SW column topper

ID-1006603From what most professionals and adoptive parents will tell you, open adoption is about the child. Right? The child needs to know and understand their biological roots, see people who look like them, and have access to answers to any questions that may arrive over their lifetime. Isn’t this what 95% of open adoption literature tells us?

So why do I hear such a different story when it comes to foster care and adoption?

Even the most open-minded and progressive foster parents I know tend to struggle in this area. There is a lot of talk about biological parents not being “deserving” of seeing their children, especially in cases where parents fought to have their children returned to their care. Foster/adoptive parents have often gone through years of waiting, stops and starts, and a system that drags things out forever by the time they get to make the child a permanent member of their family. And, unfortunately, those fights are often fraught with hostility, manipulation, and too often false allegations. But, when I put myself in the shoes of parents fighting for their children, I can understand how “desperate times call for desperate measures” in their minds. These relationships are not easy and too often leave a lasting negative impression after the adoption is final.

I don’t fault the foster/adoptive parents for falling into this theory of “deserving” as a guide for post-adoption contact or openness. The reality is that it is largely set up this way by the foster care system itself. Within the system, it is not uncommon for parent/child visits to be conditional on parents having to jump through myriad hoops. And visits almost never increase in frequency (but often decrease) depending on how consistent parents are in these services. Not to mention that every time a parent misses a scheduled visit, that can be held against them when decisions are being made about reunification. So, is it any wonder after years of this pattern while the children are in care, that the foster parents carry it over after they are out from under the system’s rules?

But does this change anything in regards to the child’s needs? Does this mean that a child won’t wonder where they came from? Does it mean that a child won’t subconsciously long for the genetic mirroring that I can’t give them? And I doubt those questions that are so prevalent in the minds of adopted children will go away. In fact, I would bet that because foster children often have more experiences and memories of their biological families prior to adoption, they actually will have more questions that deserve answers.

So, then what are foster/adoptive parents supposed to do? How can foster/adoptive parents change their focus from openness being a “reward” for good behavior on a biological parent’s part and move towards a child-focused open adoption?

Well, I have a few ideas on that! Stay tuned for next month’s post. 🙂

About the author:
Socialwrkr247 has worked in child welfare for the past 10 years and recently became licensed as a foster parent. She hopes to explore the topic of “openness” from both perspectives as a social worker and foster parent.

5 thoughts on “Deserving

  1. This is something I never considered before. But I think you’re right, especially when you say, “I would bet that because foster children often have more experiences and memories of their biological families prior to adoption, they actually will have more questions that deserve answers.”
    I look forward to more posts – I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a child in the foster care system and have little to no idea what my biological family is like.

  2. While I have encountered some people who say that their children’s biological parents don’t “deserve” to know them, I’ve encountered far more people who have safety concerns, sometimes legitimate, sometimes not. What parent would want their children exposed to drug addicts, for example? Children are removed from their parents for reasons. If a parent seriously abused or neglected a child, and the child reacts to visits by having nightmares, I personally don’t see that it’s in the best interest of the child to have those visits. (Although, of course, openness doesn’t necessarily mean visits.)
    There are also biological parents who don’t recognize the adoptive parents as parents, and do everything they can to undermine and insult that relationship. I don’t see that as being in the child’s best interest either.
    I do think that, whenever possible, some contact with some biological family members is important for children adopted from foster care. I’m just not sure that open adoption with biological parents is necessarily a goal that is always in the best interest of the children in these situations.

    • Thanks for your comment and I absolutely agree that their are circumstances where contact with biological parents is not safe or appropriate for the child. But I respectfully challenge the notion that simply because a parent has substance use/abuse issues, they are not someone the child should be exposed to. In my work as a social worker I’ve worked with many parents who struggled with addiction who were able to have positive and appropriate visits with their child. I think it’s important to look at each person as an individual – not just a list of their faults and weaknesses. I’ll be addressing some of these things in my next post – I hope you’ll read and let me know your thoughts then!

      • Robyn, thank you so much for making those points. I think that safety concerns have to be part of any conversation about openness in adoption from foster care. And of course the range of abuse/addiction/neglect is so wide that it is difficult to generalize. Should a child have visits with a biological parent who struggles with addiction but is clean and sober for the visit? What about a biological parent who arrives high and hallucinating? Or the bio parents who frequently just don’t show up at all? What message does it send to a child if the adoptive parents arrange supervised visits with the father who sexually abused her?

        I agree with SW247 that removal of a child and termination of parental rights does not preclude the possibility of appropriate visits. Just because a biological parent cannot raise their child doesn’t mean they can’t have a relationship with them. But openness might look different in adoption from foster care than in a domestic infant adoption (for example). And I do think that physical and emotional safety has to be a part of that discussion.

  3. I think your point is extremely well taken…what is in the child’s best interest is not how “the system” works….children have no rights, it’s about parental rights. So by the time you get to the end, there is a tendancy to be pretty focused on parental behavior. Which is both the beginning and the end of solving the problem; stop focusing on parents and start focusing the system, from beginning to its never ending influence, on the child in question. My children’s first parents are drug addict/deals and violent felons. But my children know them as Mammi and Poppi. And yes, the visits when they were still in care were prone to give them nightmares, were disruptive and inconsistent. As a foster parent, I had NO INFLUENCE in their happening. But as their “legal” mother, I do. And there is no way in hell I would have a visit with their first father without a trained and skilled supervisied visitation center involved. But now, two years post adoption, mother is caring for herself and my daughter asked to see her. How much better was it that I had the option of arranging a visit (based on my child’s need rather than my anger at a time when the LAST thing I wanted was the possibility of ongoing contact with the people who hurt my baby? ). My dauther got what she needed — reassurance that people don’t just “disappear” and first mother got what she needed — reassurance that her daughter was thriving. I honestly believe that there are many, many parents of children in foster care, who, if given an honest and open discussion about the possibiltiy of adoption, would be more willing to terminate their own parental rights. But that is actively, openly and loudly discouraged by any social services worker I’ve ever talked to. Why?

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