Friday, December 20, 2013

Open Adoptions in Foster Care: My Unsolicited Advice and Recommendations when writing Open Adoption Agreements



Let me start with a caveat that each child, family, and situation is SO unique!  I'm going to be painting my broad brush here based on my own personal experiences and people I know trying to balance this difficult aspect of foster care adoption.  Ultimately you have to do what is right for your child, you may make mistakes along the way.  The important thing is to keep the lines of communication between you and your child open.  The older they get the more you will be able to discuss with them what they want/need or are comfortable with.  There are NO right/wrong ways to handle this situation.

If you can avoid a written open adoption agreement with foster care adoptions I would.  Some states these agreements are enforceable, others are not.  My reasons for trying to avoid them are many, given the facts surrounding most foster care cases you are not dealing with a typical birth family dynamic.  It is likely that things will drastically change, could be for the better or worse who knows.  I think the written agreement often sets up all parties for failure.   Birth parents often end up feeling like the adoptive parent has somehow swindled them when it is not honored, even if the adoptive family is doing this in the best interest of the child.  Adoptive families often feel stressed about trying to honor an agreement that was made years ago with a child and birth family that may not be in the same position as they were then.  I think an ideal situation (although maybe slightly utopian thinking on my part) would be both adoptive and birth parents working together to discuss each step along the way and deciding what works best for the child at that time.

If you are going to have a written open adoption agreement, these are the things I would think about including:

Consistency:  I think consistency is one of the most important things to be clear about when we are talking about children who have often not had a stable early life.  Whatever openness is agreed to the birthparents have to be consistent.  Many open adoption agreements make it clear that if the parent does not show up as agreed to visits or calls, the agreement will end.  Think about what consistency your child needs and what will happen if the birthparent is not consistent on their end.

Face to Face Visits/Phone calls:   I would recommend that no visits or phone calls happen for 6months-1 year after the adoption.  I think this gives the adoptive family a chance to bond and form the much needed attachment with each other without all of the hoopla of visits and caseworkers.  I could certainly see situations where this wasn't necessary, but for me this would be important.  My kids needed to know THIS was permanent, we were a family and nothing was changing that.  After the initial "break" I would recommend starting slow, introducing cards to the child and seeing how they handle that and making sure the birthparent will be consistent with that level of contact and then moving up from there as the child is able.  I think face to face visits for the younger age child needs to be centered around the kiddos likes and interests, allowing them something to "do" rather than a lot of pressure on the meeting itself. The zoo, chuck e cheese, kids museum would all be great options.
 
Drug/alcohol issues:  Even if drug and alcohol issues are not a present concern I would include a caveat in the agreement that this was a deal breaker for direct contact.

Other parties:  I think you need to lay out who else, if anyone, birthparents can bring along.  Will visits include extended family, friends, current boyfriends/girlfriends, other children?

Internet/Photos:  With the increase of facebook, photo sharing and other online mediums think carefully about establishing what boundaries will be set in place.  Some families have a separate facebook account to share pictures information.  Who will have access to that account, can photos be shared by the birthparent, etc.
 
Names:  Lay out who and what everyone will be called right from the beginning.  This will keep people from having feelings hurt or trying to explain different relationships at an already stressful time.  There are so many options for names, you can surely find something everyone is comfortable with.

Whatever you decide to do, above all, I think the focus needs to be on the child.  It can be difficult for adoptive parents and birth parents to put their own wants/needs aside and focus on the kid, but this isn't about us, it is about allowing the child to form a bridge from their past to their future and seeing that everyone supports and loves them.


WHAT OTHER THINGS DID YOU CONSIDER WHEN MAKING AN OPEN ADOPTION AGREEMENT?
 

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