused me? A grown woman?

This was no ordinary 5-year-old. This was a little girl who had been so severely traumatized and neglected as an infant that she had to fight for her very life. She was scared and angry and as the mother of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, I got to be the primary target—I was the one who received everything she could dish out, every cruel comment, every manipulation, every death stare. When I was alone with her I got it all.

Falling Apart
11. Falling Apart

So what happened was that as her behaviors became more and more extreme, my mood darkened and my ability to parent her decreased. I was in therapy for myself. I was on anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants. I was a wreck and I became suicidal.

My husband was working long hours and had a very long commute time. I was the primary parent---always had been---but now the “got it all together, happy to be a mom, wonder woman extraordinaire” was slipping, she was sinking like the Titanic. Just when my daughter needed me to have it together the most, I had it together the least.

Eventually I realized that I had given and given and given until I simply had nothing left of myself to give. And no, I’m not just talking about money or gifts. I’m talking about physical stamina, emotional well-being, patience, tolerance, the ability to be an effective therapeutic parent, the ability to be any kind of a parent, EVERYTHING, it was ALL GOING AWAY. Not only was I at the end of my rope, I was dangling over a pond full of hungry monsters.

I was not prepared for this. I had been a resourceful and wise woman. I was a problem solver! Raising a child with severe RAD is like nothing I have ever experienced and frankly, I don’t know if I could have been any better prepared. What if I had a PhD in Child Psychology? What then? Could I have done it then? I don’t think so. Was I weak? I suppose I’ll never really know for sure. Maybe, maybe I was predisposed and not cut out for full-time parenting of a traumatized child. Some parents are somehow able to do it. I don’t know what it is that they have that I didn’t. But there was something about the combination of her RAD behaviors and my loss of sense of self and all ability to “do” not only for her but also for myself that eventually brought me to utter hopelessness. I wanted to die. I had never failed so utterly completely at anything in my life. I had never felt so useless. I didn’t know how to help my daughter thrive; I couldn’t even take a shower.

Just What Did She Do . . . Specifically?
12. Just What Did She Do . . . Specifically?

Here’s the tricky part: describing precisely what her behaviors were like. I really wish I had tape, or video recorded them at the time! I know this sounds like a cop-out, but I honestly can’t recall the details of it.

And I’m not the first adoptive parent of a child with RAD who has written about her experience who has had this happen. Others have told me the very same thing. We have a theory about this . . . it was so emotionally devastating to us as it was happening that we must have just blocked out the memory—it was too painful to carry around with us. Now I know, some people when they read this are going to think to themselves, “Isn’t that convenient?”

Well, it’s not. For the sake of my daughter and the sake of so many others like her that will come after, I honestly wish I could give you a detailed description of what she did and said so that others would feel less isolated who are going through the same thing. The closest I can come is to say it was mean-spirited button pushing and she was a world-class expert!

Please don’t misunderstand me when I say that I NEVER have EVER blamed her. My daughter’s early childhood trauma and neglect, and resulting Reactive Attachment Disorder, are not her fault. I believe that with every ounce of my being. I have no bitterness or resentment toward her. I know she didn’t do it on purpose.

I Was a Mess
13. I Was a Mess

It didn’t all work. It was a huge mess.

As I stated before, I took her to many, many specialists, took her to two different kinds of therapists, and I took myself to a therapist, too. We, (Ben and I) tried to take quality time for ourselves, time to nurture our marriage and each other. We weren’t shut-ins, we did have a social life, we did have babysitters and overnights with grandparents. We knew we needed to give ourselves these breaks, but it still wasn’t enough. Self-care can only take you so far.

I still cannot understand how the behaviors of ONE LITTLE PERSON can be so all encompassing. I just can’t wrap my head around it. I know she and I were very opposite kinds of people in key ways. I was never suspended or expelled from school—ever—let alone when I was just 4 years old. I have some perfectionistic hang-ups, but I am aware of them and I make a conscious effort to not let them rule my life, and more importantly, I never held my daughter to unrealistic expectations. I honestly believe that. I knew the deck was stacked against her so there were no foreign language lessons at age 3, nor did I ever dream of her being a violin virtuoso.

She’s bright, don’t misunderstand me, she is very bright! She is just dysfunctional when it comes to building and maintaining healthy, functional relationships with other people. And, quite simply, that is a direct result of the fact that nobody created a healthy, functional bond with her as an infant. When I say relationships, I mean ALL kind of relationships. Not just child-to-parent, or child-to-child relationships. I mean, workplace, romantic, academic, extended family, you name it! ANY kind of relationship with another human being is going to be a challenge for her unless she can somehow, miraculously get precisely the right kind of help.

