Little Girl Lost: My Failed Foster Adoption

Her brothers came into our lives two weeks earlier. As we sat in a local McDonald’s, we were excited and anxious to finally meet this little girl we had heard so much about: our new daughter.

The minutes flew by, and then in walked the most adorable little 5-year-old ballerina. She was dressed all in pink and wearing a matching pink tutu.

I looked at my husband, two weeks into fatherhood, and saw the tears flooding his eyes as he met his new daughter for the very first time. I watched as he leaned over to explain to the boys that she was their sister. They were two and three years old.

Tears filled my eyes as I remembered a time when my own brother and sister were taken away and put in different foster homes. The feelings that flooded my heart were bitter sweet. This, coupled with the overwhelming needs of two adorable little boys who were suffering a great deal of unknown issues, already had me very concerned.

My concerns grew even greater as I watched this beautiful little girl leading her foster mother in a beautifully choreographed ballet aimed at meeting her every whim. I watched my husband as he sat misty eyed, already in love and completely clueless to the antics being played out in front of him.

Because family and children services was desperate to find an adoptive home to reunite the three siblings, and because of my eagerness to please my husband, we had bypassed all of the usual protocols and fast-tracked the adoption.

We agreed and signed the paperwork before ever seeing or meeting this wonderful little family of three. It is something that never should have been allowed, or encouraged.

The long drive home was even more concerning. I knew there was trouble brewing, but desperately wanted to reunite this little family and give my husband the greatest gift I could give, a family.

The days were long and the nights even longer. Our youngest, Jimmy, was a preemie and was still suffering effects of in utero drug use, which required that he be held upright all night long to breathe. Adrian suffered from failure to thrive, unrelenting toddler diarrhea, constant temper tantrums, undiagnosed developmental delays and possible autism (or so it seemed).

Our beautiful little girl, Anne, needed more attention than both of them put together.  And if she didn’t get it, there were penalties for it.

The paperwork we read on the children seemed to be misleading. Or, written by someone who had never spent time parenting this little family. I was dying inside and I didn’t know what to do. I felt like a total and complete failure. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, overworked, sleep deprived, and quickly becoming depressed.

One day I was wearing a suit, beautiful heels and lived in the world of banking. Now, I lived in my pajamas because I couldn’t muster the desire, time, nor strength to change.

I raised two children on my own, I was a single mother for 17 years. My children were college educated and doing phenomenally. I thought I knew everything I could about parenting, but these three had reduced me to tears and rubble within a few short months.

I couldn’t understand. I grew up in foster care, I overcame brutal child abuse. I loved being a mother more than anything in life. We attended all of our training sessions, but nothing prepared me for what I was experiencing.

Our beautiful little girl had long since divided and conquered. Our case workers blamed everything on me and my past. No one supported me, they merely pointed fingers at me because I was complaining, making waves and making life hard on everyone. The more they blamed me, the louder I became and the more research I did trying to find some reason as to why this beautiful little family was in such chaos.

Every day brought a myriad of fights, crying and tantrums from all three. Anne was touching her brothers in private places, pushed them down the stairs, feeding them mushrooms out of the yard. There were pictures being drawn at school and brought home with guns shooting her brothers heads off, pictures of her and I fighting with daggers while my husband lay in bed beside me. No one seemed concerned except me.

Finally, three months later, a crisis intervention team got involved. Nobody at the time had any experience or training in RAD (reactive attachment disorder) or trauma. I was beside myself by now, and all fingers pointed at me.

I called DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services) and told them to remove Anne from my home as soon as possible. When they came, my husband was surprised there were no tears. He thought she had loved him as much as he loved her. I explained, yet again, how reactive attachment worked.

Months later, DFCS finally received our boy’s evaluations from the Marcus Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. Adrian suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and unknown learning disabilities. He tested slightly above mental retardation. However, I knew some of that was due to their neglectful and abusive foster environment. They had lived their entire life in foster care and came to our home unhealthy, nonverbal and way behind. Jimmy suffered from undiagnosed medical issues.

Our beautiful little girl suffered from an even longer list.

Today, I’m a better parent for the experience. I practice trauma-responsive care, even lead training sessions on it. I have a circle of support and I know where to go when I need help, advice, or merely a shoulder to cry on. We are still evolving, but it’s a start.

I can’t help but wonder if I had been equipped with these tools before this little family came into our lives, would the outcome would have been different?

I miss my sweet little girl every single day and my heart breaks for her. I feel I have let her down and feel I merely added to her list of laundry because I was not equipped with the correct tools, or support to parent a traumatized child.

I feel the system let me down because they did not arm us with the correct information to make an informed decision. Parenting children of trauma can often cause caregivers to become traumatized, or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There are no statistics on broken foster care adoptions, so I have none to give you. And abuse is common, just ask the children. We must fight for total transparency in the system. I personally feel we need to allow journalists in the courtrooms. Only then will America become educated and informed on the issues, gaps and inadequacies of protecting our vulnerable, voiceless children who are left to courts to choose their fate.

If we continue to mask the realities of the system, the children will continue to suffer and failures like mine will continue to plague a system that has long been broken. And America will continue to be none the wiser.

Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.

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About Helen Ramaglia 18 Articles
Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.


