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Special needs adoptions are riskier than traditional healthy infant placements. Sometimes there will be difficulties involving out-of-home care, a child’s acting out that endangers others or the child, and even the failure of the adoption. If you are considering special needs adoption, speak to an experienced South Salt Lake Utah family lawyer.

It should never be forgotten that only those married people with healthy, strong marriages should enter into adoption, or parenthood of any kind, for that matter. Parenting children with special needs, especially emotionally disturbed children, is stressful to a marriage. When children with emotional problems pit one parent against the other, the marriage relationship can be compromised. A united parental front and excellent communication between parents is crucial. Usually Mom is the target and the child goes to great lengths to enlist Dad as an ally. Dad should stubbornly resist, and both parents should approach parenting as a team.

If divorce is unavoidable, parents should put the children first in all decisions, from the initial separation to the final decree. A sudden split causes unnecessary trauma, and parental bitterness and fighting are salt in a child’s psychic wound.

Divorce is even more traumatic for the adoptee than for the biological child because the adoptee has already suffered the loss of birth parents. The adoptee may have also been through one or more divorces while in his or her birth family or foster family. Divorce is an additional loss, a revisiting of old hurts, and a painful ordeal at best. Counseling can help the adoptee understand that even though the marriage has ended, the parental relationships will continue.

When Adoption Fails

Disruption is a term meaning a reversed adoption. Often it is used to describe all failed adoptions. Clinicians and researchers use the term in a more narrow way to indicate a failed adoption that has not yet been finalized in a court of law. Dissolution is the term used to describe an adoption that has been set aside legally after an adoption finalization. Dissolutions can occur years after the initial placement and are common when a family seeks to protect itself from an emotionally disturbed child who becomes a threat to the safety of family members.

Dissolutions are much more difficult to obtain than disruptions, and dissolutions can involve high legal bills. Bad matches lead to emotionally devastating disruptions and disastrous dissolutions. If you want to reverse a special needs adoption, consult with an experienced South Salt Lake Utah family lawyer.
People who adopt older children are in the greatest need of accurate information because their adoptions are most at risk in terms of disruption.

First Steps

Parents who find that an adoption is not working should immediately contact their social worker and an experienced Utah family lawyer. It is important to determine, with the help of qualified professionals, if the problem can be solved or not. If it can be solved or relief can be had, finalizing the adoption should be postponed until the parent or parents feel absolutely confident that the placement will work. If it is determined that the problem cannot be solved–that this was a match that should not have happened–it is important to reverse the adoption before it is finalized. This will relieve more anguish, suffering, and debt.

Since disruption is not unknown in more risky older child and sibling group placements, adoptive parents of such children should remind themselves of this fact if they must decide on disruption or dissolution. Guilt, on top of the anguish and heartache of such a loss, can incapacitate and demoralize adoptive parents, especially mothers. While dealing with guilt and grief, disrupting parents should also feel proud that they tried. They gave it their all.

One of the ironies of disruption is often found in the reaction of others. Sometimes the very people who discouraged the older child’s adoption are the same ones who discourage a disruption. Adoptive parents shouldn’t let people’s unsolicited opinions hurt them. Instead, they should listen to their social worker and other professionals involved, their adoption support group, and make up their own minds.

Special Needs

Many special needs adoption advocates believe that there is no such thing as an unadoptable child. They say there is a parent for every waiting child if the matches can just be made. Even children who must live in institutions due to behavior problems, or who must live in hospitals due to chronic illness, can benefit from having a forever family on the “outside” who loves and cares about them.

At the same time, everyone with any experience in the field agrees that matches cannot always work out. Matching, especially when it comes to placing older children and sibling groups, is a highly specialized art. It must be approached with caution and expertise. When adoptions go wrong, the root cause is often a bad match. Some children simply don’t belong in some families. Both social workers and prospective parents need to make sure that a match is sound.

Experienced social workers make far fewer inappropriate matches than do new ones. Even experienced adoptive parents should ask seasoned social workers for their opinions on a potential placement. Many adoptive parents learn through experience that they can be blinded by love, and, sometimes, by “rescue fantasy” mentality. All adoptive parents need the opinions of objective experts. They should listen to therapists and professionals who have experience with the types of children they plan to adopt. Grandpa’s opinion is nice, but if Grandpa does not have real knowledge of special needs adoptive placements, parents need another opinion, too!

Parents who believe that children with physical disabilities are tougher to raise than those with emotional or behavioral disabilities will probably find that adopting the emotionally disturbed child is a rude awakening, presenting far greater a challenge than they could have imagined and offering fewer immediate rewards.

The presence of just one of these factors may indicate the need for a safety net. The more factors present in a child’s history, the more wary adoptive parents should be of adopting without a safety net. An adopted child is at risk of developing emotional and behavioral problems that could result in a need for residential treatment later if that child:

• Has a biological family history of mental illness, behavioral and emotional problems, or drug or alcohol abuse,

• Has had multiple caregivers,

• Has experienced any type of abuse or neglect,

• Was hospitalized or institutionalized frequently and for many consecutive days during the first 18 months of life,

• Has a drug or alcohol abuse problem,

• Engages in high-risk or illegal behaviors,

• Has a history of emotional or behavioral problems in foster care or at school,

• Has seen or been seen by mental health professionals on a regular basis, or

• Exhibits moderate to severe emotional or behavioral problems with the adoptive parents or with other caregivers prior to finalization of the adoption.

The advice of an attorney can be invaluable. An experienced South Salt Lake Utah family lawyer will know the best legal way of protecting both the family and the child, while maintaining the integrity of the adoptive family if disruption is not an option.

