Finding and Using Postadoption Services: Postadoption Issues That Adoptive Families Often Encounter

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

Postadoption Issues That Adoptive Families Often Encounter

Adoption affects adopted persons and families in many different ways over the course of their lifetime. In response, members of adoptive families may need information, support, and other services. The following are some issues for which families typically seek postadoption support. Several issues—such as loss and identity development—affect all adoptive families, while others may differ depending on the child’s and family’s background and the type of adoption.

Loss and grief. All adopted children and youth, even those adopted as infants, experience some level of separation and loss. They may grieve as they come to understand the role that adoption has played in their lives. They also may struggle with feelings of abandonment as they try to understand why they were placed for adoption and how that affects who they are. These feelings may appear and reappear at different stages of life, even when their adoption is a positive experience. Adopted children and youth may need support in working through conflicting feelings, mourning their losses, and coming to terms with their experiences.

Trust and attachment. Any child or youth separated from birth parents has experienced a break in attachment. Adoption requires the development of new attachments and bonds. Children who have experienced abuse, neglect, out-of-home care, or institutionalization often have not known consistent love and affection and may have difficulty trusting and attaching to their new family. These children or youth may need help building healthy relationships.

Identity formation. The process of identity development can be more complex for adopted children and teenagers, regardless of when they were adopted. This process may be further complicated if the child’s race or birth culture differs from that of the adoptive family. Teens, in particular, may experience identity confusion as they confront the primary questions of adolescence—“Who am I? How am I different from my parents? Which of their values will I take as my own?” Adopted youth also must try to determine how these questions relate to their birth parents.

Family dynamics and adoption adjustment. Adoptive parents may experience loss and grief issues of their own, which may relate to infertility. Some adoptive parents also wrestle with identity issues as they adjust to their new role as parents. Emotions can be intensified by the stresses of the adoption experience, particularly when the reality of adoption doesn’t match what was expected. For some adoptive parents, these issues may cause strains in their marriages or partnerships. For others, it may lead to postadoption depression. Counseling services can help family members work through concerns with a trained therapist, while support groups allow members to talk and share with others in similar situations.

Birth family connections. At some point in their lives, many adopted people want information about their birth family and/or to reconnect with birth relatives. Today’s technology, including the Internet, can provide easier and faster access to relevant information, while social networking sites (e.g., Facebook) connect people in new ways. While new media can help accelerate a birth relative search, this faster pace of contact can sometimes be emotionally overwhelming to participants if they are not prepared.

Difficulties that result from early experiences

Children who have been abused, neglected, placed in out-of-home care, institutionalized, or exposed prenatally to drugs and alcohol may have ongoing emotional, developmental, physical, or behavioral difficulties. Some of these difficulties are reflected in:

Effects of early childhood trauma. Research shows that early traumatic experiences (such as abuse or neglect) can affect a child’s early brain development, which can have later consequences for how a child behaves, expresses emotions, forms relationships, and copes with stress. (See The effects of trauma on development vary from child to child and may not appear until years later. Counseling/therapy services can help a child or teen learn to address these issues. They also can help adoptive parents understand their child’s behavior as it relates to early trauma and identify strategies to meet their child’s needs and allow healing to occur.

Health issues and developmental delays. Children who have been neglected or have spent more than a few months in an institutional setting may have missed out on important developmental activities due to a lack of stimulation and proper nutrition. They may have difficulties with feeding, sleeping, speech, and forming healthy attachments. In addition, adopted children may have special health care needs as a result of their early experiences. Medical records may be incomplete. Adoptive parents are encouraged to seek an assessment by an adoption-knowledgeable physician and may need ongoing health services to support children or youth with developmental delays and health-related needs.

School issues. Some adopted children and youth experience learning delays or behavioral problems that affect how they do in school. An adopted child, like any child who has experienced many moves and attended multiple schools, may have additional difficulties. If adoptive parents see their child struggling in school, they are encouraged to work with their child’s teacher and other school personnel to help their child. They have the right to request that their child be evaluated for a disability and eligibility for special education services (see Parents can support their child by learning about educational rights and advocating for appropriate services. For example, if a child is determined to have a learning disability and is eligible for special education, school staff must work with parents to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which identifies services that will be provided to help the child meet educational goals (see In navigating school issues, parents may seek assistance from an educational consultant, a child psychologist, or a lawyer (in extreme cases where services are not being provided). (For more information on adoption and school, see

Other issues related to types of adoption and child’s needs

Different types of adoptions may raise additional issues and service needs. For example:

Open adoption. Increasingly, families are participating in a range of openness in adoption in which a birth parent or other birth relative continues to have some contact with the adoptive family after the adoption. Adoptive families, birth families, and adopted children or youth may need agency support in building relationships among family members, navigating appropriate roles, and setting boundaries. (For more information, visit preplacement/adoption_openness.cfm)

Adoption from foster care. Families adopting children and youth from foster care need information on parenting a child who has been abused and neglected, adopting an older child, or if they were foster parents, on making the transition from foster to adoptive families. (See Information Gateway’s Helping Your Foster Child Transition to Your Adopted Child at transition.cfm) In addition, relatives and kin who adopt their relative children may need information and support around their changing relationships. (Find out more at adoption.cfm)

Transracial/transcultural adoption. Many families adopt children from racial or cultural backgrounds that differ from their own. Given the importance of promoting their child’s heritage and supporting their child’s racial or cultural identity, parents may seek related educational resources, learning opportunities, or special events. They also may need assistance with building skills to cope with public scrutiny or racism. (For more information, visit parenting/foster/transracial.cfm)

Continue to Finding and Using Postadoption Services: Changing Needs for Support at Different Ages and Developmental Stages

Return to Adoption Parenting


The original (2006) version of this factsheet was developed by Child Welfare Information Gateway, in partnership with Susan Frievalds. This update is made possible by the Children’s Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The conclusions discussed here are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views or policies of the funding agency, nor does the funding agency endorse the products or organizations mentioned in this factsheet.


Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2012). Finding and using postadoption services. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.