People raised with shame and secrecy in closed adoptions sometimes find it difficult to imagine the alternative of open adoption. My friend JoAnne has posed the following questions to me, some that I can answer and some that I can’t.
I invite any of you who write about open adoption to chime in on any question(s) you choose. Leave your linky below so others can come visit your answers.
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?
They can. They do. They shouldn’t.
(In the vast majority of cases.)
There is an inherent power shift in adoption. Until relinquishment, the first parents have all the power (although many have told me they feel anything BUT powerful). After finalization, the adoptive parents have all the power. Legally, it is never a shared power. But pragmatically, my belief is that it’s best for the child if the adults focus on the child’s need to integrate his biology and biography by figuring out a way to all be present in his life to whatever degree works for each family cluster.
I can’t tell you how reprehensible I think it is for an adult to promise the world when you DON’T have what you want and then change the rules once you DO have what you want. It’s morally and ethically wrong, it shatters the Golden Rule into pieces, and creates some very strong karma that I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of.
But. I do not personally know of anyone who has done this. I do know of adoptions that have been closed by one party or another because circumstances change. But I am unaware of anyone who promised openness out of baby lust and did not follow through. I am sure it happens, though.
A few states do honor open adoption agreements. But open adoption is often compared to building a relationship with your in-laws. You are joined by your love for your spouse, and as a gift to your spouse you do all you can to make it work. Rarely do we need the law to mediate between in-laws. And when we do, it means something has gone horribly wrong.
2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?
This is probably done on a state-by-state or even agency-by-agency basis, but in our case the agency advised us about the benefits of open adoption and told us we would be creating our own relationship. That, similar to a matchmaker of yore, once the introductions were made and we decided to connect, the agency would step out as intermediary.
However, our agency was there for us years later when we wanted help establishing a relationship with a first father who was unavailable during Tessa’s first 7 years.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?
In my state, all adoptions must go through an agency. In our situation, the social worker worked for the agency, and we felt well-served by both. Our social worker was not adversarial with us (no white-gloved judge), and both our children’s birth moms say they also were assisted ethically by the agency, being given resources on parenting as well as space to make their respective decisions. The efforts of every party seemed to be focused on the babies. It set a good tone for us to develop our own ideas of child-centeredness and openness.
I cannot speak about how interactions with lawyers or facilitators can go.
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?
I think, when you say DHS (Department of Human Services), you are talking about state or county agencies that intervene when biological parents are suspected in cases of abuse or neglect. More and more, these agencies are recognizing the benefits of openness for a child placed in foster or foster-adopt situations. You can find thoughtful posts on this topic at Social Wrkr 24/7 and Our Full Circle.
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?
To my knowledge, adoption fees are not affected by the presence or absence of openness.
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?
This document, about adoptions in Hawaii, says that adoptions there are bound only by “good faith,” “trust” and the “best interest of the child.” I would love to hear about this from anyone in a legally-binding open adoption. What is the legal recourse?
Also, I would like to know what happens if it is the first parent who does not keep his/her part of the deal, specifically by closing the adoption. Should the rules be different for each set of parents?
7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?
I’ll answer this with a question: What deters your cousin from coming to your house unannounced? Your sister-in-law? Your friend from high school? Just a social more that says it’s polite to call first. In my experience, our children’s first moms wouldn’t dream of surprising us with a visit, although if they did we’d be pleased to see them.
We don’t consider our children’s birth parents outsiders or intruders. They are a welcome part of our extended family because they are important to our children and also just because we like them.
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 do not — it’s not something I’ve looked for — but I’d be interested in hearing of any.
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?
In my limited experience, I have heard no hue and cry from first parents opposed to open adoption. The intention of open adoption is not to force openness, but rather to educate the grownups in the equation on the benefits to the child of openness. And to give those grownups the freedom to work out a relationship that works for each of them as much as possible.
I am, however, aware of adoptive parents who are against the trend toward openness.
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?
I’m going to quote myself:
Have you ever heard–or perhaps even made–statements like this? “The decision to have a relationship with her bio family should be hers when she is ready. Creating a relationship between them before she wants it might cause issues in the future.”
Because I see our children’s first parents as extended family, I am going to replace one key word to see how logical the new statement sounds:
“The decision to have a relationship with her grandparents should be hers when she is ready. Creating a relationship between them before she wants it might cause issues in the future.”
Ridiculous, no? Have a child wait until she’s “ready” to meet her grandparents? When will she be ready, and how would you know?
That said, we give our children lots of control over their relationships with their birth parents. If they want to call, they call. If they want to arrange a Skype session or a get-together, we make it happen. If, for some reason, they want to reduce contact, they do. Until they’re ready to resume, which they always eventually are.
I believe two keys for my children are having control and having adoption in our home be normalized to the furthest extent possible.
11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?
I am aware of Open Adoption Support and Open Adoption Insight, and I’m sure there are more groups that offer advice and support. I hope other responders will chime in with their ideas.
If you have insights to share with JoAnne and other interested closed-era adoptees, please write your post and leave your linky below [linky tool closed].
UPDATED: Here is a follow-up post in response to some of this post’s fallout.Image: nattavut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.