Adoption burnout

A response to our interview with Christina Maslach.

I read with great interest your interview with Christina Maslach on burnout (September 2017). The points she made were immediately very familiar to me not so much in my role as a practitioner psychologist, but as an adoptive parent. Although their work is surrounded by a cultural stereotype of happiness, adoptive parents are at high risk of experiencing burnout – but, as elsewhere, they are invisible in discussions such as this.

Adoptive parents take on some of the most needy and challenging children in our society. They not infrequently have to deal with violence (which can be directed at the parents, at siblings or others), self-harm, urinary and/or faecal incontinence, inappropriate and dangerous sexual behaviour, outbursts of anger, school refusal, persistent stealing, and more.

Unlike people in other trauma-inducing roles, adoptive parents cannot take sick leave. They cannot resign or request a transfer to another department. Adopted children are yours. You cope as best you can.

Given this, we should not be surprised that, according to a recent BBC report, the charity Adoption UK ‘thinks as many as a quarter of all adoptive families are in crisis and in need of professional help to keep the family unit together’ (

I particularly agree with Christina Maslach is in what she says about the need for organisational change. Some of the biggest problems that adoptive parents face are with ‘the system’. Teachers, medical professionals, social workers and others all too often lack the training to properly understand adoptive families and their needs. Some local authority post-adoption services are competent and helpful. Some are well-meaning but incompetent. Some are abusive toward the very people they are paid to help.

Adoptive parents save local authorities a massive amount of money – even when adoption allowances are considered. If local authority staff would simply acknowledge this fact, it would be a great step forward.

For the time being my family has support from our friends, our extended family, our church and our neighbours. We survive – but sometimes only just.
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I call adoptive parents' rights and adoptee's rights collectively as "adoptive human's rights":

My late mother was my informally adoptive mother and with this status she had many problems due to my birth relatives. I have a very strong bond with her.

When a very young child is adopted, the parents are parents for the adoptee/adopted child regardless of their adoptive status; but one thing I often heard from my adoptive mother which she called in her mother tongue Punjabi, "paida na kita howay teh wasaaa nai hondaa!" translation: "Trust is linked to the birth mother; if you do not give birth, there is an issue of trust". I tried my best to counter this notion of hers all my life and gave all my trust and loyalty to her because if she would not have informed me at the age of 5 years I would never have even imagined myself as an adopted person! I never accepted my adoption anyway. She was just like a natural mom to me. So, the point is that this "trust matter" is an experience matter for the adoptive parents; NOT the adopted children who were adopted before the age when their memories began to form.   

Can anxious sort of attachment also lead to adoption burnout? For example, I used to consider my relationship with my adoptive mother as two souls in one body...

I love this quote, "They could take off their uniform but...could'nt remove the armour". This is my feeling towards my birth parents. How can I ever remove their label, their skin, their blood, their ID that I am wearing? Even law would not recognise me... Adoption is just like doing everything halfway and not being a holistic existence or having the right to be an individual in one piece.