It's a dark and secretive adoption trend that parents are afraid to admit to, agencies don't like to talk about, but experts say is happening more than we know: adoption disruptions, in which desperate couples put their adopted children up for adoption … again.

"I think adoption disruptions are far more prevalent than the few cases reported," says Karen Moline, an adoption reform advocate.

"In Canada, in the U.S., across the border. Believe me, it's happening."

Tune in

Hear Donna Carreiro's full report about adoption disruptions on CBC's Information Radio today (Tuesday) at 7:35 a.m.

It's why international adoption experts are commending Winnipeg author Maurice Mierau for bravely going public with his own family's adoption struggles in his new book, Detachment: An Adoption Memoir.

"Parents don't go into this with their eyes open, and then no one wants to talk about it," Moline said. "We need to talk about it."

Mierau himself never considered adoption disruption, and his family now is thriving together. But it was a struggle.

"We were extremely bloody-minded and determined to make things work, and bloody-mindedness isn't enough. And love isn't enough," Mierau told CBC News. "And I understand why disruptions happen."

In fact, the Manitoba-based Canadian Advocate for the Adoption of Children confirms at least two of its adoptions ended in disruptions. Its acting executive director called those cases "unfortunate," but he would not comment further.

'They're desperate to be a parent'

Experts also say parents need to shoulder some of the blame. When you spend years waiting to adopt a child, when you spend tens of thousands of dollars to achieve your dream of having a child, you don't necessary want to hear the bad stuff, be it about the child's background or orphanage, they said.

"Prospective parents don't ask themselves those questions because they're desperate to be a parent," Moline said.

"It's like, 'I'm doing a great thing, I see this photo, I love this child already' … and all these hopes and dreams that this child would have a really great life. And then here these kids come who need therapy, who are traumatized … yes, they are going to act out."

Right now, Canada does not keep track of the number of adoption disruptions, but here is what is known: the vast majority involve international adoptions, upward of 80 per cent of them.

Most of them are either relinquished back into foster care, or they are quietly "re-homed" via personal ads through social media sites — much like ads people place when they're giving away the family pet.

In many of these cases, there are some extreme behavioural problems that families just can't cope with. 

'Last chance' boot camp for adopted kids

Joyce Sterkel knows all about that. She started Ranch For Kids down in Montana. It's like a "last chance" boot camp for adopted kids at risk of being "re-homed."

She herself adopted a son who'd been adopted once before. The reason? He tried to poison his mother.

This is an extreme case, but some say it underscores an important point.

Laura Eggertson, chair of the Adoption Council of Canada, says most often, adoption disruptions happen because families don't know about — or they underestimate — the traumas that a lot of these kids have gone through.

"I think a lot of people adopt internationally assuming they will get a healthy child, with what they would like to think of as a clean slate,"  Eggertson said.

"Unfortunately, they don't get a full and complete history, and none of these kids started out wishing these things. This is not a bad kid syndrome … this is an issue of children who need help."

Which leads to the other problem here: the lack of support. Eggertson said across Canada, there are varying degrees of support that provinces provide adoptive families, especially families whose kids need extra support, be it physical or psychological.

Manitoba, she said, ranks in the middle. Here, parents who foster a child with special needs can access provincial funding for the special services he or she may need, be it physical therapy, mental health services, speech therapy, whatever.

But if they adopt that child, the rate is reduced. And if they adopt that child privately, as opposed to through CFS, they get even less.

The solution?  First and foremost, adoption experts say prospective parents need to take more responsibility, and do their research, before they adopt a child.

After that, Eggertson suggests three things:

  • First, she said it's time to formally track the exact numbers of adoption disruptions out there.
  • Second, parents who are struggling need to come clean about it, without fear of reprisal.
  • And finally, she said provinces need to give broader support and better access to whatever needs these adoptive families have.

"We need to talk about all of these things in a realistic way," Eggertson said.

"These kids have incredible gifts and incredible strengths, but here are some things that we need to help them with and help the families navigate."