A failed adoption is one of the hardest things a prospective adoptive parent can go through. It is also one of the most feared parts of the adoption process. A failed adoption is essentially any adoption that does not go through for one reason or another. Failed adoptions are often adoptions where a birth parent has chosen to parent the child upon the child’s birth. However, adoptions can fail for multiple other reasons. The most commonly talked about the failed adoption process is when a birth parent chooses to parent. It is difficult with the label “failed adoption” to understand the complexity of the situation. While it may be a negative situation for the adoptive parent, it is a time of rejoicing for the birth family.

While failed adoptions most often are referring to adoptions involving infants, some may refer to a failed adoption as adoption that did not go through for one reason or another. A failed adoption may also occur in any type of adoption whether the child is an infant or an older child. An adoption may fall through due to paperwork being incorrect, documents not being processed, birth parents or adoptive parents changing their minds, or multiple other reasons. Some counties are now allowing children to say whether or not they would like to be adopted. A child may decide that it is not what they want, often hoping for reunification. A child may also not agree to adoption if they’re hoping that it’s something more open and the adoptive family is not willing to meet those terms.

Adoption may also fail if it turns out that there was some sort of manipulation, coercion, or circumventing of the rules. This is why there is a lot of adoption education involved in that adoption professionals are involved in the process. You should receive lots of guidance on what you can and cannot say or do in the adoption process. You should do nothing that would coerce or manipulate a first family to place their child with you. This is not only unethical, but it could cause the adoption to fail in the long run. Your adoption professionals should give you information on what is legally allowed in your state as far as communication with birth families and any gifts or monetary exchanges. It is always illegal to pay someone to adopt their child, but there may be birth mother expenses that are allowable with the express purpose of helping a birth mother get through her pregnancy.

There can also be cases where a birth father was not notified about the birth of the child and comes forward. There are also times when someone is pursuing adoption and a family member comes forward to adopt. This is why it is so incredibly important to make sure you do your research on ethical adoption before hiring any adoption professional. It is vital to make sure that all laws are followed and that all bridges are crossed before finalization.

There are multiple reasons why adoption might fail, however, failed adoptions typically refer to an infant adoption that has failed because a birth parent has chosen to parent their child. All involved in the adoption process needs to know that there will be a lot of different emotions that happened in a failed adoption process. In building relationships through the adoption journey, it is really easy to feel a lot of different things at once and for those feelings to change. We must understand that it is okay to feel whatever way we feel at that moment. A birth parent may feel a sense of relief and joy. They may also feel, at the same time, a sense of pain having caused the prospective adoptive parents pain. The adoptive parents in this situation may feel an intense sense of grief but also a sense of joy for the birth parent with who they must have built a relationship with over many months. It is also important to understand that these feelings may change. It is common to go from a sense of joy to grief to joy to grief. You may also feel a sense of anger or resentment.

There is no right or wrong way to feel and feelings may vary within the same family. I had a good friend go through a failed adoption recently. She felt a huge sense of grief and anger initially. She also felt a sense of shame toward herself for feeling angry at the birth parents. This shame was because she knew it was a time of joy and that they had every right to choose the parent of their child. She was happy for the child but angrier at the situation. Eventually, she understood that her anger did not lie with the birth parents but was more an expression of her grief. She needed to take the time to grieve to flesh out her emotions and learn why she was feeling the way that she was. she also found it difficult that her spouse handled the adoption much easier than she did. She grieved too much longer and it made it difficult within their relationship to lean on each other for support.

If you and your significant other feel differently during a failed adoption or grieve differently, try to understand that this process can occur differently for each person. Try to understand that your significant other may not handle grief or joy the way that you do. If you have children who knew about the adoption and were expecting a sibling, they may go through a time of grief as well. It is important to remember that each family member will need support in a different way and for a different amount of time. Be aware of the differences in how grief is expressed and accept that it is okay for feelings to vary. It is healthy to explore your feelings and to allow yourself time to grieve.


