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Disruption in special needs adoptions : a British Columbia review Berland, Jeremy Quentin


This paper describes a study of the adoptions of 82 "special needs" children placed for adoption in British Columbia between 1985 and 1989. The adoptions of 41 of these children were not completed. This study examines variables related to the children placed for adoption to determine those factors which appear to be related to disrupted adoptive placements. The paper traces the development of adoption through history and reviews the findings of major research studies in special needs adoption disruption. Using the findings from the review and adding hypotheses that appeared to be missing from other studies, a file review schedule was developed. With permission from the B.C. Superintendent of Family and Child Service, the schedule was used to review the children's adoption files. Analysis of the data obtained indicated that the age of the child at the time of adoption placement was a significant factor in adoption disruption. In addition, the age when the child was legally free for adoption was found to be significant. In both cases, the younger the child, the lower the risk of disruption. An additional important finding of this study is that children who are members of a sibling group are more likely to have their adoptions completed than children without siblings and children placed alone. The pre-care experiences of children were thought to be an important factor in adoption disruption. The study shows that some experiences have a significant effect, notably those in which the extent of the biological parents' disability is clear to the child prior to the adoption placement. The presence of multiple special needs was not significantly associated with disruption except in the case of boys identified as having emotional/behavioural problems. The paper links the findings to those of other researchers, identifying implications for policy and practice. The resilience of the children studied and their ability to withstand serious trauma in their early years is an unanticipated finding of the study. Recommendations for addressing the findings suggest greater emphasis on maintaining sibling attachment for children in care, increased emphasis on assisting children to understand their family and personal history, and broad public education to eliminate myths about special needs adoption.

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