Three Steps Ahead
14. Three Steps Ahead

My funny, beautiful daughter was exposed to Kindermusik classes and took gymnastics and swimming lessons. She was in play groups and spent time at local parks. She had a well-rounded, healthy childhood experience while she was in my family. She was even raised on a largely vegan and organic diet. She had friends and knew her cousins and grandparents. I worked very hard to give her balance and diversity in her life.

Knowing what we knew about children who had survived trauma and how they can sometimes be cruel to animals as a result, Ben and I were hypervigilant about supervising her around companion animals. She spent her early years with a large dog and two indoor cats. When they were in the room together we watched her like a hawk. We were careful to praise her when she made good choices when touching the cats and dog, and we were quick to redirect her when she made less-than-ideal choices. This took a lot of work and a lot of consistency on our part, but it was worth it! To the best of my knowledge, my daughter is to this day still kind to animals. I hope that will remain true for her lifetime.

One thing about raising a child like this is that you have no choice but to learn to try to stay three steps ahead of them at all times. That’s what I mean by hypervigilance—learning to expect what may happen before it happens. Doing this prevents all sorts of icky things from happening. But, it is exhausting. Try doing dishes or folding laundry while watching a 5-year-old continuously, and constantly redirecting her behavior. It can’t be done—not well anyway.

One of my daughter’s therapists once told me something that still blows me away. How she thought it was helpful to share this with me I will never know. She told me that I had to be ON, 24/7 for my daughter’s sake. And if I wasn’t ON (that is, being a perfect therapeutic parent) all the time, every time I felt a little tired and didn’t catch something I might have caught, every time I let something slip through the cracks, I was actually making my daughter’s RAD worse. What she failed to realize is that although I was dedicated to my daughter and her well-being, I was still only human. Nobody can be ON all the time.

I Never Wanted to Relinquish Her
15. I Never Wanted to Relinquish Her

I never wanted to relinquish her. I never wanted to give up my parental rights to her. I just needed help, desperately. I searched high and low, all over the internet, looking for options. I couldn’t afford a nanny or boarding school but I knew I needed a break. I needed time to try and get my strength back. I had been utterly depleted and needed to renew. None of my friends or relatives were willing to take her for any extended period of time. In fact, when she was 6 and 7, toward the end of the time when I had her full time, not even her own grandparents would take her for more than a 4-hour stretch at a time. And when they did take her for that long they were exhausted by the end of the 4 hours.

One of my daughter’s therapists was the first to suggest to me that I needed a break. The stress and strain of raising this extremely special needs child was taking its toll on my marriage and our personal finances, too. Our plan had always been for me to go back to work when our child entered kindergarten. But when she was in Kindergarten I could not have possibly held down a job. I was continually either getting called by her school to come and get her early or taking her to appointments with specialists. So, the three of us were continuing to live off of one income longer than we had planned for that to be the case. We were financially stretched to our limits and that caused additional stress.

Husband or child?
16. Husband or child?

Ultimately what ended up happening is that I was forced to make a choice: my husband or my daughter.

I chose my daughter.

Even though my husband and I had been high school sweethearts and together for over 20 years, I could not give up on Cricket. I loved her SO much and was committed to her—those words seem so shallow and meaningless, but they shouldn’t—I really had made her the center of my universe—I lived and breathed and ate and slept for her.

I desperately wanted to help her heal and to give her all that I felt she was entitled to after having such a rough start in life; I wanted to fill her up with goodness! And so, when I was put on the spot and had to make a choice, I chose to keep my life and Cricket, who was the center of it, rather than just walking away from everything I had known for the past 6 + years.

My husband and I ended up separating. He just couldn’t do it anymore; it was too much. She and I ended up moving across the state back to my hometown where I grew up and where my parents both still lived. They told me to come home and said I could lean on them for a while. I really had no other options, and so I did.

More Changes
17. More Changes

My parents helped us move into a duplex of our own. I enrolled my daughter in school in our new home and I made it for just another 3.5 months, even with the help of my parents—and they did try! I knew I wasn’t able to be the kind of parent I desperately needed to be . . . I just didn’t have it left in me anymore; I had used everything up.

And so finally I did the one thing I desperately did not want to have to do, I called DSHS (Dept of Social and Health Services) and told them to come and get her. I had no one else to turn to, no other resources to draw from. I was spending most of my time in bed sleeping and crying and feeling helpless and hopeless. I could barely take care of my own basic needs, let alone care for a child’s. And so, one day while my daughter was at school, two social workers came and met me and my own mom in the school office. Someone went and got Cricket from her classroom and brought her to us.

