July 2, 2024

Post Placement Contact: How to Find the Right Fit


When you read about adoption, you often see contact between birth parents and adoptive families grouped into three categories:

  • Closed: no contact is shared between the birth parents and adoptive family
  • Semi-Open: limited contact, exchange of first names and some photos, emails, calls and a few face to face meetings throughout the child’s life
  • Open: full disclosure of information between birth parents and adoptive families, with regular exchange of photos, emails, phone calls and face to face visits

Contact in adoption is more easily understood as a continuum, fluid and open to adjustment. We all go through physical and emotional changes with the passage of time that impact our lifestyles and decision making. Why, then, should contact be limited by a decision made after only a few, initial meetings between birth parents and an adoptive family? Shouldn’t that contact be dictated by the current relationship, life circumstance and decisions of all involved parties?

The Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project is a comprehensive, longitudinal study of variations in contact arrangements for birth mothers, adoptive families and adoptive children in domestic infant adoptions. Both parents in 190 adoptive families, 169 birth mothers, and one focal adopted child in 171 of the families from 35 agencies across the United States participated in the study. Initial findings were published in 2013, but the project is still ongoing, adding much needed data to the area of adoption.

The overall results initially reported indicate that the most important aspect of contact is not the frequency but the individual’s satisfaction with the relationship developed. It also describes contact as evolving over time. For example, a birth mother may initially want frequent updates, to include phone calls, emails, shared photo sites and virtual face time, or in-person visits. As time passes, and the birth mother continues to grow in trust and comfort with the adoptive family, while also moving on with her life, the frequency may diminish to monthly, quarterly, or even annual contact. Other factors effecting frequency may include physical proximity of the adoptive family or the busyness of everyday life. When the adoptive child becomes old enough, his or her participation in the decision of how often s/he wants contact with the biological parent should also be considered.

When discussing post adoption contact, it is important for each party to be forthcoming with their wants and needs. Families who are awaiting adoptive placement are encouraged to have honest discussions with their Family Coordinator. Likewise, birth mothers are asked to have multiple, frank discussions with their Pregnancy Counselor. In return, the Family Coordinator and Pregnancy Counselor can offer their knowledge, insights and experiences to help build a healthy, realistic picture of what future contact will look like.

  • How will contact effect my emotional state- As a birth parent processing through the grief of placing a child, will photos, phone calls and face time ease the pain, or make it worse? As adoptive parents adjusting to the baby being home, trying to bond and build a schedule, will phone calls and face time make you anxious and fearful, or bring you peace as you reconnect with the birth parent?
  • Is the amount of contact I want realistic and feasible- As a birth parent, is asking for weekly updates going to be something the adoptive couple can manage? Will a shared photo site and emails work, or do I need to hear or interact with the family and baby? Can I establish a strong bond and have faith in our relationship to know I made the best decision for my child? As adoptive parents, once maternity or family leave ends, will we have the ability to keep up with the contact requested? Do we need to hear or interact with the birth mother to assure that she is healing, feeling good and for our peace of mind? For everyone, is distance and money a factor in how often we can visit face to face and where the visit will take place?
  • Is everyone healthy and capable of contact- Sometimes, life has other plans. Physical illness, mental health issues or even addiction gets in the way. You are responsible for your own life choices, and the child’s safety, well-being and adjustment should remain the top priority.
  • As the adoptee, do I ever get a say in how much contact I have- Absolutely yes! As you grow and change, you may have some issues and questions about how often you see or interact with your birth parents. The Family Coordinator can assist you and your adoptive family with any adjustments that might be needed, just as the Pregnancy Counselor can assist the birth parents.

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