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Broken Adoptions

For tens of thousands of children in the U.S., their ‘forever family’ doesn’t last long. USA TODAY investigates: Why do adoptions fail?

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Broken adoptions have been on the federal government’s radar for more than 20 years.

Yet the government has done little to get its arms around the problem, despite funneling billions of taxpayer dollars a year into adoption assistance for families and incentives for government agencies that boost their adoption numbers.

In a first-of-its kind data analysis and investigation, USA TODAY uncovers what's happening, finding breakdowns at every point in the adoption process.



Broken adoptions shatter promises to 66,000 kids in the US

Demetrius Napolitano

While the majority of adoptions in the U.S. remain intact, tens of thousands of children suffer the collapse of not one but two families: their birth family and their adoptive family. Read the story

Demetrius Napolitano cycled through 25 foster care placements and five high schools until he aged out of the system.
Demetrius Napolitano cycled through 25 foster care placements and five high schools until he aged out of the system. Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY

Their adoptions broke. Now they strive to make things better for others.

Portraits of adoptees

Tens of thousands of children have suffered the collapse of their birth and adoptive families. These adoptees used that as fuel to improve the system. Read the story

Their adoptions broke. Their lives fractured. Now they strive to make things better for others.
Their adoptions broke. Their lives fractured. Now they strive to make things better for others. USA TODAY photo illustration

How many adoptions fail and why? Here’s what the numbers tell us.

U.S. map showing states that provided adoption data.

State-by-state data compiled by USA TODAY show that the foster system has become the leading source of adoptees in most places. Explore the data

Buried records

Children adopted from foster care get new identification numbers that hide their histories. The result: No one knows how well each state is fulfilling its mission of finding children their forever homes. Read the story

‘You don’t give up on family’

Becca Chase

Mark and Tina Chase had waited for the day their foster daughter Becca would legally become theirs. When that day came, it wasn’t what they’d planned. Read the story

Images of Becca Chase, provided by her family.
Images of Becca Chase, provided by her family. Provided by the Chase family

TikTok, Instagram and Facebook are becoming more common channels for hopeful families to find expectant mothers for newborn adoptions. Read the story

Breanne Paquin of Akron, Ohio stands in the nursery in her home that she thought would be for her adopted infant instead she was scammed out of $9,000 after matching with an expectant mom on Instagram.
Breanne Paquin of Akron, Ohio stands in the nursery in her home that she thought would be for her adopted infant instead she was scammed out of $9,000 after matching with an expectant mom on Instagram. Karen Schiely, Akron Beacon Journal

‘I don’t feel worthy’

Anthony Thornton

What happens when an adoption fails? There was no safety net for Anthony Thornton when he left his adoptive home six weeks before he graduated from high school. Read the story

Anthony Thornton
Anthony Thornton Mykal McEldowney, Indianapolis Star

Adoption resources

Parents who have adopted internationally or privately get little support if things go wrong. These mental health and support group resources can help. Learn more

How we did it

USA TODAY scoured a federal database to find 66,000 foster children from broken adoptions and, in some cases, see risk factors linked to failure. Explore the analysis

Help USA TODAY investigate adoption

Are you an adoptee, parent, community member or public and private employee who can help us learn more about adoption issues? We want to hear from you about disrupted and dissolved adoptions.


‘You love this country, and it’s taken from you’

Thousands of adoptees who came into the U.S. legally as children found out they aren’t citizens. They face uncertainty and, at worst, deportation. Read the story

Michael Libberton was adopted from Colombia as a child. He didn't find out about his lack of citizenship until he was in his 40s.
Michael Libberton was adopted from Colombia as a child. He didn't find out about his lack of citizenship until he was in his 40s. Eve Edelheit for USA TODAY

‘The problem is poverty’

A new Florida law triggered a flurry of removals for reasons classified as “neglect” but that experts say are often just symptoms of poverty. Read the story

Tiffany Clark with her son, Kylhar, 7, and mother, Donna Koenig in Daytona Beach.
Tiffany Clark with her son, Kylhar, 7, and mother, Donna Koenig in Daytona Beach. Nigel Cook/News-Journal

Latest religious freedom battleground: Adoption

Religious interest groups have developed a playbook, called Project Blitz, to help push hundreds of copycat bills through statehouses nationwide. Read the story

Aimee Maddonna, 34, a South Carolina mother of three, was turned away by Miracle Hill Ministries, a state-funded foster care agency, because she is Catholic, not Protestant.
Aimee Maddonna, 34, a South Carolina mother of three, was turned away by Miracle Hill Ministries, a state-funded foster care agency, because she is Catholic, not Protestant. Nathaniel Cary, The Greenville News
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