Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Open Adoption Roundtable #12

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 part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list 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.

"A number of bloggers have written about their open adoption resolutions or
hopes for the coming year, but Debbie gets credit for suggesting it as a
roundtable topic. And a great suggestion it is! Open adoption is all about
relationships, after all. Most every relationship can benefit from periodically
taking a step back and thinking about emotional or practical changes we'd like
to make as we care for others and ourselves.

Call them resolutions, commitments, changes, or choices--how will you be proactive in the area of open adoption in 2010?"

I've been a bit of a slacker at the OAR - but I was excited when I saw this one because I knew I had something to write about. See, when I first became a social worker, I only had a little experience with foster care and adoption. So, I came in as a pretty "clean slate". During grad school we talked a lot about the importance of family dynamics, social and environmental systems, and relationships in general. Then I started working in Child Welfare and the agency was very highly respected. One of my very first cases was a "reunification" case and we fought for this child to be returned to her mother after being bounced around the system for nearly 5 years. The agency I worked with specialized in children with special needs - most with emotional and behavioral disorders. Most of these children had been in the system for years and few were on the path to returning to their biological families. However, the agency stressed the importance of continuing family relationships. We reunited siblings who had been previously adopted, we continued with visitation long after parents' rights had been terminated by the courts, and worked with nearly every adoptive family to retain connections to the child's biological relatives. Almost every adoptive family I worked with developed at least a respectful relationship with their child's biological family, and I believed that they would continue contact after the adoption was finalized - despite the biological parents having a variety of substance abuse/mental health/criminal histories.

In short - I thought that "open adoption" was just the way adoption was done these days!

Then I left that agency, went to a new one (with another job in between) and started a blog...

Turns out LOTS of things are different outside of my little bubble!

At first, I didn't want to believe it. Surely these reports of foster parents being told they couldn't speak to (or even refer to) their foster kids' biological parents were just misunderstandings, right? And surely people knew that children who are adopted will likely feel grief about not being with their first families - don't they? And no one really thinks that race and culture is meaningless - everyone knows they need to think about how to expose their trans racially/trans culturally adopted child to people/places/things that represent their history!


But I've heard too many stories to think that these are just a few isolated incidents now. I've had to realize that "secrets" and closed adoptions are not a thing of the past at all. There are still a lot of agencies and social workers who advise foster parents that their foster children "are young and won't know any different" after adoption. And, adoptive parents still struggle with understanding how children can have enough love for more than one set of parents.

I have worried that my blog may have seemed "ranty" about foster care and adoption recently. I wondered if I was harping or beating the same subject over and over again. I feared that I might even come across as "anti adoption".

But the truth is that I have seen too many children for whom adoption was their only chance at a stable family to ever be "anti-adoption". I have known too many parents who did not thoughtfully consider what becoming a parent might mean at this point in their lives - and the children got hurt in the process.

But another truth I believe is that the faults of the parents rarely change the feelings that their children have for them. And, that despite their actions, every parent loves their child - even when they are not able to parent.

I firmly believe that it is possible for openness to be important and possible for almost every child adopted out of foster care. If you think it is not possible for the child in your life, feel free to email me - I'd love to talk about it more with you. I'm open to extreme possibilities and I hope that you are also.

For children adopted internationally - I believe the need for openness and maintaining connections is even more important. If for no other reason than that it is a hundred times harder to search for family in countries like Ethiopia, where birth records are spotty at best. The old standby of "I'll support them if they want to search when they are adults" isn't going to fly here! That trail will long have gone cold - it is setting your child up for failure and disappointment.

As for those adopted domestically as infants - well, I honestly haven't had much experience with this population. But I have a friend who has truly opened my eyes to the stark realities of what it feels like for someone who was told that they weren't "given up, they were given more". And I admit that I was surprised by much of what she has shared. She'll be sharing a little bit with you all too - she's guest blogging here tomorrow!

So, I guess my new years resolution regarding open adoption is this:

To be sensitive to and advocate for those who are entering into the world of adoption - biological families, adoptive families, and most importantly the children. To be mindful of the words that I use, the assumptions I make, and the support that I give. And, that I continue to open myself to the realities of the practice of adoption - even when I'd rather go back to my bubble!

Go read the rest of the Roundtable entries here: Production not Reproduction!


  1. I am going to come up with the money somehow (tax refund, probably) to do the search for Zhenya's grandmother. The orphanage director gave me her address, and I have written a few times, and have sent photos and so forth - but with never an answer in five years. But, she could be illiterate, for all I know. I even went so far as to include a self-addressed envelope, with postage supplied by my friend in Moscow. No luck.

    All the other kids have connections with their family now, except Zhenya. He was taken to the orphanage by grandma when he was 4, and adopted by us a year or two later. He recalls her coming with a bunch of other ladies to visit him once. He remembers visiting her once - and an uncle with a "big guitar". He has now asked me a couple of times - hinted, rather, that I find her so I will try.

    His mother was murdered. I am presuming it was by a boyfriend - perhaps I was told that. The orphanage director told me (I'd suggested doing this last time we were in Russia) not to drive out to the village to find her, at least not with Zhenya - as "there is some question, in that little settlement, who his father is".

    It should be interesting, if we do find her.

  2. Before experiencing it, I would never have dreamed how messed up and inconsistent the world of adoption is. Our agency was so weighed down with their outdated information and desperately inaccurate knowledge base, it was unbelievable.
    That said, our adoption was from another disrupted adoption. I keep the mom from that family updated thru emails every few months, and I have an online photo account just for her. She sends gifts, but does not ask that Genea know who they are from. Someday if Genea is ever interested I will help her make that connection again, but I think it would be horrible for them to be in contact now. That is my call, and I will be responsible if it bombs. As far as Genea knows, that is the only family she remembers. She cannot yet understand that there is an entire other woman who gave birth to her in Ukraine. I have tried to help her brain wrap around that, but she just is not there yet. We will help her track down real people when she is much older, as we do have a minimum of information.
    Not meaning this to be antagonistic in any way, in case it sounds like it. I just thought I would jump in with my perspective.
    Have a good one!

  3. Annie- whoo hoo! :)

    Essie- I don't think you were being antagonistic AT ALL! I think that keeping contact between (adoptive) mom and (previous) moms/parents/family is a very appropriate way to maintain "openness" in some cases. I wish more people would embrace the idea that just because the CHILD is not ready for openness, doesn't mean that all contact and communication must cease. You are preserving those relationships for Genea for when she is ready, interested and healthy enough to receive the "benefits" of knowing the people that have cared for her in the past. That is what is best for Genea as she heals and attaches now and you, as her mother, will keep those relationships going until she is able. Kudos to you! And thanks for commenting! :D

  4. I would have loved to be able to keep up contact with J's family but it's really not safe. People have died and J almost did. She knows all about them and we talk about it openly (and often). Katherine's contact is kept open with the last foster family and we talk often. Because of the severity and type of abuse that Katherine suffered it's been deemed unsafe for her as well. It also appears they have dropped off the face of the earth because I've been trying to find them to at least get pictures for K's lifebook. There is nothing, not one single picture of her until she was with the last family. It's incredibly hard to do a lifebook from nothing.

    Open adoption is a wonderful thing when safety isn't an issue. I love to read about families that are able to keep those lines open.

  5. I am so glad there are workers like you in the adoption world!


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