ACKNOWLEDGING FAMILY BONDS FOR CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTED CHILDREN
Today the practice of open adoption* (see definition below) is widely found in infant adoption. Children being adopted from within the foster care system are often overlooked as candidates for this practice. Typically, the reasons center on the dysfunctional nature of the birthparents which created the need for foster care and eventual adoption. The result of this outlook is the massive loss of family connections for children who already have experienced serious hurts and losses. Why does a child need to lose a family in order to gain a family?? Why would loss of a family promote attachment to a new family? The reality is that creating more loss impedes future attachment.
So, what can we do? We can reframe the outlook- As children move out of the foster care system and into adoptive homes, it is imperative to examine how to attend to the mental health needs of these vulnerable children. An important pathway involves maintaining relationships with their birthfamilies. Open adoption creates blended families. Open adoption allows the newly formed blended family to maintain family connections. This is not co-parenting. It is cooperating. Recognizing that family interrelationships are complex, it allows participants to deal with life issues directly or, if needed, with the help of professionals as seen in other family configurations.
But… with those people?? Yes!! It can be done with safeguards and definition of boundaries. This is already done while the children are in foster care. Significant persons in their lives are identified and decisions are made regarding the nature and frequency of continued contact. While children are in foster care, there is ongoing assessment. Transferring the knowledge and skills from this stage of care to the planning of adoptions makes sense. Valuable insight is gathered during the time children are in foster care. This creates an opportunity to identify who can maintain contact at this time, where, how often, with/without supervision, etc. Including relatives, foster parents, prospective adoptive parents and the children themselves in this process results in enriched, constructive planning.
The successful implementation of this practice relies on professional conviction that maintaining family connections is desirable. When this is the case, educational programs and supports are created to reflect why this is a healthier approach. Included in this would be the lifetime issues for all parties and their changing roles when an adoption happens. The children, their birthparents, birthrelatives, prospective adoptive parents and foster parents become the recipients of these services. It is an inclusive model rather than an eradicating model.
Using this approach conveys the lifetime importance of the people who surround the children being considered. It offers an opportunity to identify strengths and risks as well as build needed relationship and parenting skills. It takes into account that life is fluid and that malfunctioning people may someday function more healthily. It takes into account that adjustments are made as needed in all families. When family bonds are healthily maintained, the success of the adoption is reinforced. A major outcome is that it helps the child find a place in his family by adoption while keeping his place in his family of origin. Who wouldn’t want that??
*DEFINITION OF OPEN ADOPTION: open adoption includes the birthparents and adoptive parents meeting one another, sharing full identifying information and having access to ongoing contact over the years (all three components must occur to fit this definition. (Excerpt of definition presented by adoption experts at Second Open Adoption Conference, Traverse City, MI.)
The form of ongoing contact… and the frequency are determined by the individuals involved in each particular case…In open adoption, the birthfamily is extended family, like other relatives within the adoptive family. (pg 9, Children of Open Adoption, Silber & Dorner, Corona Publishing Co., San Antonio, TX, 1990)
Sometimes it is necessary to make adjustments regarding the type of contact that is possible. This may result in an adoption where contact may or may not be a fully identified one (that is, where all parties know each other’s identities and addresses). This takes into consideration that life is fluid and relationships can evolve over time.
PATRICIA MARTINEZ DORNER IS AUTHOR: HOW TO OPEN AN ADOPTION-a guide for parents & birthparents of minors, TALKING TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT ADOPTION, ADOPCION- hablando con tu hijo, ADOPTION SEARCH- AN ETHICAL GUIDE FOR PROFESSIONALS; co-author, CHILDREN OF OPEN ADOPTION