Adoptive parents can often struggle with making the decision to maintain “openness” with birth families once adoption is finalized. Openness means maintaining contact between birth family and adoptive family. There are many things to consider when making this decision and no “black and white” answer in regards to if it makes sense for you and your family. What makes sense for one family, might not make sense for another. The most important thing to consider before moving forward is what is in the best interest of the youth and will contact be safe.
Adoptive parents often worry about maintaining the relationship between birth and adoptive families, especially if the child was removed from birth parents due to abuse or neglect. In these circumstances, adoptive parents may feel anger or resentment towards the birth family (understandably so). Parents can also be hesitant to maintain contact as they may still be establishing their role as the child’s parent and worry involving birth parents may skew parental roles. Some parents may even worry about their children being manipulated or even kidnapped. Looking into statics, these scenarios occur minimally and long-term benefits of contact for all involved far outweigh cons and risks.
Benefits of communication with birth family to youth may include minimizing their feelings of grief and loss, improve identity formation and sense of self, understand origins of their physical and personality traits, and increase communication about adoption and their story. Adoptive parents who maintain contact with their birth family report an enhanced relationship with their child, increased confidence in their role as the parent, and an increased sense of empathy for their child, as well as birth parents. Birth mothers show minimized feelings of grief and loss as well as an increased sense of content and comfort (Seigel, 2012).
Seigel (2012) conducted a longitudinal study where he interviewed adoptive parents who maintained contact with birth parents. Parents report the key factor for ongoing contact to be successful is commitment and keeping focus on the child’s best interest. These parents also report the importance of honesty, self-awareness, communication, flexibility, and a compassionate, nonjudgmental perspective.
If moving forward with birth family contact, here are a few things to consider:
- It can be difficult for birth parents to find a new role in their child’s life, so addressing this on the front end can be helpful for all parties in the long run.
- In this day and age there are many options for how to foster contact. Whether it is through letters, emails, or in-person visits, establishing this and frequency of contact in an informal written contract is best practice. This contract can always be adjusted and changed, as needed. Note the importance of gathering the desires and thoughts from all parties, especially the youth. This doesn’t necessarily mean all parties will be satisfied with what is established, but there is value in making sure all parties are heard.
- Talk about social media. From Facebook to Snapchat, there are plenty of platforms that exist to find family members and communicate. At times, birth family and youth are able to connect without parents even realizing this. This can be great for fostering that relationship, however, parents are often left in the dark. Address this with youth and talk about your expectations to attempt to avoid the misuse.
- If you have any concerns or would like to support facilitating contact, I encourage you to contact your local Post Adopt Coordinator. We can help with making a contract, forwarding gifts and letters to conceal your contact information, or even provide supervised visits.
This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Brittney Engelhard, LBSW