Sunday, February 19, 2012

More Thoughts on Open Adoption and Foster Care

When I met Erica, my daugher's original mother, the first thing I did was give her a hug. I didn't know then that she was in recovery. I didn't know yet know that she had made dramatic changes in her life and was in a very different place than she had been in when her parental rights were terminated. I only knew that she was my daughter's other mother and that my daughter loved her. That seemed like a good enough place to start.

I love the comment that socialwrkr_247 made the other day in response to my latest family preservation post:
Too often foster parents assume that because a parent could not keep their child safe, it is unsafe to continue contact with that parent after adoption. In my 7+ years and nearly 100 children's cases, I have only known about 5 parents who would pose any physical threat to the foster family or child. I have known a few more where the child was too traumatized, or suffered from such a serious attachment disorder, to maintain in person contact with their biological parents. Some of those children could handle letter or phone contact, some couldn't. But in all but those most extreme 5 cases, I would highly encourage foster/adoptive parents to continue to maintain the relationship on the child's behalf until a time when the child wants and is capable of handling the interaction with their biological family again. A child will not be a child forever. A child will not always be at this point in their healing. Someday they may need that link to their past to move forward and grow to be a confident, self-aware adult. 
Yes, there are those rare cases in which openness is not optimal, but don't be to eager to assume that your adoption situation is one of them. If the adoptive parent starts from a position of emotional openness toward the first family, and of understanding the importance of maintaining a connection to the biological family in most (though understandably not all) cases, the open adoption relationship is much more likely to succeed.


  1. I am so glad we will be able to have a relationship with our younger daughters family. Her bio dad is almost 60 so I'd hate to wait until she asks and then not have that possibility. Realistically we need to take the opportunity now.

  2. I think the existence of an original family is more of fact than threat. Children do grow up and process through their emotions and form relationships, set boundaries accordingly. I worry that when adoptive/ foster parents are resistant or negative towards original families they actually end up driving a wedge between themselves and their child, and it has the opposite of the attended affect.

    I have very guarded contact with my original parents in my adult life, I love them, I want my children to know who their grandparents are, but their priorities have not changed much since they dumped their child on the system. That is where I stand today and I feel that (most) every child should have the right to form relationships with their original families that work for them.

    I am glad you choose to talk about this stuff openly.

  3. My kids all have varying degrees of openness with their respective families. It has made a significant difference in our relationship to have them see we are a team rather than being at odds. More importantly, it gives our kids a connection to their past so they can build their future. We have been able to get everyone's baby pictures (my kids were all school-age when we adopted them) and have pics of everyone's families as well as access to them at any time when kids have questions about stuff.

  4. Rebecca since I have no first hand knowledge of this issue I would never disagree with you, but as an outsider the idea really scares me. If a home is so bad that a child has to be removed from it and the first parents rights terminated doesn't the child have to be protected? When a foster child is adopted don't they need to know that their forever parents are forever and they are safe? I could see the benefit of keeping the door open, but it frightens me. Thanks so much I always love to read your wonderful and thought provoking posts.

  5. When we met our daughters birth mother last week it was one of the most amazing moments of our lives - we knew in an instant we wanted nothing more than a very open relationship with her, and that is what we're working on.


  6. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Kathy. Yes, absolutely, safety must be a primary concern. But in a majority of cases, having some degree of openness does not conflict with that. I can let my child know that forever is forever and I can keep her safe w/out completely excluding the first family from her/our life.
    Let me put it this way: I may have given Erica a hug on our first meeting, but I that doesn't mean I gave her my phone number, address, or even my last name. Initially, our contact was by P.O. Box and an anonymous (for me) email address, and our meetings were in public places. In our case, my husband and I eventually decided that those protections weren't necessary, but they were in place at the start and could have remained so indefinitely.
    An open adoption is different from allowing a child to remain in an unsafe home or returning the child to that home; it is a limited relationship that takes place in a structured, controlled environment. Most kids want that. They don't want their parents to disappear completely, even if those parents weren't able to care for them as well as they should have. The reasons why kids enter foster care are various and complex. In Erica's case, for examples, the family structure fell apart initially because of a domestic violence situation in which she was the victim; her life spiraled out of control after her children were removed and she wasn't unable to jump through the required hoops to get them back, but she herself was never a direct danger to her children. Her situation is not unusual.
    There are situations in which a child has been severely traumatized by the actions of the parent and would not benefit from a relationship. Obviously, a child should never be expected to have a relationship w/ a parent whom they fear! But I think people assume such cases are the norm, when really they are the exception.

  7. Here's another way of looking at it: is it the child's fear or the parent's fear? If you've got a child who is waking up with night terrors and saying that they are afraid that their birth parent is going to try to get them back, or who is showing fear and reluctance around visitation, that's a very different situation from one in which the child is saying "I don't understand why I can't see my mom and/or dad" and the a-parent is the one blocking contact. I'm just aware that the latter situation happens far too often, and, as Sunday mentions above, it can have the unwanted effect of driving a wedge between the a-parent and the child ... sooner or later. There's a difference between setting appropriate boundaries, and helping the child learn to set appropriate boundaries, and cutting someone out altogether.
    I hope this makes sense.

  8. As always you make perfect sense Rebecca. Thanks for explaining it in such an easy to understand way.

  9. I am new to reading your blog and I do not know your full family history, but I think this is a beautiful post. I have worked as a social worker with children who were in foster care and either about to be adopted, or adopted when there was a TPR, and I think it remains important that the child know that they are removed from their parent not because the parent did not love them, and it sounds like this is something you are ensuring here. And at the same time, you're also making sure your daughter knows that she is loved, safe and HOME with you. Maybe I am reading too much into one short post and the comments, but I appreciate what you have posted and shared here and I thank you for doing just that.

  10. I think it is a common misconception that most children are removed from their parents' care due to abuse. It is actually much more common for children to be removed due to neglect - much of which is driven by domestic violence, mental health issues, or poverty. Children are rarely at risk of being harmed by their parents in a structured and supervised setting - which is exactly what is provided by open adoption.


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