Disruption refers to the termination of an adoption. This includes adoptions that end prior to legal finalization and those that end after that point (in U.S. law, the latter cases are referred to as having been dissolved). The Disruption process is usually initiated by adoptive parents via a court petition and is analogous to divorce proceedings. It is a legal avenue unique to adoptive parents as disruption/dissolution does not apply to biological kin.
No known official statistics track the number of disruptions in any country. Some ad hoc studies, performed in the U.S., however, suggest that between 10-25 percent of adoptions disrupt before they are legally finalized and from 1-10 percent are dissolved after legal finalization. The wide range of values reflects the paucity of information on the subject and demographic factors such as age; it is known that older children are more prone to having their adoptions disrupted.
Parenting and development of adoptees
Biological ties are the hallmark of parent-child relationships, and its absence has caused concern throughout the history of adoption. The traditional concern is expressed by no less an authority than Jessie Taft, a pioneer in the professionalization of adoption services and herself an adoptive mother, who commented on her contemporaries' view of adoptive parenting, "No one who is not willfully deluded would maintain that the experiences of adoption can take the place of the actual bearing and rearing of an own child."
The traditional view of adoptive parenting received empirical support from a Princeton University study of 6,000 adoptive, step, and foster mothers in the United States and South Africa from 1968-1985 indicated that food expenditures in households with non-biological children (when controlled for income, household size, hours worked, age, etc.) were significantly less, causing the researchers to speculate that, instinctually, people are less interested in sustaining the genetic lines of others. Moreover, the perception of similarities between adoptive parent and child appears important to successfully parenting. In relationships marked by sameness in likes, personality, and appearance, both adult adoptees and adoptive parents report being happier with the adoption.
Nevertheless, there is evidence that adoptive relationships can form along other lines. A study evaluating the level of parental investment indicates strength in adoptive families, suggesting that parents who adopt invest more time in their children than other parents and concludes, "...adoptive parents enrich their children's lives to compensate for the lack of biological ties and the extra challenges of adoption."
Beyond the foundational issues, the unique questions posed for adoptive parents are varied. They include how to respond to stereotypes, answering questions about heritage, and how best to maintain connections with biological kin when in an open adoption. One author suggests a common question adoptive parents have is: "Will we love the child even though he/she is not our biological child?" A specific concern for many parents is accommodating an adoptee in the classroom. Familiar lessons like "draw your family tree" or "trace your eye color back through your parents and grandparents to see where your genes come from" could be hurtful to children who were adopted and do not know this biological information. Numerous suggestions have been made to substitute new lessons, e.g., focusing on "family orchards."
Adopting older children presents other parenting issues. Some children from foster care have histories of maltreatment, such as physical and psychological neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, are at risk of developing psychiatric problems. Such children are at risk of developing a disorganized attachment. Studies by Cicchetti et al. (1990, 1995) found that 80% of abused and maltreated infants in their sample exhibited disorganized attachment styles. Disorganized attachment is associated with a number of developmental problems, including dissociative symptoms, as well as depressive, anxiety, and acting-out symptoms.
The consensus among researchers is that adoption affects development throughout life, with the fact of "being adopted," creating unique responses to significant life-events, e.g., the birth of a child. As a result, researchers often assume that the adoptee population faces heightened risk in terms of psychological development and social relationships. Earlier literature on the topic supported the conception of such problems, however, much of that research has since been deemed flawed due to methodological failures.
Some conclusions about the development of adoptees can be gleaned from newer studies, though, and it can be said that adoptees, in some respect, seem to develop differently than the general population while facing greater risks during adolescence.
Concerning developmental milestones, studies from the Colorado Adoption Project examined genetic influences on adoptee maturation, concluding that cognitive abilities of adoptees reflect those of their adoptive parents in early childhood but show little similarity by adolescence, resembling instead those of their biological parents and to the same extent as peers in non-adoptive families.
Similar mechanisms appear to be at work in the physical development of adoptees. Danish and American researchers conducting studies on the genetic contribution to body mass index found correlations between an adoptee's weight class and his biological parents' BMI while finding no relationship with the adoptive family environment. Moreover, about one-half of inter-individual differences were due to individual non-shared influences.
These differences in development appear to play out in the way young adoptees deal with major life events. In the case of parental divorce, adoptees have been found to respond differently than children who have not been adopted. While the general population experienced more behavioral problems, substance use, lower school achievement, and impaired social competence after parental divorce, the adoptee population appeared to be unaffected in terms of their outside relationships, specifically in their school or social abilities.
The adoptee population does, however, seem to be more at risk for certain behavioral issues. Researchers from the University of Minnesota studied adolescents who had been adopted and found that adoptees were twice as likely as non-adopted people to suffer from oppositional defiant disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (with an 8% rate in the general population). Suicide risks were also significantly greater than the general population. Swedish researchers found both international and domestic adoptees undertook suicide at much higher rates than non-adopted peers; with international adoptees and female international adoptees, in particular, at highest risk.
Nevertheless, work on adult adoptees has found that the additional risks faced by adoptees are largely confined to adolescence. Young adult adoptees were shown to be alike with adults from biological families and scored better than adults raised in alternative family types including single parent and step-families. Moreover, while adult adoptees showed more variability than their non-adopted peers on a range of psychosocial measures, adult adoptees exhibited more similarities than differences with adults who had not been adopted.