When we speak of failed adoptions, we are often speaking about adoptions that have failed after the birth of a child. These can even occur when the child has been with the adoptive family for a period of time. Each state will have its own time span of relinquishment. These relinquishment periods can vary from a couple of days to a couple of months. Many times, a birth parent can change their mind at any time and the child will have to go immediately back to them. Failed adoptions can be excruciatingly painful, especially when the child has been in the adoptive home for an extended amount of time. The grief that occurs during this time is completely understandable.

Unfortunately, adoptions also sometimes fail due to adoption scams. Adoption scams can vary but can involve a birth mother stating her decision to place her child when she either had no intention of placing or had already agreed to place with another family. Failed adoptions that occur from scams can be salt in the wound. Not only does it hurt but you feel betrayed. Take the time to research the red flags that can signal a scam and ways to avoid adoption scams in general. There are often telltale signs that we miss, but sometimes an adoption scam slips through even the most cautious and clear-cut cases.

It is important to remember to still handle this with grace and understand that not all situations are scams. Most birth parents are very well-meaning and will feel their own sense of guilt for letting prospective adoptive parents down by choosing to parent. Scams do happen but that shouldn’t be a label given to every failed adoption or birth parent who chooses not to place.

Prospective adoptive parents must understand that birth parents have the right to change their minds. It is okay to feel, and it is okay to be upset. However, we have to handle failed adoptions with a level of grace. Anger at birth parents, name-calling, accusations, or acting out in any way will not change the situation. It will only make things worse. While it is okay to feel and to grieve, understand that failed adoptions are a risk that comes with adoption. If a birth parent chooses to parent, it is not fair to place blame or guilt.


It is normal to grieve after a failed adoption. It is more likely that you will grieve than you will not. You have had this hope of bringing a child home and may even have had this child in your home for a time. It only makes sense that this would be a painful time for you and your family. It is important to understand that grief is normal and a process. Grief comes with anger and disbelief. It comes with sadness and eventually acceptance. Grief may look different for each person and may take different amounts of time for each. Look to your adoption professional for support during this time. It is likely that they have experience with failed adoptions and know ways to support you during this time. They may be able to connect you with groups or with other adoptive parents who have been through failed adoptions. A little support during this time can go a long way.

Give It Time

Many people will have advice for you on what to do after a failed adoption. A lot of that advice may be something to the effect of “dust yourself off and try again.” However, it’s not always that easy. Failed adoption for adoptive parents is very much a loss. It’s okay to feel that way, and it’s okay to recognize that even if you are joyful for the birth parents. If you experience a failed adoption, take all the time you need before deciding whether or not you would like to proceed with the adoption. Many do proceed and move on to the next steps, however, many become worried about failed adoption happening again.

Unfortunately, failed adoption does sometimes happen multiple times. It is just a hard reality of the adoption process. If you need to take some time before moving forward, take that time. If you need to get support from others before moving forward, seek support through family, friends, and support groups. If you lost funds in your adoption, you may have to take some time to recover from that loss. Take this time to evaluate the adoption professionals that you were using and if a different process might be better to consider. You may consider adoption from foster care if you are scared of a failed adoption once again. Through foster care, you may be able to find a child who is “legally free” to adopt, simply meaning that parental rights have already been terminated and the child is simply waiting for a home.

Go Forward

Failed adoptions are not easy on anyone. It is hard for prospective adoptive families and birth families. Adoption professionals also do not like to see the hearts of their clients broken. It is hard all the way around. Failed adoptions happen and are often simply the result of birth parents choosing to parent. During this time of joy for a birth family, it can be an extremely painful time for prospective adoptive families. It is important to know the ins-and-outs of failed adoptions to understand that it is a risk that we take as prospective adoptive parents. It’s also helpful to know the signs of adoption scams and to be on the lookout. Having an understanding and building relationships with birth parents during the adoption Journey can help lessen the sting of the failed adoption. There is really no way to make it not hurt or to make it any easier, but you can prepare yourself for the possibility and find healthy ways to cope in the event a failed adoption occurs.





Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.