  1. I like the way you put it, that the state was in such a hurry to get the kids adopted.. Our son, who came to us at 7, was in a program that supported us really well (though we still had truly difficult times). Our “team” helped us to give my son room, as we wanted him to participate in his adoption. When the state would want to push it on us, we had to hold our ground and make it clear that we wanted our boy to be ready for such a great change in his life. As hard as it was for me to wait, I believe that waiting for him to be ready was very beneficial to the whole thing. The day finally came when he could tell us he wanted the adoption. He was 9 by then. We went into that experience with confidence.
    Another thing that you said that I liked is that often the people who take care of the child’s case have not yet parented that child. So they should give the foster/adoptive parent plenty of credit because kids who are truly deep into RAD can play adults like no one’s business! I hope lots of people who read this can add it to their list of educational posts.
    Stay strong!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I am also an adoptive mom of a little girl diagnosed with RAD and FASD. We have to keep bringing our stories to light if we can ever hope for the resources our kids need to become a reality. System overhaul is desperately needed to diagnose kids in care earlier. I was told my daughter was a basic care child. We now live like prison wardens on constant watch to protect the other kids and prevent our daughter’s disturbing behaviors.

  3. Carlee, sadly your statement that if your sisters can do it (succeed) anyone can, is a statement of ignorance based on your narrow experience. Your ignorance is excusable, but it is that which keeps the overwhelming problem of extremely traumatized children and families hidden.
    We have a child that we discovered had not only attachhment disorder, which we expected, but later we discovered severe brain damage from FASD. We have run into very dangerous behavior that can’t be resolved with love and determination alone. She needs extensive medical, behavioral, and psychiatric intervention that was promised by Medicaid when we adopted, but denied when appropriate intervention became too expensive. We have another adopted child, who also comes from a trauma background, but she thrives with the care we can give her. She does not have FASD, or if she does, it impacts her in a very mild way.
    As the original author suggests, we need more openness in adoption and we need to stop making parents the scapegoats when they ask for interventions.

  4. I adopted two young children…a year old, and a two year old. No diagnosis, no supports in place. Met and married my husband and he adopted them. When the oldest was twelve, he got into enough trouble with enough places to push the powers that be into a diagnosis. Both of our children, bio siblings, are on the FAS spectrum. And no amount of love can fix the brain damage alcohol gave them. The older is still at home. Our daughter, whom I love more than life is not safe enough to have at home. Breaks our hearts..for all that could and should have been for these two, and all that never will be, because of the brain damage. My heart goes out to you…and a host of other adoptive parents who find out the information they needed to know beforehand, too late to be able to make their adoptions the success stories everyone wants to see. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. I saw relate. We Han amazing little boy in our home for 16 months. We still love him to this day and pray for him. We I made that call to remove him from our home we were weeks away from adoption. Yet having him in our home with all his issues similar to what you described and more. It was physically making my wife ill, destroying our marriage, making our other son a nervous wreck and effecting his school work and behaviors. Who one seemed to know how to help.this precious child, nonetheless us. Our hearts broke the day he left our home and we still have moments of what if, but we choose to believe we made the right decision for him and us. The sad thing is we really don’t know what happened to him, and that is the hardest part. Not knowing! We are not bad parents and have gone on to foster and adopt four more children since that time. This is not something we share much with people as they don’t understand that we were set up to fail from the get go. When he left he took a part of my heart with him.

  6. As you hadn’t yet finalized the adoption of the little girl, deciding not to complete the adoption was a sensible (albeit heartbreaking) decision. The families that adopt a kid and then kick them to the curb a few months or years later (dissolve/disrupt)… well, that’s a different story altogether.

    I’m not adopted but I do happen to have three sisters adopted from foster care (my BFF from age 4 and her baby sisters, adopted at nearly-17, 7 and 8) — after spending most of their childhood in/out of foster care as their first parents valiantly (but unsuccessfully) fought their drug/alcohol daemons.

    All of my sisters are amazing, smart, talented women who were college grands before their 22nd birthdays — despite prenatal drug/alcohol exposure and years and years of neglect. If they can succeed, ANY kid can succeed.

    Kids have a habit of living up (or down) to expectations. My parents held my sisters to the same standard they held me (i.e. those of educated, upper middle class professionals who expected their kids would go to college) — perhaps if more adoptive parents of “hard places” adopted kids didn’t make excuses for them (e.g. oh, the poor traumatized kiddo! can’t possibly make them do homework, stop hitting their siblings etc) they’d do SO MUCH BETTER in life!

  7. Wow, thank you for telling this event of your life. I to share this story with my family and how we adopted two little boys. Both are fetal alcohol, drug of choice cocaine, OCD, add/ADHD, and other health issues. Educational on tract and very wise in thier young lives, they memorize every thing but then forget a lot of this. Abused in and from the system for not knowing of all the tragic events in thier young lives.
    I try to make up for all the hurt and fight for thier education, we try to instill the rights and wrongs and teach them safety and lots of time we just get so overwhelmed and exhausted by the lack of knowledge out there or the ignorance of others towards these special babies.
    I commend you for doing what you have taken on and know that you being a strong influence on these children’s life is what is going to be the best for them.
    God bless you and your family

  8. I really believed when friends from another state could no longer take care of their children that if we loved them enough, all would be well. Unicorns and rainbows. The joke was on me. I could never have fathomed the world we walked into taking on two toddlers that came from parents with a drug history and domestic violence. I’m learning and trying to ‘stay the course’. Education in advance would have been helpful, but I don’t know that we would have made the same decision. Thank you for your honestly. If nothing else, for today, I do not feel alone in my adventure… and I may research the Marcus Institute.

  9. I commend you Helen, and am grateful for you taking on a tremendous quest in your life. I know that I could not do it. I have not the patients or will at my age of 52. Yes I blame it on age. You are a
    well disciplined woman and can do it. I know you pray for the little girl. Not your failure, these children should be assessed and conditions know before ever allowed to be adopted. God Bless your whole family, as you teach these little one, to walk with God and over come their birth parents mistakes.
    Take care,
    Grace Pool

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