Saying Good-bye
18. Saying Good-bye

I explained to her that she was going to go and stay with somebody else for a while because mommy was sick and needed help. I assured her that I would come and visit and that I would see her in a few days. I will never forget the mental image I have of her holding the social worker by the hand and walking away from me that day—walking across the school parking lot to a car she had never been in before with her suitcase and her Sponge Bob Square Pants. She turned and looked at me and I blew her a kiss and told her once more that I loved her.

My mom and I returned to our car and I cried for a very long time. I had just made the toughest decision of my entire life. No memory is more horrific for me than that memory. I was in shock, and I couldn’t imagine what must have been going through my 7-year-old daughter’s head.

I was in hell, I could imagine nothing worse---I was not relieved, I was leveled. They took her to a group home in a city about an hour and a half away. There was no foster home opening at the moment. She stayed in that group home environment for three months until a private foster home spot opened up. For three months I drove to the group home to visit her 2-3 times each and every week. At the same time I was going to meetings with social workers and my court-appointed attorney and crying and sleeping—that was pretty much it. I was a complete basket case and somebody else was feeding and bathing my daughter, somebody else was getting her off to school and making sure she took her medications, some complete stranger was attempting to meet my daughter’s needs.

I mourned, I grieved, and that was just the beginning. This was the first stop on a very long and very bumpy train ride that I am still on today. I am still on that train and I am still mourning and grieving that loss—seven years later. My daughter is now 14 and I have not seen her in over three years. I have seen photos of her and have received some very brief, very vague, so called “letters of update” on her written by a social worker. I have not been able to hug her or hold her or look into her beautiful big, blue eyes—I can’t put my arm around her or comfort her or even tell her I love her except for in writing.

The So-Called Open Communication Agreement
19. The So-Called Open Communication Agreement

In my state, when the state decides to file a petition to terminate parental rights, that means that one of two things will happen: Either they will terminate your parental rights and you will never see that child again or get any kind of information about that child, or you get the child back. It’s very black and white, either/or, no in between.

Even though I had never abused or neglected my daughter, the fact that she had been a ward of the state for 12 months consecutively gave them the legal right to file a petition to terminate my parental rights—they didn’t have to—they could have chosen not to, but they wanted me out of their hair and out of the picture, so they did. I was going to lose her and there was nothing that I or my attorney could do about it. Taking her back full-time was just not an option for me; I was still trying to recover and my daughter’s special needs still existed as much if not more than they had before. I would be setting myself up for failure.

There was just one minor thing I could agree to that would mitigate a tiny bit of the pain: They gave me the option to “voluntarily relinquish” my parental rights (rather than having them forcibly terminated), and if I did that, in exchange they would give me what they referred to as an Open Communication Agreement. The state’s attorney wrote the agreement and by that point I hadn’t the strength left to try to negotiate better terms with them—my attorney didn’t even suggest it either. They offered me two letters of update and two photos of my daughter a year and would allow me to send her two letters and two photos of me each year. No visitation, no phone calls, nothing else.

It was better than nothing, so I took it. I signed their so-called “voluntary relinquishment” but only because I had no other choice. It was a horrible day. Fortunately they were at least thoughtful enough to let me appear in court that day via telephone and not have to show up and cry my eyes out in front of everybody.

Getting Her Help = Relinquishment
20. Getting Her Help = Relinquishment

Basically what it boils down to it that I was forced to relinquish my daughter in order to get her the care that she needed because they wouldn’t give it to her and let me keep her. They forced my family apart—I tried everything I could think of to keep us together. I begged them to put her in a legal guardianship and to allow me to keep my parental rights and to stay in her life—if only on a part-time basis, but they said they didn’t do that anymore, that it was too expensive. It’s still in the law, at least last time I checked (they legally COULD have done that) but it was now against their policy so they wouldn’t even consider it.

This was par for the course, though. They never treated me like a partner in her plan. They never looked at me as a resource, I was a nuisance and someone who gave up on a child she'd adopted. Never mind that I have no criminal record, have never been arrested, and have long been a hard-working upstanding member of the community—none of that mattered. All that mattered to the state was that the social workers looked down on me and despised me for putting more work on their plate. And, not only did I have to be punished, but if my daughter had to be punished in the process, so be it.

They were charged with acting on my daughter’s best interests—I’m just shaking my head as I think about this—the irony of it—if they had spent the money up front to get my daughter the care that she needed and kept us together, we would all be better off right now. But they wouldn’t hear of it. It was their way or the highway . . . no thinking outside of the box, no digging deep and finding a viable solution that would actually benefit this child. I was dealing with a government bureaucracy that was too big and too set in its ways to be human.