It is not likely to happen, but adoptive parents who have exhausted all other options can certainly call the child’s state of origin and ask the state to accept the child back into their custody. It’s rare, but we have heard of a few cases in which this worked because a birth family member or former foster parent had expressed a desire to parent the child.

Some families hire an attorney and go to court to relinquish rights. This can be done in many places if parents can document that the child is dangerous, if the district attorney agrees with the idea, and if the judge consents. Relinquishment is also more of a possibility if the child is younger than eight and thus easier to replace for adoption. Adoptive parents who relinquish children in this way always lose the adoption assistance payments, and may be charged child support until the child is adopted by another family. Child support amounts are determined by parental income using a chart. However, the judge can decrease the child support payments if parents ask and have good reason-at his or her option.

Adoption After Disruption

Another common question is: “Will this disruption hurt our chances of adopting again?” The answer to that is, “Almost surely not.” First, however, parents must grieve the loss of the child, the loss of the dream. There is no evidence that parents who have disrupted an adoption are likely to do so again, or are not every bit as qualified to parent as anyone else. An experienced South Salt Lake Utah family lawyer will not hesitate to work with parents who have experienced agency-recommended disruption. If anything, it shows that the family was aware of their limitations and took steps to correct a bad situation–for everyone’s sake.

Wrongful Adoption

Wrongful adoption is a term used to describe adoptions in which the adoptive parents were “wronged” in some way. Typically, this means that the adoptive parents were not given adequate or truthful information about the child’s risk factors, disabilities, or behavioral problems, and were placed in crisis as a result. Wrongful adoption lawsuits are very expensive and time- consuming. They are also increasing.

The basic information that should be disclosed to adoptive parents includes:

• Contact with former caregivers. Adoptive parents should ask for the name, address, and telephone number of all of the child’s former caregivers. The adoption worker may say that the state’s adoption laws forbid sharing of identifying information regarding former caretakers, including birth and foster families. However, even if adoption laws mandate a sealed adoption record after an adoption, no adoption has yet occurred. Parents can also ask the social worker to have former caretakers contact them. Adoptive parents should advocate to receive contact with the child’s birth and foster families. The agency may even agree to facilitate such contact. Even so, some adoptive parents have learned after the placement that the agency only allowed the adoptive family contact with some foster families, but not all. Insist on having contact with all the families with whom the child has lived for more than a few months. Parents should also insist upon having contact with day care providers and teachers.

• Evaluation for Attachment Disorder. If the child has been institutionalized during childhood, has experienced abuse or neglect, or is more than 12-18 months old at the time of placement parents should ask that the placing agency have the child or children evaluated for Reactive Attachment Disorder (commonly called Attachment Disorder, or AD) before agreeing to a placement. Such an evaluation should be conducted by a professional who has been trained in the diagnosis and treatment of AD and, ideally, who has treated adopted children. Many special needs adoptions fail because children have unrecognized and untreated attachment problems or Attachment Disorder. The disorder is discussed in a subsequent chapter.

• Birth information. The pregnancy and birth records are often overlooked, but contain crucial information. They should include the child’s name, place, and date of birth including the hospital, county, state, and country; the child’s weight, length, and time of birth, Apgar scores, course, and length of hospital stay.

• Birth certificate. In most states in the United States, an adoptee’s original birth certificate is sealed and an amended birth certificate issued listing the adoptive parents as having given birth to the adoptee. When adoptees grow up, they are usually not able to access their original birth certificate unless they can prove dire need. Since the birth certificate is not sealed until the adoption is finalized, pre-adoptive parents are usually able to receive a copy of the original birth certificate from the agency, health department, or former foster parent. This document is invaluable and should become a part of the parent’s permanent file for the adoptee.

• Pregnancy. Health of mother during pregnancy, history of labor and delivery, and post-delivery condition. Prenatal care records where available.

• Counseling. Nature of counseling provided to birth parents during pregnancy or prior to the surrender of a child.

Legal representation for the birth family independent of the adoptive parents or agency.

• Treatment provider names, addresses, telephone numbers (including social workers, school teachers, therapists, day care providers, and physicians). Ask that the agency provide you with a signed release of information form allowing all professionals to release records directly to you if the child is in the agency’s custody.

Preventing wrongful adoption lawsuits means that prospective adoptive parents must be absolutely certain that they have access to all of the information about the children they are adopting. Parents should insist on full disclosure, and if it is not forthcoming, should go elsewhere to adopt.

South Salt Lake Family Lawyer Free Consultation

When you need a family lawyer in South Salt Lake City Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We can help with divorce in Utah, child support, alimony, child custody, modification of divorce decree, prenuptial agreements, post nuptial agreements, adoptions, guardianship, and more. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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Michael Anderson

About the Author

People who want a lot of Bull go to a Butcher. People who want results navigating a complex legal field go to a Lawyer that they can trust. That’s where I come in. I am Michael Anderson, an Attorney in the Salt Lake area focusing on the needs of the Average Joe wanting a better life for him and his family. I’m the Lawyer you can trust. I grew up in Utah and love it here. I am a Father to three, a Husband to one, and an Entrepreneur. I understand the feelings of joy each of those roles bring, and I understand the feeling of disappointment, fear, and regret when things go wrong. I attended the University of Utah where I received a B.A. degree in 2010 and a J.D. in 2014. I have focused my practice in Wills, Trusts, Real Estate, and Business Law. I love the thrill of helping clients secure their future, leaving a real legacy to their children. Unfortunately when problems arise with families. I also practice Family Law, with a focus on keeping relationships between the soon to be Ex’s civil for the benefit of their children and allowing both to walk away quickly with their heads held high. Before you worry too much about losing everything that you have worked for, before you permit yourself to be bullied by your soon to be ex, before you shed one more tear in silence, call me. I’m the Lawyer you can trust.