Five Outcomes for Children When Adoptions Fail


What are the outcomes for children when adoptions fail?

Adoptions sometimes fail, and when they do, we usually hear the side of the prospective adoptive parents. But what about the kids? What are the outcomes for children when adoptions fail?

Raised from birth in the family of origin

When expectant parents plan for adoption and then change their minds, those parents are like any other biological parents raising their children from birth. Little to no adoption trauma is created for the child in this circumstance, because no adoption happens.


Much like the previous outcome, the decision is made before any adoptive placement occurs. In this case, though, the family with the original referral to adopt the child is passed over for a variety of reasons and a new referral is issued to another family. The second prospective adoptive family moves forward with the adoption, while the first grieves their loss. On a personal note, this is what happened in our family’s recent adoption failure. For children who haven’t been born yet or ones who never met the original prospective adoptive parents, the children may never know about the first referral. As such, additional trauma isn’t always part of re-referrals.


This outcome is encouraging. The child is able to return to the family in which God placed him or her in the first place. Sometimes this is called resettlement. Reunification isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, though. Nothing about adoption or foster care ever is, even in the best of scenarios. Resettlement might not be the end point, as these situations can fail too. The degree of trauma experienced by the child depends on age and number of placements prior to reunification.

Re-placement or readoption

When a child in foster care is removed from one placement, he or she is typically placed in a new home. Meanwhile, when an adoption is disrupted or dissolved, the best case scenario is readoption, in which a new family is found to be a better match for the child. The new foster placement or adoptive family might be an improvement for the child, but experiencing multiple foster or adoptive placements is highly correlated with poor outcomes for children due to instability and trauma.

Retraumatization as the child continues to wait

Additional trauma can occur in any of adoption failure scenario, but the risk for trauma is highest when no consistently reliable and trustworthy adult is investing in the child. Research indicates that involvement of that sort of adult makes a significant difference in the outcomes for those who experience childhood trauma. When the adoption fails for a child who thought he had found that adult, trust is broken. Attachment to future adult caregivers could be damaged. The child waits, possibly with multiple placements. Eventually she might find a family, but some of these children in our country enter foster care and then age out without ever being adopted.

In the church, we have kids from a variety of backgrounds who arrive every week. Some have experienced trauma from adoption losses, like those described above. When adoptions fail, the effects on children may include additional trauma, or they might not. Knowing a child’s story can help you love him well. That said, trauma is more traumatizing for some children than others, so you should never assume you know what the effects of a child’s history will be in her future. Only God knows that. Love may not heal all wounds from childhood trauma, but those of us who know Christ can and should be part of that healing process.  

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