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2001 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 6, No. 1
February 2001

Consequences of TPR for Children

The consequences of terminating parental rights are impossible to predict precisely. Many consequences will be positive for the child; that's why parental rights are terminated in the first place—to help the child. But some negative consequences are likely in many cases. The balance will be different for every child. Below are some possible consequences of completing the termination procedure and some recommendations for minimizing negative consequences.

Possible Positives

  • Child is safe from abuse or neglect
  • Adoption becomes possible, giving the child a chance to be claimed and to develop a sense
    of worth and to secure a sense of positive identity
  • Confusion of multiple caretakers is minimized
  • Child does not have to make court appearances
  • Energy of caretakers and social workers can be focused on helping child with
    emotional and behavioral issues, instead of finding a placement, protecting child, etc.
  • Child and others involved have clearer vision of future

Possible Negatives

  • Severe behavior problems due to loss of parents
  • Unable to see siblings and other relatives from birth family
  • Failure to attach to new caretakers
  • If new placement is unsafe, trauma of past abuse can be rekindled
  • May be very difficult for child to trust anyone
  • Disrupted eating and sleeping habits
  • Difficulty adjusting to new rules in new home
  • Identity crises, feeling like an outsider, embarrassment around peers due to these feelings
  • Depression, anger, anxiety, or poor, confusing, or inconsistent boundaries with new family

Minimizing the Negatives

There is no magic pill to minimize negative consequences. Children in new families need many of the same things that all children need: love, attention, clear limits on behavior, open communication, and safety and security. But after TPR children need these things in greater quantity and with greater frequency.

Talk with children about their past and their parents. Without belittling or harshly criticizing their biological parents, social workers and new caregivers should explain as often as necessary that their old home was not safe for them, and their new home will be safe. Children may respond, "I don't care," but in most cases, a safe home that is nurturing and supportive will win them over eventually.

Help foster and adoptive parents prepare for a range of behaviors. Caretakers need to understand that difficult or upsetting behavior is common, and not take it personally.

Newly placed children may want a lot of time alone, and then suddenly need extreme amounts of reassurance about their place in the family. It is okay to indulge these needs. Parents may worry about "spoiling" children, but the greater concern with newly adopted children who have been abused or neglected is their sense of trust and security.

On the other hand, behavior such as aggression, stealing, or sexual acting out should be responded to clearly and quickly. How parents choose to respond is up to them, but there must be consistent and firm limits on unacceptable behavior. However, physical punishment will only reinforce the child's sense of being unsafe, insecure, and distrustful.

Give foster and adoptive parents honest and complete information about the child. An important way to minimize the negatives of TPR is to be sure that we know everything possible there is to know about the child, and to share this information accurately with the potential adoptive parents. It is counterproductive to sugarcoat the negative behavior and just hope adoptive parents will learn to live with it. We must also learn what the adoptive parents think they can tolerate. A bed wetter might not be tolerated in one home, but might thrive in a home where this is simply "no big deal."

Make sure adoptive parents know about the resources available to them. Adoption is a lifelong process. At the very least all adoptive special needs children (and the vast majority of children in DSS custody are special needs) are entitled to post-adoption services.

In addition there is adoption subsidy—a basic entitlement that can help minimize the negatives for kids who have been through TPR. Subsidy not only allows for post adoption services, but also provides cash payments, vendor payments, Medicaid, and financial assistance known as nonrecurring expenses reimbursement. Medicaid will pay for mental health appointments for adopted children, and there are additional incentives for special needs children that can help pay for residential treatment, covers the cost of psychiatric medications, etc. The whole area of subsidy and its availability to our children is critical for social workers to know about and use.

Social workers can also help by referring adoptive parents to affordable child therapists in the area who can help them deal with a child's depression, severe aggression, or other emotional behavioral problems that are too serious for parents to handle alone.

Finally, research suggests that children who continue to visit their families of origin (with supervision, of course, when safety is an issue) or are placed in new families along with a sibling are much more successful. If this can be arranged, it should be.


Howe, D. (Ed.). (1996). Attachment and loss in child and family social work. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.