Barriers and Success Factors in Adoptions from Foster Care:
Perspectives of Families and Staff
By Ruth G. McRoy, PhD

When all represented States are counted in both studies, family and staff participants came from all ten standard federal regions, 47 states, and the District of Columbia. Below is a summary of participant demographics and the major findings from each study:

Barriers Study

Family perspectives over a four-year period:

Three hundred prospective adoptive families were interviewed and surveyed periodically about their attempts to adopt. At the close of data collection, July 1, 2007, 98 families (33%) had completed the process, received children, and finalized their adoptions; 102 (34%) families had discontinued the process of adopting a child through the child welfare system; and 16 families (5%) were still in the process.

The remaining 84 families (28%) were re-contacted throughout the study but stopped responding to us, so their final adoption outcome is unknown.

The majority of the families in the study were married couples, caucasian, in their 40s,with 14-16 years of education, and were general adopters (defined as families who did not have a prior relationship with the child they were adopting). In-depth analyses of the interviews revealed that the 102 discontinued families and 98 finalized families fell into five distinct groups as follows:

Group 1: Five families made an initial contact with an agency, may have attended orientation, and/or started or completed their initial application but then discontinued.

Group 2: Twenty-seven families completed an application but discontinued prior to approval.

Group 3: Fifty-three families were approved but never had a child placed with them.

Group 4: Seventeen families received a child but the adoption disrupted prior to finalization and the family then discontinued the adoption process.

Group 5: Ninty-eight families received a child or children and finalized the adoption.

The barriers identified by the groups are the following:

Major agency barriers identified by families in the study were:
  • Adoption process logistics.
  • Agency communication/responsiveness
  • Agency emotional support, and
  • Jurisdictional and interjurisdictional issues.

Major family barriers included:
  • Change in personal circumstances
  • Parent-child match
  • Family preparation and expectations, family commitment, and family dynamics.
Major child barriers were:
  • Foster care experiences and history
  • Child’s mental health and
  • Child’s physical health, although child barriers were reported least frequently.

Staff Perspectives:

Approximately 1,659 surveys were sent to staff in 34 states and Washington, DC. A total of 382 (23%) were received from staff in 29 states and DC. Thirty percent (113) of the staff surveys were completed by staff from private adoption agencies, and the majority (n=269, 70%) were completed by staff from public adoption agencies.

Private agency adoption workers typically contracted with the State (public) agency to place children from foster care into adoptive placements. The following are identified barriers.

Major agency barriers identified by staff in this study included the following:

Major family barriers identified included:

Major child barriers identified included:
Older age of child (over 11), a history of or engaging in sexual perpetration, sexual acting-out behavior, the need for siblings (3 or more) to be placed together, and behavior problems in the home.

Success Study

Family Perspectives:

The 161 families who participated in the Success Factors Study had finalized their adoptions between 1 and 14 years earlier. Fifty-eight percent (n=93) of families worked with public agencies, and 42% (n=68) worked with private agencies. The majority of the families (n=104, 65%) were married. Sixty-six percent of the families had adopted more than one child and in fact, 6% had adopted between six and ten children. The majority of families (58%) were general adopters.

Parents most frequently characterized a successful special needs adoption as having the following characteristics:
  1. Parents were committed to the child and the child’s adoption into the family,
  2. The child was still living in the home and not behaving negatively,
  3. The child was showing progress in the adoptive home
  4. The parent and child had bonded with each other, and
  5. Parents were prepared to adopt a child with special needs and had realistic expectations of the child.

Despite the parenting challenges, 88% of parents (n=141) believed their child’s adoption was a success, 11% (n=17) were not sure, and 2% (n=3) said their adoption was not a success.

Attachment issues, significant behavioral problems of the child, and the lack of services were cited as reasons for parents believing their adoptions were not successful. When asked to offer advice to adoption agencies, adoptive families suggested that adequate resources and services, such as respite, subsidy, support groups, and counseling should be provided to both the family and the child.

A comprehensive report as well as a video presentation of the findings of these studies are part of the Answering the Call Series, which can be accessed from the AdoptUsKids web site at, by clicking on the Resource Center tab and then the Publications for Professionals tab.

Ruth G. McRoy, PhD, is Principal Investigator for AdoptUsKids Research Team. Copyright ©2009. This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Adoption, at Spaulding for Children, Southfield, MI,

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Last Updated 8/6/2008