Assessing the Field of Post-Adoption Services: Family Needs, Program Models, and Evaluation Issues. Summary Report. 5.2.2 Adoption Dissolution


North Carolina data on adoption subsidies and foster care were merged to identify adoption dissolutions.

North Carolina does not identify adopted children within its foster care files; however, by combining adoption subsidy and foster care placement data, we can establish a cohort of adopted children to be followed. Data on termination of parental rights (TPR) was not available in the records used for analysis.

We utilized two lines of analyses to examine adoption dissolution in North Carolina. First, we tried to track our cohort of adopted children to see if they experienced an out-of-home placement after the final decree. Second, we looked at all children who had entered out-of-home placement since July 1, 1998, to determine whether a child was previously adopted. Although neither line of analysis was entirely satisfactory, both provided information about possibilities for further research.

Cohort analysis. Three conditions were used to define dissolution: (1) date of entry into out-of-home placement occurred at least 90 days after final adoption decree date, (2) adoption assistance was no longer being received after this placement, and (3) if permanency was achieved at end of this placement, it was achieved with someone other than primary caregiver at time of placement. Of the 8,647 children in the adoption assistance data file, only 70 of these met the dissolution criteria. Using Cox Proportional Hazards Models, we estimated the risk of adoption dissolution, by age at adoption, race, gender, and year of adoption. Older children (current age) are significantly more likely to experience dissolution than younger children. Black children are twice as likely as white children to return to placement after an adoption, and about 50 percent of these dissolutions occur within three years of adoption.

Dissolution is most likely among older children and black children  usually within 3 years of adoption.

The finding of a less than 1 percent dissolution rate in North Carolina must be viewed cautiously. Three interpretations are possible. First, these analyses exclude families not receiving cash assistance payments, who may represent less stable adoptive relationships. This seems unlikely, based on conversations with state officials who believe that most adopted children in the state receive cash assistance payments and comparisons between the number of children adopted in North Carolina over the past several years and the number of children receiving cash assistance payments. Second, it is possible that these data and our linking algorithms do not validly link adoption assistance records to children who reentered placement under a different ID number, either the foster care number or a newly assigned number. A third possibility is that these data actually represent events in North Carolina; given the states relatively low rate of reentry to foster care, a low rate of adoption dissolution may also be plausible.

This line of analyses did not produce the certain results that we expected. However, if new ID numbers were systematically and consistently assigned to all children in the state who were adopted, analyses of this type could produce results that would be useful in understanding the course of an adoption that ultimately fails.

Entry into foster care. The North Carolina longitudinal placement data files provided the source of data for the second line of adoption dissolution analyses. It uses a data element added in July 1997 as part of the AFCARS enhancement that recorded whether a child who was entering out-of-home placement had been previously adopted. Of the children entering placement between July 1997 and December 2001, 318 had been adopted previously. Over half were teenagers; 58 percent were white; and 51 percent were female. Compared to the characteristics of all children who initially entered placement during the last 10 years, legally adopted children entering placement were more likely to be white (56 percent versus 47 percent) and teenagers (66 percent versus 26 percent). About one-third of the children were reunified with their primary caretaker or exited placement to a nonremoval parent, a guardian, or a court-appointed caretaker; 17 percent left for unknown or miscellaneous other reasons; 16 percent were adopted; 10 percent were emancipated; leaving slightly more than one-fourth still in placement in April 2002. Although these analyses do not provide sufficient data to calculate a dissolution rate, they suggest a higher rate of dissolution than seen in the cohort analysis. The analyses provide some insight into the number of adoption dissolutions that occur per year and the characteristics of children who are reentering placement following an adoption.

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