Experiences of adoption disruption: parents' perspectives

Elizabeth Lyttle, Paul Mc Cafferty, Brian Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
69 Downloads (Pure)


Context: Adoption can provide a lifetime of benefits for children. Some adoptions however, experience severe challenges resulting in disruption, with children leaving home prematurely. Method: This qualitative study in Northern Ireland used interviews with parents from thirteen families whose adoptions had disrupted, to explore their perspective on the experience. Findings: Key findings focused on issues relating to firstly, the adopted child; secondly, adoption services; and finally, the parents and other family members. The impact of early adverse experiences on the children (developmental trauma) played out through behaviours, often violent, that their parents found extremely challenging. These increased as the children aged and had serious effects on family life. The adoptive parents thought they could have been better prepared through the adoption process to face challenging behaviours and more appropriately supported to prevent disruption. When their adopted child was admitted to state care, the parents typically felt initial relief but also guilt and loss. After the child had left home, they generally wished for more involvement with him or her despite the difficulties experienced. Discussion: This study confirmed previous findings about the extent of trauma experienced by some adoptive children, and the challenges that this may present to the adoptive parents. It highlighted how the manifestation of the trauma experienced by the child may lead to adoptive parents themselves experiencing primary or secondary trauma or compassion fatigue (defined in the Discussion section below) or a combination of all three. The preparation of adoptive parents should include greater awareness of possible challenges, and how to cope with these. The development of trauma-informed approaches to practice and service delivery is required to support families with adopted children more effectively. Co-production models for service development may assist in addressing the types of issues identified in post-adoption support services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages19
JournalChild Care in Practice
Early online date9 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 9 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Child Care in Practice Group.


  • Adoption disruption
  • breakdown
  • parenting
  • risk
  • trauma


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