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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?

Yes.

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

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Comments on: "Questions About Open Adoption" (10)

  1. 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.

    Our social worker actively discouraged us from fully opening our adoption, even after we were contacted by A’s first mom. I also remember hearing that communication was great “as long as it lasts” during parenting classes. I hoped that wasn’t the case with other adoptions.

    Great, great answers.

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      I never understand discouraging openness. Does some of it not last? Sure and that reality should be shared, but for that to be the only thing shared in a class is horrid. Communication is great and should be encouraged. It can be hard and sometimes there are lags and yes social workers/agency workers should address that but gahh it makes me want to scream!

  2. I’m so glad you brought up the Peri case.

    And also, I never really thought about the difficulties in enforcing a legally-binding OA agreement before. Making the relationship adversarial certainly does get in the way of keeping communication channels open. Quite a conundrum. And would first parents be held to the agreement, too? What if they wanted to close things down — what would the courts do?

    In complete agreement about entering a match only when you are on the same page about the amount of openness.

    Thanks for all your thoughtful answers, KatjaMichelle!

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      I’d like to think the courts would treat both sides equally and hold either side to the open adoption agreement if they weren’t living up to it, but I honestly don’t know. And I honestly can’t see it ever coming to that.

      As for the matching I have a post in my draft folder about it…maybe one of these days it’ll work it’s way free…

  3. I just read your response on my blog and had to re-find yours to respond with a “hi” back! Definitely a small world! I spent a while reading your blog earlier today and really enjoyed reading! 🙂

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      I’m reading yours right now…ya know between actually working (can’t believe they want me to work today lol)

  4. I haven’t written my responses yet, but it needs to be said that birthparents often request less openness so it’s not always adoptive parents, and in that case, how would a legally binding openness agreement serve anyone’s needs. I suppose it would simply have to be renegotiated. I think an agreement is a very fluid thing that will shift and change over time. The most important thing is the door be left open.

    • KatjaMichelle said:

      You’re right, sometimes first parents are the ones who don’t live up to the open adoption agreement and as I said in response to Lori’s comment I’d like to think the courts would treat both sides equally and enforce the agreement. Afterall open adoption is not just about updates for the birth parents it’s also about diminishing secrecy for the good of the child.

      As far as how does legally binding openness serve anyones needs I think if the legal contract is drawn up as the minimum amount of contact people want with an understanding that as relationships develop more contact can be had it serves a great purpose. It gives all parties a safety net when the relationship is just beginning. A starting point.

      Do I feel I need that now? No 10 years have passed a relationship has been built trust has been established, but it would have been great to have when we were just starting out.

      Can’t wait to read your responses to the questions.

  5. Hi there! I truly enjoyed reading your short article. Hope you write additional such as this!

  6. This hits my heart and instantly brings me to tears. I was coached into an open adoption when my daughter was 3. I didn’t give her up, I was blackmailed into giving her up by the Pennsylvania Department of Child Services. I explained to the adoptive mother that I understand waiting on visits, because of her age, but that I would never stop wanting photos and updates. It was written in the court order for the adoption that I was to get four visits per year and photos and updates often. The adoptive mother agreed and signed the same court papers that I did, so she knew what her responsibilities were in that regard. It totally crushed me when she cut off all contact after the adoption was finalized. I contacted the DCS office many times and asked why this was happening and if they could do something about it, but never got a response or call back. What’s even worse is the tactic that they used to get me to sign the papers. I had some legal troubles that ended in two of my children being taken away while I was incarcerated. When I was released, I was sentenced to 2 years probation and as a condition, I was not allowed to leave the state of Indiana. The children were in Pennsylvania. I kept in contact with the case worker and they kept in contact with my probation office. I guess after the time had passed, the foster family of my daughter (they were separated) wanted to adopt her, so I got a call from the case worker out of the blue, two months before my probation period was over. He informed me that it was taking me too long to get the kids back and that he would make a deal with me. I asked what that deal was. He said that if I signed adoption papers for my daughter that he would make sure I got my son no matter how long it took. I hung up on him. I called him back the next day and asked him was he out of his mind. That was when the gavel came down. He told me that if I fought for both of my kids my rights would be terminated for both and the foster family would get my daughter anyway, and that my son (who is autistic) would be sent to a group home or float around in the system until he was 18. I contacted my appointed lawyer (who was in co-hoots with the DCS office) and he told me that it would be the best thing because I would lose both kids for sure. So I told the DCS worker that the only way I would sign was first if they got her deadbeat dad to sign first. That was easy for them. Then I hit them with the fact that I wanted contact with my daughter. I wanted it in black and white and signed by a judge before I would sign anything. He was hesitant, but finally agreed. When I got the finalized documents in the mail, everything was there in black and white, so I thought I was okay. Then, after the finalization all contact ceased. Her birthday is today and she is 10 years old. It sucks that people aren’t held to their word. If it were another situation and I agreed to a court order and didn’t comply, I would be thrown in jail (i.e. child support), but these people conned me out of my child. And it’s not like she doesn’t know shes adopted. She is African-American and the family is Caucasian. It is wrong to deceive people. Its even more wrong to deceive someone to steal their child. If someone doesn’t want to do open, then they need to wait for a closed adoption, because I am tormented everyday wondering how she is and if she thinks that I just abandoned her. And whats really messed up is that NO ONE will help me. Please provide your comments and advice. I still call the DCS office and ask questions. I still get no answer.

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