The book After Adoption: Direct Contact and Relationships, by Carole Smith and Janette Logan, fills a void in the adoption literature by providing real examples of how contact between birth relatives, adopted children and their adoptive families are arranged. The authors include comments from all parties regarding their feelings about these contacts.
The authors, who are on the faculty of Applied Social Science at a British university, note that while there is an increasing presumption in favor of open adoption (in both the UK and the US), there is little substantive research as to its benefit. One interesting thing to me was that the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child (ratified by the UK but not the US), which contains language to the effect that children have a right to knowledge about themselves, their “identity”, and their birth family and culture, is sometimes interpreted to mean that they must be allowed to keep in contact with birth families.
Published first in Britain, the book studies British families. There are some different terms (foster parents are referred to as “carers”), and the first and third chapters on the history of open adoption and court decisions regarding adoption are more specific to Britain. However, the variety of arrangements and the feelings of the children and adults involved are relevant to anyone touched by adoption.
The book explores contact in various circumstances. It includes not only birthmother contact but some children who are in touch with birthfathers, birth grandparents, aunts and uncles, and birth siblings who are adopted by different families, or situations where one sibling is in foster care or living with the birthparent(s) while one or more siblings are adopted.
The book focuses largely on children adopted from foster care, although some quotes appear to be from those involved with voluntary placements of infants. International adoption is not mentioned.
Among the interesting questions raised are these: how are relationships and contact impacted when the birthparents’ rights were terminated after they had contested the adoption versus relinquishing rights voluntarily? How involved are the agencies in arranging contact and how often were families left to work out the specifics on their own? Do relationships work better when the adoptive family felt they had a choice about contact? Is there an optimal frequency of visits? Is there a point at which visits become detrimental?
The authors conclude that while it has not been proven that direct contact is necessary or even beneficial, it certainly has been beneficial in many people’s experience. But they believe the matter needs further study. They also conclude that more than four visitations a year are often detrimental. They point out that some children are required to have visitation by the birthmother, birth father, birth grandparents, and perhaps a separately adopted sibling. If each of these relatives visits separately four times a year, the child would be having a birth family visit every few weeks, which they believe is not ideal. This is a difficult issue to resolve.
As with many adoption books, perhaps the most fascinating part for parents is not so much the research but the direct quotes from all—adoptive parents, children, siblings, birth grandparents, birth aunts, birth fathers, birthmothers.
To read one of our blogger’s experiences adopting foster children and his thoughts on open adoption, click here.
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