Friday, February 26, 2010

Defining "Success" in Adoption - even from Foster Care! OAR #14

Its that time again! Time for the Open Adoption Roundtable!

Before I post though, I also want to let you all know about an awesome project that Heather has put together - and I want to encourage you to sign up for it!

Open Adoption Bloggers Interview Project

The Interview Project!

Everyone who'd like to join in will be paired with a fellow open adoption blogger. You'll have two weeks to get to know their blog and send them some interview questions by email. On March 22, you'll post the interview on your blog and your partner will post their interview of you. It's a double benefit to everyone who participates: you'll get to know a blogger better and introduce them to your readers, and your blog will be introduced to their audience. Hooray for networking and cross-pollination!

Now, just because you aren't currently on the Open Adoption Blogroll doesn't mean you can't participate!! I confirmed it with Heather - anyone who has an interest in or connection to Open Adoption is invited to join in!

Which leads me directly to answering this months OAR question:

What does "success" mean to you, when speaking about open adoption?

Speaking specifically about open adoption as it relates to children adopted from foster care, I would first define success by the opening of a person's mind - even if you aren't able to open your heart. In traditional infant adoption, the "warm fuzzy" feelings for the first parents can feel very natural at first. That parent is "giving" you their child - and most adoptive parents have been waiting and struggling a long time to have a baby in their arms! I would imagine the positive feelings come pretty easy in the beginning. Even if you can't understand their decision, to part with their child - you are grateful that you will reap the reward of that decision!

But those initial feelings aren't usually present in an adoption from foster care. The first feelings about a child's parents aren't ones of gratefulness - they are of confusion, protectiveness, and even outrage on behalf of the children. If the child was placed as a foster child at first, and the adoptive parents have had to wait as the parents try to work their plans, those feelings can often become bitter and frustrated.

Occasionally, a parent will decide to surrender their rights - sometimes even specifically to the foster parents. This may help ease the negative feelings a bit. The foster parents may concede that, despite the past, the parents are now "doing the right thing for the child". This makes starting a relationship and maintaining some contact a little bit easier.

But when the courts have to terminate the parents' rights against their will - it makes the likelihood of a future partnership between birth parent and foster/adoptive parent even more strained. How do you establish any kind of openness in that situation? I'm sure many feel it is impossible - but its not.

Some states have "post adoption agreements" that are drawn up and filed with the court - but most don't or aren't actually enforceable. In reality, though they may offer some level of reassurance on both parents' parts, a piece of paper isn't going to be enough on its own to make a relationship between families work. If an agency is willing, a meeting can be arranged to facilitate some discussion between both parties. It may take time, and it will be imperative that the awkwardness be laid out on the table for everyone - no use ignoring the huge pink elephant in the room! Some agencies may even be willing to still host visits, or they may be able to offer a referral to a place that can help supervise any contact. If the child is not further traumatized by contact and the parents can all be appropriate - success can mean that the child has an ongoing relationship with their parents, the roles may change but the relationships doesn't have to!

But success isn't just achievable if visits are possible. Not at all!

Some children will not do well with regular visitation - the trauma is too profound or they need time to develop a strong attachment with their adoptive parents. At times, it is the biological parents who can not handle the contact - either because the wound is too fresh, the hurt too deep, or their own issues interfere. Perhaps even time or distance prevents regular face to face contact - especially for children who are adopted out of state. But phone calls can be made or letters can still be written and presents mailed - either directly to the child or through an intermediary. The child is able to reap the benefit of knowing that they were not unloved or forgotten by their parents - but the reduced intensity makes it easier for everyone to handle.

But what about for the child who can not handle any contact at all? Or the parent who refuses to be appropriate - or is even dangerous to the child? How can their be any successful openness for these children?

Then it relies solely on the adoptive parent. Hopefully they have some It becomes their job to bring up the biological family and to listen to what their children ask or say - even if those questions are hard or their memories difficult to hear. It is important that the adoptive parent not brush the child's first (or even prior foster families) under the rug.

In these circumstances, I would say that success is measured by how comfortable the child feels in bringing up these past relationships. They may not be willing or able to do it on their own at first. Perhaps they were adopted to young to really remember or express those memories. They may not be able to figure out how those blurry memories fit in to their current lives. They must rely on their parents to be proactive in helping them sort out those memories and the feelings they evoke. They can not be avoided!! I recommend starting from the youngest age and earliest moment in the relationship between adoptive parent and child possible.

