Assessing the Field of Post-Adoption Services: Family Needs, Program Models, and Evaluation Issues. Summary Report. Introduction


As a result of federal and state efforts, adoptions of foster children have increased sharply in recent years. Available data, while limited, indicate that most adoptions are highly successful. Disruption and dissolution(1) are relatively rare, and even adoptive families who have experienced substantial difficulties tend to report that they would adopt the same child again.

Yet many adoptions that do not experience disruption proceed under difficult circumstances. The long-term consequences of childrens early trauma and repeated disruptions may be manifested in significant functional impairments at home, in school, or in the community, which in turn creates stress for the entire family. To respond to these challenges, families draw on a variety of services. Many families would prefer that the service they use be tailored to the needs of adopted children and their families, and provided with sensitivity to the adoption-related aspects of their problems.

It is therefore not surprising that the federal government and state child welfare agencies have worked in recent years to develop strategies to support adoptive families. These supports initially consisted almost exclusively of the provision of state adoption subsidies, which now date back nearly 40 years. Post-adoption service (PAS) programs organized around the needs of adoptive families began to emerge in the 1960s, but their development accelerated in the last decade as a result of federal funding for demonstration projects, state efforts, and private agency initiatives. An infusion of federal funds from bonuses to states for increasing the number of children adopted and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program has further facilitated both the establishment of new programs and the expansion of existing ones.

This report summarizes the findings of a project titled Assessing the Field of Post-Adoption Services, which addressed three research questions:

  • What is the extent of need for PAS?
  • What are the characteristics of existing PAS programs?
  • How are PAS programs monitoring and assessing their effectiveness?

To address these questions, the study team engaged in four interconnected activities:

  • a literature review, drawing on published reports, journal articles identified through online databases, and unpublished studies located through personal communication (Barth, Gibbs, and Siebenaler, 2001);
  • case studies of five states with well-regarded PAS programs, which included interviews with state adoption managers, PAS coordinators and providers, and focus groups with adoptive parents (Gibbs, Siebenaler, Harris, and Barth, 2002);
  • an examination of evaluation issues within PAS programs, based on information from the literature review and case studies (Gibbs, Siebenaler, and Barth, 2002); and
  • secondary analysis of data from two states to identify indicators of need for PAS, based on adoption subsidies, disruption and dissolution (Barth, Wildfire, Lee, and Gibbs, 2002).

Methods and findings for each of these study components are described in greater detail in separate reports, cited above. These reports are available from RTI or at This summary report presents findings from each component, with a concluding discussion of the current status of PAS and future directions for research and evaluation.

This project was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), under contract to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). Research was conducted by RTI and the School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Staff involved in the PAS programs participating in the case studies, as well as Susan Smith of the Center for Adoption Studies at Illinois State University, gave generously of their time and insights. We also appreciate the participation of the North Carolina Department of Social Services and the California Department of Social Services.

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