The terms disruption and dissolution each have specific meanings; however, disruption is often used interchangeably to cover both situations– and both result in a child leaving the family, either before (disruption) or after (dissolution) the adoption has been finalized.
It is an extremely emotional decision for both the family and the child, and not one to be taken lightly. Do not take a child into your home thinking “if it doesn’t work out, we can just disrupt.” The matching process should be done with extreme caution and lots of thought. Every move that a child goes through leaves emotional scars.
That being said, there are times when a disruption or dissolution can not be prevented and is in the best interest of everyone involved.
If you decide not to continue the placement, and the adoption has not been finalized yet, this is a disruption, in the legal sense of the word. The process is significantly different than dissolving an adoption.
In a true disruption, you will notify your placing worker that you do not wish to continue the placement. The worker should talk with you to ensure that everything possible has been done to preserve the placement. Are you being offered all the services and resources that your family needs? The time frame for moving the child will depend upon the situation in your home. If personal safety is a consideration, every effort will be made to remove the child as soon as possible. In an ideal situation, the child would not be moved until another pre-adoptive placement can be found. Depending on the child, this may not be possible and it may result in a foster care placement again.
When the child is moved, please be honest with the new family. Do not downplay any behaviors you experienced. The more prepared the new family is, the better the chances of a successful placement. Do not feel that any detail is too small.
Whether or not you maintain contact with the child following his removal will be up to the new family. Each family is different on their level of comfort with this. Some may feel that continued contact is important. Others feel it is too confusing for the child. Some families are happy with photos or written updates. These are details that you will need to work out.
In dissolution, there must be court and agency involvement. Do not attempt dissolution without an attorney. Parental rights must be terminated, child support may be awarded by the court, and if the child is traveling across state lines for a new placement, the ICPC offices must be involved.
Preparing a child for disruption or dissolution
Your child’s feelings will be much the same as when he entered your home. He will be scared, uncertain, hesitant, angry, sad, and confused. You may choose to address these issues, and the disruption itself, in therapy or together as a family.
Do not focus on the child’s behaviors or blame him for the disruption. Your child is in a very fragile place and his feelings need to be taken into the deepest consideration. Wording such as “We need to do what is best for you” gives the child the feeling that this is in his best interest and done out of love for him.
Help your child to pack his clothes. Do not ever put a child’s belongings into trash bags. This sends a message that the child and his belongings are trash. It may seem like a minor thing, but for children who have already been through numerous moves, this may have happened to them frequently. If need be, go to a thrift store and purchase some inexpensive luggage or nice containers to put toys and other belongings in.
Use this time packing to talk to your child, and tell him how much you love him, and want him to be happy. You may bring up feelings that you have about the disruption or what you love about him. If folding up his favorite shirt, tell him how it makes you feel to see him in it. Give him permission to love his new family. Validate his feelings.
Gather photos, lifebooks, scrapbooks, videotapes, or anything else that might have sentimental value to your child. Package these to send along with the child, either through the social worker, or by giving them to the new family. Make copies if you want them for yourself as well.
Whether the disruption was your decision or the child was returned to birth parents, there are many emotions behind a disruption. This child was a part of your life and family. Expecting yourself to not “mourn” the loss of this child is unrealistic. It can be just as devastating as the loss of a biological child. Some people may say that comparison is overly dramatic, but the loss is real.
Most parents go through the stages of grief that you would experience with a death. There are also feelings of failure, guilt, and even relief. Many parents have tremendous guilt about feeling relieved. The stress that has been put on your family is very real. It is normal to feel relief when the chaos is over.
Either way, the healing process is very long. Do not expect to get over it quickly.