For a great examples: Please read this post by Mama K. She is not the adoptive parent for Lil Man (age 4) - but she has already laid a wonderful foundation for him! She is helping him understand is past, while also preparing him for the future with his adoptive family. Even with absolutely no contact between the child and his first parents, Lil Man is benefiting from these discussions and it honors the relationship between him and his biological family. On the other end of the age scale - Yondalla often talks about the relationships between the teens in her care and their biological families. Like in this post which takes place just after a TPR for her foster son's biological father, Yondalla truly understands the importance of letting the child/teen form their own opinions and feelings about their birth families - and accepts that those opinions/feelings are going to waffle and wane over time.

THIS IS SUCCESS IN OPENNESS - that the child is ultimately able to freely explore, discuss, and one day maintain whatever relationship they choose with their birth families, knowing that they are secure and supported by the parents who raised them.

I know there are a lot of foster/adoptive parents who read this blog - and many of you have some level of openness with the parents of the children you've adopted. Maybe it isn't "fully open", maybe it is occasional contact or visits, perhaps it is no visits but information is shared or the door is kept propped open for the future. Whatever level of openness is working for you and your child! But I feel that there aren't enough of us talking about how to be open in our relationships after adopting from foster care. There is A LOT of stigma attached to these relationships and the circumstances regarding why the children were taken into care. But I know many people have been able to make it work - and the children reap the benefits!

If you are a foster/adopt parent who is working towards openness with the children in your home OR if you are social worker who promotes open adoption in your work, I would implore beg you to come sign up on the Open Adoption Blogroll. And participate in the OA Bloggers' Interview Project! Inform and encourage others about open adoption, even though it seems more delicate, daunting, or even impossible at times!


  1. Initially we struggled with whether to be open after our boys adoptions. Specifically with our oldest. His mom was a safety threat, especially to me. She stalked me, she threatened me, she hired someone to try and beat me up, she vandalized our property, she made false allegations against me....but in the end, I decided that it wasn't about ME. We did not do visits and probably never will. We got a PO Box and we wrote letters back and forth. We shared pictures and milestones with her. She shared her history, her deepest feelings and her hopes for our son's future. I have every one of those letters (35 in total)in a fire safe box to save for my son when he gets older. She sent pictures of herself as a child, of her other children that we do not know and of our son during his first month of life before he came into foster care. Her letters were never inappropriate or hateful, she was a totally different person in her letters and I am so glad that I got to know that side of her. We exchanged letters for years until she had a few personal crisis' in her life and was unable to continue. With our younger son, it was different. His mom was not a threat, she was just incapable of caring for his level of needs. She has a lower IQ but she's a great person. We did do visits for a long time after his adoption, often at our house with her other kids. She stayed with us once when her apartment was being renovated, her children stayed with us when she needed surgery. We still send pictures and letters to her every few months. I hope to maintain that relationship for our son's sake, she loves him with all her heart and if any child could use an overabundance of love- it's him!

  2. While international adoption can't be "open" in the same way, I do like your definition of success. It is the success that I aim for with my Russian children...not just in the future, but now.

    The surprise for me is how much the effort is all mine. I cannot even get my kids to write in English, let alone make the effort to write in Russian. They don't really want to call. I think they just see it as an uncomfortable social situation, not unlike my saying that some distant relatives of mine will be visiting or I'd like them to call their older, grown-up brother or sister. They look anything from irritated to pained and try to scurry away before I can make them do it.

    But I suppose by your definition, that is success.... They have the relationship they want because I don't generally "make" them have contact. They know I send gifts and letters and photos and that's great - so long as they don't have to do anything themselves.

  3. I have only one of my 4 children that we have any contact with first families. My eldest I have no info on anything other than several orphanages in India. My 3rd and 4th adoptions the first mothers did not want contact but I send them letters and pictures every year to the adoption agency in case they change their mind. My middle guy I have contact with some first family members-siblings, a cousin and an aunt. I have found that I too work a lot harder at these relationships than my son. I am not sure he totally wants them honestly. But I think it is important to keep dialogue open, and relationships as open as possible because he is only 13 now and when he is 14, or 16 or 18 he might very well want more contact.

  4. Thank you so much for this. Openness in adoption takes on so many forms and is about much more than just the private infant adoption version most think of when they hear "open adoption." I would love to get more voices in the mix.

  5. Great post! and what great ways to define openess.

  6. I think open adoption is a good idea all the way around.
    Michelle if you reed this please consider this.
    I miss my three kids so much. Thers not a day that gos by that i don.t think about ending it all.The thought of seeing my kids agin is what keeps me going.



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