Degrading and Dehumanizing
21. Degrading and Dehumanizing

The process was grueling and degrading and dehumanizing and I wouldn’t recommend it anybody. I wish I had never had to go through it. Now, that being said, it may not be as bad in other states or it may just vary by office for that matter. Also, if you have a friend or family member who wants to be the new family for your adopted child and you handle that new placement privately without involving your state’s division of child and family services, it will likely be less maddening.

In my experience, having a government agency facilitate the dissolution of an adoption is the worst possible way to go about it, but if you adopted from foster care you may have no choice. To be fair, there may be some exceptions to this rule, but based not only on my own personal experience, but also that which I have heard from many others, government agencies that handle child and family services do not work with you, they work against you and they blame you for the whole problem. They treat you like YOU are the one who initially traumatized this child and YOU are the reason this child cannot stay in your home.

I have been told so many horror stories of biological children being sexual molested by adopted children, pets being killed, property damaged, fires started, and children running away . . . it boggles the mind what some of these poor damaged children are capable of! My story is a mild one compared to many others, I have been told. I didn’t have to repair any holes in the wall of my home, though I did have destroyed wallpaper, and blankets and hair and clothing cut with scissors. (The only scissors my daughter had access to were the non-pointed, “child-safe” scissors—that is until she was old enough that we had thought she could be trusted with regular scissors. Turns out we jumped the gun on that one a little.)

There Are Other Ways
22. There Are Other Ways

It would seem to me that the method by which a family finds a new home for a child they had adopted and discover they just can’t keep varies depending on how the child was placed with the family in the first place. I suspect it has to do with access to resources (ie: finances) that makes the difference. Based on what I have been told and read, it would seem that people who adopt a child internationally who later have no choice but to dissolve that adoption usually seem to find a new home/family for that child without involving their state, they do it via private placement and this is something I’m not an expert on because it’s not how I did it.

Believe me, I would have liked to have done it this way! But I simply did not know anybody who would even consider it and didn’t know who or where to turn to get help with this. I, and so many others like myself who adopted via foster care, end up returning the adopted child to the foster care system. Once back in the foster care system, the state tries to place the child with a family who will want to adopt them, as they do with all foster children whose primary plan is adoption. In my case, my daughter was placed for a time with a family who had expressed an interest in adopting her, but it didn’t work out; she is a ward of my state to this day.

If I had been able to find a place for my daughter without involving the state and doing the whole thing privately, I would likely have received a more favorable open communications arrangement including visitation. Ideally, I really wanted to put in her a legal guardianship so that I could retain my parental rights and still have partial custody of her, but the state just wouldn’t agree to this and I was unable to find anybody willing to do this with me. My friends and relatives all knew how challenging of a child she was and were not willing to take on her behaviors.

Happy Endings?
23. Happy Endings?

So far there is no happy ending that I’m aware of for my daughter. Only time will tell if she will grow up to be a functional member of society who can care for and support herself. As of right now, I have heard through the grapevine that she is in a residential treatment center for traumatized children. To my knowledge she has not received any neurofeedback or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and has not been seen by anyone trained in Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT).

Any Good at All?
24. Any Good at All?

There’s not a happy ending for me either, but if there were something close it would be this: Before I ever considered adopting a child from foster care I was already an advocate/activist-type of person for other causes. Drawing from that past experience has made it possible for me to advocate for adopted children and children in foster care, as well as for families who adopt and who dissolve adoptions. In doing so I have spearheaded several campaigns to facilitate media coverage, to contact federal and state officials, have met in person with my own elected representative and senator, and have provided considerable support online to others going through similar situations. I have worked with families in states other than my own and tried to get legislation passed on a state level. So far, getting post-adoptive services legislated in my state has not happened, but I am hopeful that one day it will—likely with my help.

Many families who dissolve an adoption keep very quiet. Many also lose friends and family members who don’t understand how they could possibly have given up a child they adopted. It’s one of those things that is just incredibly difficult to comprehend if you don’t go through it yourself. I know some amazing women who have been alienated by family over an adoption dissolution. This is so sad and troubling to me. I have been lucky in the sense that I have not lost any friends or family members---so far everyone has been pretty understanding---but I truly am fortunate in this way! I have friends and family members who may not completely understand all of the details of the situation, but nevertheless they have given me the benefit of the doubt and have not severed their ties with me over it. I think they all had enough firsthand experience with my daughter’s troubling behavior that they knew they were in no position to judge me.

