The term "adoption disruption" may have a different meaning depending on where it is used. In the United States, for instance, an adoption disruption is an adoption which terminates prior to the adoption becoming legally finalized. In Europe, however, an adoption disruption is usually used to refer to an adoption that terminates after it is legally finalized. In the United States, an adoption that terminates after it has been finalized is generally referred to as an adoption dissolution.
Children who are placed for adoption have often come from very traumatic homes, or who have special needs as a result of physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. While adoption services make every effort to prepare parents for the often difficult task of parenting these children, the reality is often more than they expected. Parents may find themselves ill-prepared and unequipped to deal with the various issues adoptive children bring with them to the home. When adoptive parents decide they simply cannot complete the adoption process, it is considered an adoption disruption.
Sometimes used interchangeably with the term "adoption disruption" is the term "adoption dissolution." When the adoption process has legally concluded and the adoptive parents later decide they cannot continue to parent the child, it is referred to as an adoption dissolution in the United States. When this happens, the child once again enters the foster care system and becomes eligible for adoption for a second or subsequent time.
Factors that lead to adoption disruption are difficult to study as adoption records are sealed once the adoption reaches its legal conclusion in the court system. The limited research available, however, points to a few factors that seem to increase the likelihood of an adoption disruption. The age of the child often affects the chances of a successful adoption. The older the child, the higher the likelihood that the child has spent a considerable amount of time in the system and that the child has experienced numerous traumatic events in his or her life. As a result, the child may not assimilate into the family easily and may have a variety of behavior issues that are difficult for the adoptive parents to manage.
In addition to the age of the child, physical, mental, or emotional disabilities that the child has may also increase the chances of the adoption not reaching finalization. Although public and private adoption agencies are generally under a legal duty to disclose all issues that a child has to prospective parents, in some cases, the agency may be less than forthcoming or may not be aware of the issue. As a result, adoptive parents may choose to terminate the adoption rather than continue to adopt a child that they feel they cannot handle.