When choosing to grow your family through adoption, studies have shown that open conversations with children and connection with their birth family is best in most circumstances. While this is commonly embraced in domestic infant adoption, other methods of adoption like through the foster system have made slower progress. There are reasons for this, including the reality that birth parents are separated from their children against their will usually relating to the safety of the child. Still, many foster parents are looking at the statistics and wondering if there is a way to connect with their child’s birth parent.
These were things that my husband and I chose to research when we decided to pursue foster care, and eventually adopted twins from the foster system. While the system is designed to give foster parents the freedom to stay uninvolved with birth parents, we chose to ask if more might be an option.
We reached out to their team to ask them to speak with their birth family and see if they might be open to talking regardless of the outcome of the case. We chose a few options that would be safe such as using a P.O. Box for letters, an encrypted messaging app for text and pictures, and pursued more direct contact with our children’s birth grandparents who were deemed safe by their team, but simply too old to case for the twins long term.
We started slow through emails and eventually meeting their birth grandparents at a park. We reassured them that we wanted to make sure out children didn’t have their whole history erased and could still keep in touch with their family. Although it hurts me to say it, they were grateful we would even consider it. That their story wouldn’t have to involve permanently losing these little children that they loved desperately.
We started meeting in person with their grandparents more often after that. I had been nervous from the very start, worrying that I might be making a mistake and make this harder for my kids. But, every time they saw them I noticed the hug my daughter would give her grandparents. I noticed the big breath she would take in that hug and how her body would relax, as if she had been trying to hold it together and pretend like she didn’t miss her family so badly. She always did better the days after, was more relaxed and happier. For us, for her, I knew this was the right choice.
My son responded a little differently, he appreciated more space, and so we worked to find a balance that would give one the contact she craved, and provide freedom for him to distance himself from too much interaction if he felt like it. We also pursued contact with their birth mom through a messaging app to share pictures and updates, providing encouragement when I could. I was even blessed with the opportunity to meet their mom in person for coffee and spend hours getting to know her and my kids before they came to my home. She was not emotionally ready for anything more than meeting me, and that was ok. The stories I learned, I was able to gift to my kids in their Lifebook and when we talked through questions. I now had stories of who their father was, character traits I would never have known without their birth mothers help.
For our story, connection with my kids birth family was one of the best ways I could show them love, and that I accepted all of them, the good and bad stories included.
Some tips on connecting with birth family through foster care:
- Use the foster care team to learn more about the safety of the people involved and if advisable, ask for them to set up a meeting time. This can be especially helpful if you are fostering with an intent to encourage reunification, as foster parents are often great advocates for birth family and can help mentor them towards success and reunification. If adoption is the current goal of the case, see if it would be possible to send a letter along explaining your goals in contact and ask if they would be interested. Have the foster care team review the letter with you, since they will know more about the parent and can advocate for your family.
- Find a few communication methods that are safe and managed by you. This can be a P.O. Box, a messaging app, or an email address created for the purpose of contact that does not include significant identifying information. Begin communication through those methods, and if you get more comfortable with it, consider sending more consistent updates. It is recommended to avoid any identifiable information that the parent could use to contact the child directly, without your approval.
- Listen to your child’s needs. Contact with birth family can be complicated in domestic infant adoption, and more so in foster care. Observe your child when they get news, it may be emotional for them. While many parents may pull back on conversations because of the emotional nature of it, often kids just need support in feeling those big emotions in their heart. You may want to work with a child therapist that has experience with open adoption and find ways to help your child process. Many situations would not be safe for in person contact, but even some news about birth family can provide reassurance.
written by Deb Uber