Lori from Write Mind Open Heart is asking some questions about open adoption on behalf of an adopted adult from a closed adoption. You can see her answers over on her blog, you can also answer the questions for yourself (as well as see any questions I skipped) and link back there as well.
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?
The best case scenario would be that everyone lives up to the agreements they made, but yes adoptive parents can go back on their word in regard to the openness they promise. Sometimes it’s planned and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the adoptive parents feel they have good reason to close the adoption and sometimes they never intended to maintain openness from the outset.
Sometimes it’s even encouraged by the adoption “professionals” for instance if a couple is hesitant about openness they might be encouraged to agree to openness by being told that they can either not follow through after finalization or that most birth moms “fade away” after a few years so not to worry. These dishonest adoption workers do a disservice to all involved.
2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?
It’s different for every adoption, but for ours there was no go between. J&M had a 800-number set up and when I chose their profile I was given that number by the facilitation service. After the match that was the number I called to speak with them, but there was never an intermediary. Eventually they got rid of the 800-number and I worried my phone contact was going to vanish, and I would have to be content with email and letters. Instead they gave me their actual phone number. Our relationship had progressed to the point that they trusted me with that information.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?
I think the disadvantage of any go between is that it becomes like a game of telephone. Communication is difficult through a third party. It’s hard to build a relationship that way. The advantage I suppose is that it feels safer…
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?
Most open adoptions are through private agencies (at least as far as I know in my state) however the state workers that handle adoptions in our equivalent of DHS are a different set of workers than those staggering under maxed out caseloads working with youth who remain in foster care.
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?
While I know a lot (most?) agencies claim to offer post adoption services I don’t know many who actually do (from a birth mom perspective). And I don’t know of (m)any agencies who are actually involved in the open adoptions they facilitate. After the adoption is finalized it’s pretty much up to the parties to just figure it out so I don’t think it’s any more expensive for adoptive parents to have an open adoption as opposed to a closed adoption.
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?
It’s confusing both because it varies from state to state and because of the way the laws are worded. In my state (Washington) there are now legally binding open adoption agreements although there were not when my son was placed. If someone in my state were to fail to live up to their open adoption agreement and be taken to court:
“An agreed order entered pursuant to this section may be enforced by a civil action and the prevailing party in that action may be awarded, as part of the costs of the action, a reasonable amount to be fixed by the court as attorneys’ fees. The court shall not modify an agreed order under this section unless it finds that the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child adoptee, and that: (a) The modification is agreed to by the adoptive parent and the birth parent or parents; or (b) exceptional circumstances have arisen since the agreed order was entered that justify modification of the order.”
But I’ve seen adoptive parents discuss on forums that as they understand their state laws if the first parents of their children take them to court for violating a legally binding open adoption agreement it voids the agreement, which is exactly what they want.
I think that when legally binding open adoption agreements are violated there should be consequences, however, as a birth mom I can’t imagine taking my son’s parents to court even if they failed to live up to a legally binding open adoption agreement. I don’t think that would encourage them to more openness in the future. The way the law is written it looks like my lawyer fees might be paid if the judge is sympathetic to open adoption, but other than that, whats to keep the parents from leaving the court room and continuing on in the exact same way. If anything I’d have just alienated my only link to my son. But that could just be me being a coward, luckily I don’t have to worry about that. I wonder if the law has been tested yet…
7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?
What deters anyone from going to anyone’s home unannounced? Respect, boundaries, trust.
I know J&M’s address and I have since Kidlet was a baby. I’ve been to their home several times (including overnights). All those occassions have been planned. In our case they have to be planned well in advance due to distance, but I don’t think if they lived closer I’d be more apt to show up unannounced.
My nieces live in a suburb I drive through on my way to and from work each day. If I want to see them I call my sister and see if they have plans or if I can stop by for some auntie niece time. I don’t just stop by. Those are the “norms” that have been established in the relationship between my sister and I.
Relationships between adoptive parents and first parents have to develop as well. Boundaries have to be established, trust and respect developed.
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 is a court case in California where adoptive parents lied about being committed to openness to secure an adoption. The first mom has so far lost, but is still fighting claiming their lies about openness amount to an adoption based on fraud.
Openness needs to stop being used as an coercive tactic, a dangling carrot used to encourage pregnant women to choose adoption, or to choose certain couple/families.
Openness should be legally binding.
Potential adoptive parents should be educated about the benefits of openness, but if they are resistant to openness they should be encouraged to not match with expectant moms who want openness, wait for a match who also wants a closed adoption even if it means you’ll be waiting longer rather than lie about 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 don’t believe in a magic age. If Kidlet told me tomorrow he didn’t want contact anymore I’d have to respect that. However, he’d also have to understand that I have relationships with other people in his family that I couldn’t just cut off because he has decided to cut me off. I’ve spent the last 10 years building relationships with J&M and I love them as Kidlet’s parents, but also as my extended family. I’ve known Kidbrother all his life and I love him too. So yes, Kidlet has every right to break off ties at whatever age though it would break my heart and shatter my soul and I pray it doesn’t happen I would do my damnest to respect his wishes should it ever come to that.
11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?
I was a part of a local support group for awhile, before…some stuff happened in my life… Support groups do exist in some places and for those lucky enough to find them they can be wonderful.
I’m not sure about legal aids. It would be wonderful especially for expectant moms considering adoption often times adoptive parents have lawyers but the expectant mom is not represented.
UPDATE: While I was at work today this was announced as the next Open Adoption RoundTable as well so if you participate you can also post your links over at Heather’s