Often times children who have a history of trauma and/or attachment issues will concentrate their difficult behavior on the mother and therefore seem to others to be an “absolute angel”—in other words, extended family and friends may not see what the mother sees, or experience the things the mother has to experience---and it may even be extremely challenging for that mother to get support from others because she is judged to be someone who is making a mountain out of a molehill and/or who over reacts. This is a very precarious position to be in and is one I am glad was not my personal experience. My husband, mother, in-laws, cousins, and friends all had the unenviable experience of being on the receiving end of my daughter’s extremely challenging behavior.

Making Changes
25. Making Changes

Maybe one day there will truly be a happy ending to this story. Maybe one day those of us going through adoption dissolutions will be able to join together and bring about real change to the system. I think that the training that foster and adoptive families receive needs to be more extensive and more honest. And, I truly believe with all my heart that our states could be doing more to support these families and help them stay together. There was so much that I had to handle on my own or just within my immediate family that was so all-consuming and so costly that if the state had paid for my daughter’s childcare, or helped me with transportation to my daughter’s appointments, or if earlier in the process they had made in-home assistance available to me, and if family therapy had been available, maybe things would have gone differently.

Near the end I did have a social worker tell me about in-home services I might qualify for and sure enough we did, but by that time it was too little too late and I never ended up using the services—I made the heart-wrenching decision to put her back into the system and never was able to give in-home services a chance to work. Maybe, just maybe, if somebody had told me such a thing existed years earlier, it would have made a difference. Some states do offer more in the way of post-adoptive services than my state does, but they all vary, some of them even vary by county within states.

Education Is Necessary
26. Education Is Necessary

Education MUST be an important component of adoption. If I had known that in-home services even existed I would certainly have applied for them years earlier—I just knew nothing about them. When I contacted my adoption support person early on, they offered nothing and gave us very little. I was able to get them to pay for two therapy sessions for my daughter per week, but that was it. Without having received that special permission it would have been just one. Even at two, it wasn’t enough. What we really needed we couldn’t get . . . it simply didn’t exist in our area, yet. I may never know if neurofeedback, EMDR, or NMT would help my daughter to heal . . . so far she hasn’t experienced any of those things and I am no longer in a position to have any say as to whether or not she should.

To the best of my knowledge, the residential treatment center she currently resides in that is supposed to specialize in treating traumatized children doesn’t use any of those three alternative methods. She is expected to get better from traditional talk therapy, group therapy, and medication management.

Part of the problem is that Medicaid doesn’t cover “alternative” treatments. They don’t even cover acupuncture or chiropractic, which have been around for centuries! Trying to get them to cover alternative therapies that are only decades old is impossible. Families need to either have good private health insurance or the ability to pay out of pocket for alternative therapies. And, frankly, even with the alternative therapies that exist today, there is no guarantee that they will work with any given traumatized child. They only offer a higher chance of success, not a guarantee. Some of these children will never get any better, will never be functional members of society, and will end up on the streets, or in jail, or worse yet, dead at a young age.

Avoiding Dissolution
27. Avoiding Dissolution

Adoption dissolutions can be avoided by offering post-adoptive services. Many states offer an array of services that my state did not offer at the time and still offers comparatively little of. Other states offer post-adoptive services and support including information and referral services, wrap-around services consisting of intensive case management, stabilization services, follow-up training and consultations, and crisis intervention. In-home counseling and regular monthly home visits increase family cohesion and reduce the risk of dissolution.

Families like mine who adopt traumatized children desperately need access to adoption competent/trauma informed therapists, in-home and out-of-home trained respite care, support groups, mentoring, education, and permanency support services. No single state offers all of these services---they all vary dramatically, though some are certainly head-and-shoulders above others. In the future, if we are going to keep adoptive families together, all states must offer more of the services listed above.

Resources to Help
28. Resources to Help

For more information on traumatized children ending up this way, all you have to do is know a little bit about the research that’s been done on ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) by Vincent Filetti and Robert Anda. The statistics are crazy scary.

Additional resources include:

The Developing Child, Harvard
ACES Too High Adverse Childhood Experiences
AWhat is Therapeutic Parenting?s
What is neurofeedback?
What Is EMDR?
Dr. Bruce Perry and team, and to find a list of NMT (Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics) trained therapists internationally
Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk and team, also info on trauma-informed yoga
Equine Therapy:
Stand in Balance
Human Equine Alliance
Attachment Trauma Network

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Denalee Chapman

Denalee is an adoptive mother, a motivational speaker, a writer, and a lover of life. She and her husband have adventured through the hills and valleys of life to find that the highest highs and the lowest lows are equally fulfilling. Book Denalee to speak to your group, or find Denalee's writings, including her books on her website at DenaleeChapman.com.

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