Friday, June 29, 2012

Questions to ask...Open vs. closed adoptions

Continuing with questions adoptive families should ask themselves...

How do you feel about birth moms, birth fathers, birth siblings, and birth grandparents?

Consider how you feel about birth families.  And then do some research and consider it again.

I think many people enter into adoptions with a lot of uncertainty about the role of birth families.  There is the underlying fear that a birth parent will promise one thing but then at the last minute, change her mind and choose to parent.  There is the Law and Order:  SVU drama based fear that at some point in time a birth family may step in and kidnap an adopted child.  There are some fears rooted in realism about the choices that a birth family may be making regarding crime, drugs, or alcohol.  And often there is a deep sense of wanting to protect your adopted child from all of the above.

That said, after many years of closed adoptions, in today's world, most domestic adoptions have some degree of openness.  Some may involve a birth parent who regularly visits.  Others may be as simple as sending a photo and a letter once a year.  And some start as open adoptions but over time the connection is lost.

Many times, the prospect of interacting with a birth family is intimidating.  I also think it is tempting to start an adoption and think that the relationship between your child and their birth family is maybe not all that important, that it will be a hard thing to navigate and that it might be best if it was just left alone.  

That said, as someone whose children have lost their first families, I think a softening of hearts towards birth families is a good thing.  If you consider nothing else, consider that your child needs you to love his birth family.  He needs you to have put aside your discomfort in order to have some answers for him.  He needs you to speak affirmations about his birth family so that he can believe his story is hopeful not hopeless.  (Even if the birth parents have screwed up every single part of parenting, do your best to find some small positive thing that your child can hang his hat on.)  

If you choose to do a domestic infant adoption, there is a good chance, you will be asked to have some type of relationship with the birth family.  Within foster adopt situations, the opportunity for an open adoption may appear to be not an option since the parents have lost their rights to parent.  However, a child may have a grandparent or sibling relationship that needs maintained.  In international adoptions, it is often assumed that every international adoption is a closed adoption where there is no contact with the birth parent.  This actually depends on the country you adopt from and the child's unique story.  In China, it is illegal to abandon your child and it is also illegal to relinquish your child to an orphanage.  So often, while children are abandoned at city gates, police stations, or shopping centers, it is done stealthily so that the parents are purposefully unknown.  However, in China, a child may spend months or years in a foster family.  It may be possible (although not likely) to maintain contact with this foster family.  In countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, and Haiti, it is fairly common for there to be a living relative who is placing the child.  Often, adoptive families are able to meet this family and in some cases, they are able to establish a relationship with the birth family.

In all situations, you might also need to consider how you feel about the ethics involved in a family relinquishing their rights to a child or the ethics involved in how a parent's rights are terminated.  In domestic situations, are you comfortable with providing medical care, food, and housing to a birth mom with few restrictions on how the monies are used?  Would you prefer that a birth mom be living in a special situation that might lower the costs associated with her living expenses?  Know how the agency/attorney feels about this and how the money will be spent.

Have you thought through what type of counseling you believe a birth parent should receive?  Ask agencies what they do to help a birth family grieve the loss of the child.  Ask how it is paid for and how long the counseling will continue.  Ask if birth families are able to access counseling later on if the birth family has a need.  Ask if a birth parent was given the option for drug and alcohol counseling.

In international adoptions, ask some of these same questions but also ask about the possibility that the child is an economic orphan, a child relinquished due to poverty.  There are many strong feelings on what should happen when a child is placed for adoption because of poverty and I'm not sure there is a right answer.  It is a bit too simplistic to just say "no child should be placed for adoption because the parent cannot feed them."  Often times, the poverty is just one struggle albeit the largest one.  I think my personal preference in international adoptions is to try to determine if the orphanage has programs in place (or will refer a parent to another program) if they feel the family should be kept together if a solution to the lack of food could be found.  Does the orphanage help moms who can't breastfeed buy formula rather than just taking the child in for adoption?  Doe the orphanage support opportunities for sustainable businesses in country which would provide jobs and keep families together?  Is the orphanage clear on the finite ending most adoptions have, that the child will probably not return to the birth country as an adult in order to help his birth family?

In terms of foster parenting and adoption, at what point do you believe a birth family has had enough chances to parent?  Are you okay with parenting a child whose birth parents are in jail and essentially had their rights terminated because of this?  Are you okay with a domestic infant adoption where the birth parent was in jail and may feel that she has no other choice other than to place for adoption?  In all foster to adopt situations, how will you navigate months or years of uncertainty regarding the birth family's role in a child's life?

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