Assessing the Field of Post-Adoption Services: Family Needs, Program Models, and Evaluation Issues. Summary Report. 6.1.1 Indicators of Need for PAS


What patterns of disruption, dissolution, and displacement indicate potential need for PAS?

What we know: Disruptions, dissolutions, and displacement are extreme indicators of difficulties within adoptions, suggesting the existence of many more families in less dire need who could use PAS. There is little published data in this area, but more could potentially be mined from state administrative data systems. Concerns about confidentiality, as well as data system inadequacies, have hindered progress to date in this area.

Four studies using different methods and samples estimate the rate of disruptions for special needs children at between 10 and 16 percent of adoptions (Barth and Berry, 1988; Goerge, Howard, and Yu, 1996; Partridge, Hornby, and McDonald, 1986; Urban Systems Research and Engineering Inc. [USR&E], 1985). Several published studies agree that older children, and those with behavioral or emotional problems, are more likely to disrupt (Barth and Berry, 1991; Partridge, Hornby, and McDonald, 1986; Smith and Howard, 1994; Smith, Howard, and Monroe, 1998). In addition, better-educated parents, particularly mothers, are more likely to have troubled placements and are more likely to disrupt (Barth et al., 1988; Barth and Brooks, in press; Boyne et al., 1984).

Two prior studies (Goerge, Howard, and Yu, 1996; Festinger, 2002) have arrived at similar adoption dissolution rates of between 2 and 6 percent  figures consistent with those generated in our analysis of North Carolina data. Analysis of administrative data from North Carolina indicates that half of the dissolutions identified occurred within the first three years of adoption, and that the risk of dissolution was higher for minority children and those adopted after age five.

Patterns of out-of-home care for adopted children are doubtless affected by variations among states in how residential treatment, a common form of care, is funded. Although data are again sparse, a recent analysis of adopted families in California found about 6 percent of children adopted between 1988 and 1989 had used residential care (Allphin, 2000). Our analysis of California administrative data found that transition to residential care was typically preceded by three or more changes in adoption subsidies, suggesting that families had increased their use of services prior to out-of-home care. Increased age at time of adoption was associated with greater use of residential care, as was moderate family income.

Moving forward: Better information about patterns of disruption, dissolution, and displacement could help PAS programs reach out to, and tailor their services for, those families in which the adoption may be at risk. Of particular interest would be questions such as the following:

  • What characteristics of adoptive parents and children are most associated with disruptions and dissolution?
  • When in the adoption process are disruptions most likely to occur?
  • When do dissolutions and displacements occur in relation to adoption finalization?
  • What kinds of services have families used prior to dissolution and displacement, and what services would they have liked to have available?
  • What are the impacts of state policies about residential treatment on rates of dissolution and disruption?

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