Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable Discussion #28: Questions from a Closed-Era Adoptee

The O.A.R. is a continuing discussion among bloggers about Open Adoption. It's a chance for people from any background to ask honest questions, often difficult ones, and get honest answers. It has been going on for some time, but, if you want to see other questions and answers there is a log available.
 Here's the preamble, courtesy of Heather:

This round is a smidge different--time for some cross-blog pollination! Lori of Write Mind Open Heart, 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 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.

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?

Yes, at any time. This is one of the most terrifying facts of adoption for first families. That's the difference between fostering and adopting. When signing the paperwork to place a child for adoption the first family loses all legal standing regarding the child. There are no caveats.

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

I must not understand this question. I pray I don't understand this question. The best I can tease out of the way this is worded is who hands the documents back and forth, who makes the calls to update the families, et cetera? I'm fundamentally confused if this is the idea behind this question. I'll answer as best I can.

No one. When initially working out the placement of Festus we were working with Catholic Social Services. The social workers there helped us through the legal process and gave us a lot of good resources (books and the like) for dealing with what was happening emotionally. As for communication between Prof Plum, Ms Scarlet, Athena, and me there was no go between. After Athena and I read the profile Prof Plum and Ms Scarlet put together we decided we'd like to meet. After that meeting all contact between families was done by the families. We called, texted, and e-mailed one another. We still do. The "agency" inquired once or twice how things were going after we placed Festus with his new family. They were brief phone calls and the reminder that we could come in for some counseling for the next six months if we needed it. 

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?

Not Applicable

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'm feeling a bit cagey at the moment so forgive me if this seems hostile. That's not my intent, but I do find this question frustrating. What I'm seeing here, effectively, is the question "why work on making open adoptions healthy when so many kids have it so bad in foster/temporary care?" Because one kid in a bad home is one too many. It's true that there are thousands of children in horrible circumstances. It's terrible to think of what these children deal with every day and worse to feel powerless to change it. It's also true that the difference between an open adoption that works and one that closes, ruins relationships, and shatters lives may be a two hour conversation with a counselor. An adoption that closes hurts more than the adults involved. It hurts the child in very real and lasting ways. In terms of hours invested open adoptions are a drop in the bucket. Others' experience may be different, but that is my understanding from the professional social workers I know.

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?

I do not know of any agency that remains engaged, in perpetuity, in an adoption. It is possible they exist, but I am unaware of them. Many agencies that work toward open adoptions also have post-placement care for the birth mothers. This is often reflected in the fees assessed for prospective adoptive parents. In much the same way that fair trade goods cost more than plantation and sweat shop produced goods, so too does the cost of ethical adoption rise. If one is promised an adopted child for $2,000 something is terribly wrong. Similarly if the agency makes no mention of the first parents, or they sound too good to be true but you can't contact them, hit the brakes and do some research. A good non-profit agency will be willing, if not happy, to disclose where the money comes from and where it goes.

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?

No. There is no protection. There is no contract. There is no recourse. Instead, there is trust. An open adoption functions solely on the basis of trust. From there a relationship grows which, hopefully, will include mutual respect, honor, and affection. An open adoption doesn't promise anything. What it does is provide an opportunity. Through open adoption there is the opportunity for relationship.

7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?

Why would I show up to someone's house unannounced? Is it a terrible problem for a friend to arrive unannounced to your home? Or is the assumption that we are pariah? Again, this is about relationships. If people are showing up to your house unannounced with frequency and it troubles you ask them to stop. If they don't it may be time to reassess the relationship and how best to express boundaries.

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?

There aren't legal loopholes in open adoptions. There are giant gaping swathes of nothing. No contracts, no laws, no recourse, no promises. Open adoptions do not open the doors for birth families to suddenly change their minds and fight for custody. Actually, there are fewer occurrences of contested custody and reversed decisions among those participating in open adoptions than closed ones.

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?

There are some significant advocates for open adoption out there. Among them are authors Mary Martin Mason and James (Jim) L Gritter. There's a significant number of bloggers actively engaged in open adoptions. These people remind me of Muhandis Ghandi's quote "be the change you wish to see in the world." They live advocacy because their lives are normal.

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?

This decision lies squarely with the adoptive family. The question is no different for adoptees than any other child deciding they don't want to have contact with a member of her/his extended family.

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

We had a lot of success getting support through Catholic Social Services. There were quite a few support mechanisms for adoptive and birth families. Rather, for birth mothers. It is unfortunate but true that there is a disquieting lack of support and services aimed at birth fathers. Many of the support groups for birth mothers also accept birth fathers, but the culture of these groups often pushes men away.

From my own experience, I attended several support group meetings for birth parents. It was actually a group of first mothers, who the social worker felt it necessary to ask if they would be comfortable if a man were to attend. Instead of engaging in productive relational/emotional work I instead spent the entire time fielding and dodging questions about why the men in these womens' lives behaved the way they did. Instead of bringing the voice of a man I was expected to be the voice of every man. I went twice. Later I attended the agency's BirthMother's Day celebration. Upon learning there would be no BirthFather's Day celebration I disengaged from that community entirely.


  1. I think it's sad that men are are not treated fairly when it comes to adoption and many other general issues in life.

  2. It really sucks that birthfathers don't get the same kind of support that birthmoms can experience.
    To tell you the truth. I stopped attending a support group because of this negative attitude that the other girls had towards men.
    I did not share their opinions.
    Although, unfortunately, it's really hard for a man to look very good in the light of adoption.
    Not impossible, at least I hope not.

  3. I reallly like your answer to #6.

    And your answer to #11, about the dearth of support for birth fathers, made me cringe.

    Thanks, I am. Enjoyed reading your responses.

  4. I've been enjoying reading the answers to these, though I haven't chimed in myself. I especially like the replies to the Q about what would stop a birth parent from just coming over. respect, boundaries, trust, relationships -- as with any other person in your life.

    it really bothers me when a committed and engaged birth father is dissuaded from participating in support activities, for the reasons you mention. there was a local support group here that held a retreat for birth "parents" but it was all birth mothers except for one, a birth father who had a very active relationship with his daughter AND her birth mom, even though they were no longer together. despite that he was her biggest source of support, he was made to feel very unwelcome and challenged mainly by the professionals involved. this was so unlike our open adoption support groups, where birth dads who show up are literally applauded. argh.

  5. "Actually, there are fewer occurrences of contested custody and reversed decisions among those participating in open adoptions than closed ones."
    Do you have a source for that? I'm not asking to be antagonistic. I like stats and information like that.

    I've only seen one other birth father blog, Baby Darling. It's sad in the first place that many birth fathers choose not to be involved. But it's awful the way birth fathers are treated when they do want to be involved.

  6. Thanks for the support and comments everyone. Just a quick response as chittisterchildren hit upon something:

    "It's sad in the first place that many birth fathers choose not to be involved. But it's awful the way birth fathers are treated when they do want to be involved."

    It's important to remember that these are not unrelated.

    As for the statistics mentioned I'll have to do a little digging again to find it. I'm fairly sure that it was in Gritter's "Spirit of Open Adoption", but to be honest I've read enough adoption books there are about 12 strong contenders and two dozen other possible sources. I'll try, but I cannot promise results.


What do you think? I'm curious.