Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable #28

Sorry for the lack of links in this post - my Blogger is acting weird and I couldn't add any! Check out the links for Lori and Heather's blogs at the bottom of the page!

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

This roundtable is courtesy of Lori of Write Mind Open Heart. Lori, an adoptive parent in two open adoptions, has up at her blog a set of eleven questions about open adoption which were posed to her by JoAnne, an adult adoptee in a closed adoption. There are some great questions there about the role adoption professionals played arranging contact in your adoptions and how you understand the legal weight of any open adoption agreements you may have. Please consider writing your own answers and linking up at both Lori and Heather's blogs! (And as usual, I highly encourage any of you who have fostered and/or adopted from foster care to add your two cents - we need your voices!)
1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures?

Sadly, the straightforward answer to this question is - YES.

I try to make this as clear as possible when I talk to foster parents and to biological parents. At the end of the day, it is the choice and responsibility of the foster/adoptive parents to maintain contact with their child's biological family. I try to encourage a relationship between both from as early on in the case as possible, but once the adoption is finalized (really, once the parent's rights are terminated) the adoptive parents are free to do whatever they wish.

2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?

In my experience, since the social worker is the person in the middle of everything where foster care is concerned, it is absolutely the worker who sets the tone. And with that comes a wide variety of caseworkers who all have their own values about openness and comfortability with discussing those issues with foster/adoptive and biological parents.

As I said above, I try to encourage all of my staff to start from the minute a child is removed from their biological parents and/or moved to a new foster placement. Some foster parents are resistant - some for valid reasons, others for unfounded biases. Sometimes biological parents are resistant - their reasons are usually much more rooted in feeling threatened by these "other" parents. But I generally put the burden of stepping out on the foster parents. The reason is that they do hold most of the power - they are the ones with the child everyday, they have less to "prove" to the system, and in general they are the "better" parent by default of the situation. But, I also think its important for them to be the one to make the first steps (and sometimes the second, twelveth, and thirty-fouth steps) because they are the ones who have chosen to be part of this experience.

Occasionly, I have threatened to remove a child if the foster parents are especially set against having contact with the biological parents. But unfortunetly, there are not enough foster parents for me to always get what I want in terms of "perfect" parents for children who have already lost one family. So, I generally try to be supportive of everyone's process and let a relationship grow organically between the families. But I certainly grill foster parents when it looks like the case will be moving away from reunification towards adoption. I believe it is very important for them to really think about how they will move forward as the parents of this child. They don't always go on to do what I'd like them to - but at least I have let them know what I believe the consequences will be as their child grows older.
In my experience, lawyers in foster care situations that move towards adoption are extremely hands-off and only really deal with the legal paperwork of the adoption. I've never known one to get involved in the actual case.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?

I would hope the the social worker, having been actively involved with both sides, would see the benefit of continued contact more clearly. I would also hope that they would be able to mediate any issues that arise because they know everyone involved. Sadly, this does not always seem to be the case...

4. How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system?

First, let me take a deep breath and resist the urge to defend the idea of "thousands of forgotten children lost in the system". I know its not perfect, but I take offense to such sweeping generalizations and the assumption that social workers don't care or "lose" children on a regular basis.

I admit that it is very difficult to continue to be involved in these relationships once the cases have closed. I know many workers do maintain contact, but being really actively involved is nearly impossible due to the never ending onslaught of new families that need our attention. This reality is a big reason that I try to bring the families together at the beginning of a case - in hopes that by the time I am out of the picture, they will have formed a solid enough foundation to get through any future rocky times. But, despite our crazy caseloads and the restrictions of accessing services like therapy after the cases close - I know plenty of social workers who have taken the extra time to locate an adoptive family, request contact info or pictures, and even mediate a reunion when appropriate.
5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption?

Foster care agencies get no extra money (or less money) for being involved in a case once a child is adopted. Any work that is done once a case is closed (at adoption) is done free of charge to the adoptive parents - its really up to the caseworker to do it out of the goodness of their hearts. (Biological parents are supposed to get a list of community resources when the goal changes away from reunification - because that is when the state stops paying for their services such as therapy, substance abuse treatment, etc.)
6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out?

There are no legally binding open adoptions in my state. I do work with a lot of Guardianship cases where parents are legally entitled to ongoing visitation and contact (because they have retained their legal rights). In those cases, the recourse is that the case can come back into court and the guardianship is reversed. But that is exactly the difference between guardianship and adoption.
7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?

This is the one question that hit me much as it did Jenna ( It assumes that all birth parents are unpredictable, lack all social boundaries or are downright dangerous. This is simply not true - not even with biological parents that have abused or neglected their children. I have only known a small handfull of biological parents that would even go so far as to CALL the foster parents without prior permission. Even then, they are usually so intimidated that they wait for the foster parents to call them. With foster care, the biological parents are much more likely to live in the same town and know where foster parents live. Yet, I have never known a single one to show up unannounced on someone's doorstep. I have experienced at least two beautiful relationships where biological parents were given keys to the foster/adoptive parents' home and welcomed to come over and spend time with the child without the foster parents being home. Those were two fantastically well adjusted and happy children. 
8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed?
I don't, but I'd love someone to point me in their direction!
9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests?

The only opponents that I have run into are adoptive parents and the occasional foster child who was forced to continue contact when they voiced their desire to back off. Some would see the voices of those former foster kids as a reason to hold off contact. But I think the difference is the the foster/adoptive parents are opposed to the idea of openness with parents that they see as having "lost their chance" because of the situation that brought the child into care. But the former children are opposed to the dragging out of an unhealthy relationship - of the adoptee's voice not being heard. And with that, I agree.
10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?

As I stated above, and in many other posts, I believe it is the foster/adoptive parents' responsibility to encourage and facilitate a relationship from the very beginning. I believe this normalizes the child's experience of having two (or more) families and allows them the freedom to feel however they feel about it. I believe that if a child expresses a desire to reduce or end contact - that desire should be first explored and then honored if it continues. Children are not adults - they are not always able to process the multiple mixed emotions that are brought up with adoption, especially an adoption that was not usually planned but forced by circumstances out of their biological parents' control.

That being said, in that circumstance it continues to be the responsibility of the adoptive parents to continue the relationship with their child's biological parents. This responsibility is the adoptive parents pretty much for life in my opinion! They are their child's day-to-day parents - even when their children are adults. It is their responsibility to be the life-long stabilizing factor for their child. Because even if the child/adult adoptee is not in a place to handle contact - their biological family is still a piece of their very existance.

11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?

Biological parents involved in the foster care system are given attorneys - those attorneys should explain the rules about adoption in their state. I am sure that their are local support groups in many places - but I am not aware of any off the top of my head.


Please head over to Lori's blog -
Heather's blog -
to read other people's answers to these questions!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your unique perspective on this, as I knew I would. I especially liked your answer to #2, about what you can expect from each party and why.

    Also, I noted your point on #9, in which adult foster/adoptees lamented their voicelessness in the process.

    Thank you so much for posting your thoughts, 24/7!


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