In special needs adoption today, disruptions and dissolutions do occur; therefore, adoptive placement should be done carefully and thoughtfully. (An adoption disruption is the end of an adoption placement that has not yet been finalized. An adoption dissolution is the end of an adoption after finalization.) Disruptions and dissolutions are hard on children and families.

When an adoption disrupts/dissolves, contact between the family and the child/youth should not necessarily end. Continuity of relationships is important to children/youth, and child welfare professionals should help children/youth and families maintain connections after disruption/dissolution when it is in the child’s best interests and is safe and possible to do so.

NACAC believes that many disruptions/dissolutions can and should be prevented through improved child/youth and family preparation, child/youth and family selection,* and ongoing support including complete disclosure of the child/youth’s background, behaviors, and needs. States, provinces, territories, tribes, and placing agencies and organizations have a responsibility to implement practices to prevent disruptions/dissolutions and to support children/youth and parents when disruption/dissolution occurs. Placing agencies and organizations should never make it necessary for an adoption to disrupt or dissolve in order for a child/youth or family to access services. Support will increase chances of future adoptive placement success for the child/youth and the adoptive family.

* This has historically been known as matching. The term family selection indicates a focus on choosing a family that can best meet a child/youth’s needs.

Policy, Practice, and Research Recommendations

Preventing Disruptions and Dissolutions

Before Placement

All placing agencies and organizations must train staff about the importance of relationship continuity to child/youth well-being, as well as the role of family selection, preparation, and support for all parties in adoption. The training should also address the agency’s and staff’s responsibility to help prevent disruption/dissolution, and all parties’ need for nonjudgmental support in a case of disruption/ dissolution.

States, provinces, territories, tribes, and placing agencies and organizations should do the following before each adoptive placement:

  • fully investigate a child/youth’s background and life experiences, develop a detailed social history, and thoroughly assess the child/youth’s health, abilities, interests, goals, and educational and other needs (see NACAC’s statement on Cognitive, Social, Emotional, Physical, Developmental, and Needs of Foster and Adopted Children and Youth)
  • assess prospective parents’ strengths, limitations, ability to parent
  • children with specific disabilities or special needs, parenting style, and expectations
  • assess the parents’ ability to value and support birth family connections and the child/youth’s connections to birth family members (including siblings) and other people important to the child/youth, and make placements based on whether the family’s openness to facilitating contact reflects the child/youth’s contact needs
  • consider, in the selection process, the child’s language, culture, race/ethnic background and the families’ ability to meet the child’s cultural needs
  • analyze the results of both the child/youth and family assessment, and match family strengths with child/youth’s needs
  • prepare and support the child/youth’s foster parents so they can be supportive of the placement
  • prepare and support the child’s birth parents, siblings, and other relatives through each stage of the permanency planning process
  • before visits begin, ensure that both the child/youth and the entire prospective family are fully prepared for and willing to accept the placement, and that each party has detailed information about the other
  • provide a trained, adoption-competent counselor to work with both the child/youth, prospective adoptive family, and current foster family to assess and address fears, concerns, possible areas of conflicts, and other issues that might affect adoption success
  • plan—with the counselor, prospective adoptive family, current foster family, and child/youth—the adoption transition

Since some research suggests adoptive placements with foster and kinship caregivers are less likely to disrupt/dissolve, states, provinces, territories, tribes, and placing agencies and organizations should:

  • actively search for relatives for each child when the child enters care, and quickly place with relatives whenever possible (see NACAC’s position statement on Kinship Care)
  • effectively implement programs to place children/youth with relative and non-relative foster parents who will work toward reunification but also agree to provide permanency if the children/youth do not return home
  • use dual foster care/adoption licensing so both relative and non-relative foster parents can more easily transition to adoption
  • ensure that workers discuss the possibility of adoption with foster parents and relatives

During Placement

States, provinces, territories, tribes, and other placing agencies and organizations must ensure that the adopted child/youth and the entire adoptive family are effectively supported from the selection process through the transition and throughout the adoption placement. Such support should include:

  • adoption assistance that meets the child/youth’s needs
  • consistent, affordable access to all needed services, including a social worker or post-adoption service worker, parent support groups, training on adoption and special needs, medical care, respite care, etc.
  • access to affordable, effective in-home family therapy, other mental health services, and temporary out-of-home mental health treatment
  • support in maintaining any connections to birth family members (including siblings) and past caregivers and others important to the child/youth
  • crisis intervention services

Access to these services should never be contingent on the child/youth being placed in foster care or on an adoption disruption/dissolution.

(For more detailed information, see NACAC’s position statements on Access to Residential Treatment, Adoption Assistance, and Post-Adoption Support.)

Providing Support after Disruption/Dissolution

When a disruption/dissolution does happen, states, provinces, territories, tribes, and other placing agencies and organizations must:

  • continue to seek an adoptive family or other permanent placement for the child/youth
  • assess the child/youth’s birth family and other relatives to see if they can provide a safe and permanent home for the child/youth
  • work with the child/youth and family to develop a transition plan that ensures a thoughtful, minimally traumatic move of the child/youth; the plan must include opportunities for the child/youth to say goodbye to the family, as well as neighbors, friends, and others in his/her life
  • support continued relationships with these individuals whenever safe and possible
  • provide the child/youth and adoptive family with therapeutic support to address grief and trauma due to the disruption
  • gather information from the adoptive family, others in the child/youth’s life, and the child/youth about his/her strengths, preferences, routines, behaviors, and concerns and share that information with future caregivers
  • provide the child/youth and family with extra preparation and support in future adoptive placements
  • provide information to families about parent support groups
  • recognize the impact that disruption/dissolution has on agency staff and provide supervision and support to help staff deal with the effects
  • notify the tribe and birth family, in cases of children covered by ICWA

 Workforce Issues

Worker changes on a case have been shown to correlate with increased disruption/dissolution, therefore states, provinces, territories, tribes, and other placing agencies and organizations must address issues that lead to burnout, turnover, and layoffs, including funding, pay, training, caseload, and other working conditions. Agencies and organizations must also recognize that disruption/dissolution can be traumatic for staff and can affect their future performance, and should provide adequate supervision and support. When any placement disrupts/dissolves, involved agencies and organizations should hold a review meeting to assess what happened and how future placements can be preserved, including resources that may have been needed and child, family, and agency factors that affected the placement.

Tracking Disruptions/Dissolutions and Conducting Research

The U.S. federal government and Canadian provinces and territories should develop a standard definition of disruption and dissolution. States, provinces, territories, and tribes should accurately gather and report the following data:

  • the number of intact, disrupted, and dissolved placements each year, tracked by type of adoption (international, private domestic, foster care, etc.)
  • for each disruption/dissolution:
    • the reason for the child/youth’s original removal from birth family
    • child/youth’s age at placement and at disruption/dissolution
    • whether the child/youth was placed with siblings and the status of any sibling’s placements
    • the length of time the child/youth spent in care and the number of placements
    • any physical, emotional, or behavioral problems the child/youth had at placement
    • adoptive family characteristics (relationship to the child/youth before placement [foster parent, relative, etc.], marital status, family size, family and child/youth race/ethnic background, etc.)
    • stated cause of disruption/dissolution
    • services provided before and during the adoption (including child/youth and family preparation), as well as any specific efforts to prevent disruption/dissolution
    • services that were needed but were not available or provided before and during the adoption

Both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments should also fund in-depth comparative studies of successful adoptive families and families involved in disruptions/dissolutions to identify any parent or child/youth characteristics, practice issues (matching, preparation, etc.), and supportive services that are more common in successful adoptive placements versus disrupted/dissolved placements.

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