People often wonder how open adoption works? The truth is this: it’s harder than it looks.
Well, not harder, necessarily… but the best open adoptions take work to make them work.
Open adoption looks easy. It looks like people just found each other, agreed to be friends, moved a baby from one home to another, and maybe offered keep in touch now and then.
There’s a lot more to it than that, though. It takes honor, honesty, courage, sacrifice, and a continued commitment to each child’s best interests. (For a long, long time.)
How Open Adoption Works at Abrazo, Before Placement
At Abrazo, we put a lot of time into helping people understand what open adoption is and how open adoption works.
Abrazo’s prospective adoptive parents start with an orientation weekend. Here they meet with those who have placed, adopted and been adopted, to gain a better understanding of why parents need to place and how it impacts them. Placing parents at Abrazo participate in counseling and a birthparent support group. Here, they too get meet birthparents, adoptees and adoptive parents, and learn from their adoption stories.
Expectant parents considering adoption have the option of choosing a prospective adoptive couple and getting to know them during pregnancy. Or they can opt to wait until after birth to match. Either way, no decisions can legally be final until after relinquishment occurs, more than 48 hours after birth. Until then, every plan is subject to change, in accordance with a child’s best interests. During this time, the biological parents are the only ones with legal rights, of course.
How Open Adoption Works at Abrazo, After Placement
After relinquishment and placement, the baby or child goes home with the chosen adoptive family and Abrazo has the legal right to govern the open adoption relationship. The adoptive parents commit to begin telling the child his or her adoption story right from the start. Abrazo continues to provide counseling, and to help the adoptive parents and birthparents continue to grow their relationship through calls, correspondence, and visits.
Once a court finalizes the adoption, the adoptive parents are granted legal rights, but the open adoption relationship is ongoing. It’s just like any family relations; the parents all stay connected, for the benefit of the adoptee. These are personal (not contractual) relationships, so they’re maintained by integrity, not by Texas law. Camp Abrazo is the agency’s annual triad reunion each summer, which offers a safe and private opportunity for birthfamilies and adoptive families to reconnect.
If contact is lost for any reason, Abrazo can try to help to restore access, upon request. The agency also provides counseling services, if needed, to help resolve any miscommunications that may arise.
Making Open Adoption Work Over Time
Every human relationship changes over time. Open adoption changes, too, as the adoptee grow. Some adoptees welcome the opportunity to be part of the relationship; some don’t, as is their right. The parents have a moral obligation to each other to maintain their connection and keep their promises, regardless.
The best of open adoptions require clear communication and personal contact. Expectations about the frequency and type of communication should be established upfront and renegotiated as needed over time. In most open adoptions, it is incumbent upon the adoptive family to make the effort to schedule regular visits; it is the responsibility of the birthfamily to show up faithfully (or to reschedule in a timely manner, when necessary.)
Common courtesy is an essential component of any open adoption relationship. Adoptive parents need to know their efforts are appreciated, just as much as birthfamilies need to know their continued involvement is welcome. Other relatives may sometimes be included, too, if all parties are in agreement. This always should be cleared between all the parents well in advance, however.
Up Close & Personal
At Abrazo, we advise clients that adoptive families cannot pay for birthparents to travel for visits. This is due to Texas legal restrictions against direct payments and gifts of value in conjunction with adoptions.
We do have some birthfamilies who can afford to travel at their own expense to see their child’s adoptive families (one single birthmom with six kids regularly takes her family on a road trip out of state each year to see her child’s adoptive family. Another birthmom and her parents periodically meet the adoptive family at a hotel halfway between their cities, with each family covering their own costs.)
Yet adoptive families should still be responsible for bringing their adopted child back for regular open adoption visits (whether for Camp Abrazo or personal visits with the birthfamily.) If you could afford to adopt a child out of Texas, you are capable of budgeting to come back to see your child’s kinfolk here. Even if the birthparents are not receptive to visits, your adopted child can benefit from a sense of Texas being their place of origin.
In-person visits are an essential component of any healthy open adoption relationship. (Text, calls, emails, FaceTime and Skype are no substitute for in-person contact.) Birthparents and adoptive parents are sometimes nervous or anxious about visits, and adopted kids may act out, too, before or after a visit. But if you want to know how open adoption works best over time, be as present and personal as possible, and in the long run, the adoptee and his/her birthsiblings will surely reap the greatest benefits.