On Tuesday, November 27, the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth held a congressional briefing to discuss the issue of disrupted and dissolved adoptions. The event was a part of a series of Washington National Adoption Month events this year. The discussion focused on estimated ten to twenty-five percent of adoptions disrupted before being legally finalized, and one to five percent of adoptions dissolved at some point after being finalized. The risk of an adoption disrupting or dissolving increases for older children, children adopted from foster care, and children with special needs.
The panel of experts included Sharon Vandivere, Child Trends, Rita Soronen, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Dawn Wilson, National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative, and Samela Macon, Buckner International. They discussed how training, education, and support for adoptive families could improve outcomes and help more families stay together.
Child Trends has analyzed data on the population of adopted children, but still, studying permanence in adoption is challenging. National data indicated that 51 percent of children are adopted by their foster parents, 34 percent are adopted by relatives, and 14 percent are adopted by non-relatives. However, in Texas, forty-nine percent of the children are adopted by relatives.
According to AFCARS data in the last three years, adoption rates have been increasing. Samela Macon said that the adoption trend is single, and families with low socio-economic status. Sharon Vandivere said that with eight out of 1000 children in the U.S. adopted from foster care we do not know why adoptions fail or what supports are needed to prevent the instability, but one challenge is access to mental health professionals and services for children and families.
To better understand and address the mental health needs of children and families, the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Institute (NTI) is building the capacity of the child welfare and mental health workforce in all states, tribes, and territories. Funding is provided by the Children’s Bureau and the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.), alongside the University of Maryland School of Social Work, Institute for Innovation and Implementation. Child Trends is conducting two studies that focus on young adults adopted through Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program in 13 states and young adults adopted from foster care in North Carolina. These studies are funded by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Duke Endowment and will explore factors linked with adoption instability.
In October 2011, the Dave Thomas Foundation conducted a national evaluation of their Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption program that focuses on older youth and findings indicated that children served by the program are 1.5 times more likely to be adopted and older youth are three times more likely to be adopted. By 2028, the Foundation hopes to have 60,000 children adopted from foster care. More work is needed on how best to support adopted children and their families including screening and development practices, training, mental health services, and specialized in-home services.