An open adoption agreement is a written statement in which the adoptive parents and birth parents outline what openness and contact are going to be post-adoption. For a more legal definition, I went to Childwelfare.gov, which states:
Postadoption contact agreements are arrangements that allow contact between a child’s adoptive family and members of the child’s birth family or other persons with whom the child has an established relationship, such as a foster parent, after the child’s adoption has been finalized.
As of 2011, 26 states and Washington, DC specifically allow and enforce open adoption agreements.
I have only one problem with enforceable open adoption agreements: They set a precedent that people who have no legal rights to a child still have the right to contact with that child. If a mother wanted to cut off contact with her sister, could the aunt then take the mother to court and point to open adoption agreements as an indicator that biological family members have the right to contact with a child, and thus, the aunt should be allowed the same right?
That’s the only reason I don’t support mandatory open adoption agreements in the real world. I fear the precedent they would set.
We have to respect and honor an adopted child’s biological family while recognizing that the adoptive parents have the right, by virtue of being the child’s parents, to decide with whom that child has contact. In an adoption, a child loses all legal ties to his or her biological family. When a biological mother simply decides to cut off contact with one or more members of her own biological family, the child hasn’t lost all legal ties to that family. In Robyn’s Adoption Land, this difference is understood, and open adoption agreements have no effect on biological family custody and visitation issues.
Closed adoption doesn’t exist in Robyn’s Adoption Land. A child has the right to know, at the very least, the names of his or her parents and their medical histories. Remember, “closed” just means that the parents don’t know anything about one another.
Post-adoption contact agreements are required in Robyn’s Adoption Land. That doesn’t mean that birth families and adoptive families are required to have direct contact. Remember, “open” just means that the parents do know something about one another. Generally, they have identifying information (first and last names), as well as general contact information.
As part of the adoption process, expectant parents (EPs) and prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) are educated about open adoption. All parties are asked what they want contact after the adoption to look like. When matching occurs, these preferences are taken into account.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, the specifics are discussed between the EPs, the PAPs, a social worker, and an attorney. These specifics are put into a written agreement. Really, this document outlines the minimum post-adoption contact.
All agreements contain a “safety clause,” which states that the safety of the child is paramount. If the adoptive parents feel that the birth family presents a danger to the child, the adoptive parents can bring this to the attention of the social worker. The social worker will contact the birth parents and make his or her own determination. Ultimately, a mediator or court would have the ability to suspend the agreement for a specific amount of time. Then, the situation will be reevaluated to determine if the birth family still presented a danger or not. If the mediator or court doesn’t find that the birth family presents a danger, but the adoptive parents do, the agreement is still in effect. The adoptive parents must satisfy their end. (I’m not going to go into what constitutes danger, although the “safety clause” will.)
All agreements contain a “medical information clause,” which states that birth parents will provide updated medical information at least every three years.
What if both parties don’t want any contact at all? The adoptee still needs the medical information, so the agency becomes the intermediary. If either party changes their stance, then the agency can act as an intermediary and contact the other party. However, the other party is under no obligation to change the agreement. If they agreed to the minimum amount of contact – medical information submitted to the agency every three years – that’s the agreement.
Post-adoption contact agreements must be reevaluated every three years or if a life-changing event occurs. This gives everyone a chance to determine if the agreement is still working. It also gives the adoptee a greater voice as he or she becomes older and able to voice his or her opinion.
I almost forgot a very important part: enforceability. If the adoptive parents don’t follow through, they are given a certain amount of time to comply. Let’s face it, life happens. If the agreement calls for an update every 3 months, but Mom is in a car accident or Dad gets transferred, then we do need to make allowances for that. If the adoptive parents simply decide they don’t care to honor the agreement, a mediator or court can force them to comply or pay fines. In extreme cases, jail time could be an option. An adoption could not be dissolved unless the birth family can prove fraud, that the adoptive parents never had any intention of following through with the agreement.
On the flip side, birth parents can also be compelled to comply with the terms of the agreement.
I’m really all for what open adoption/post-adoption contact agreements represent: A clear understanding of what’s going to happen after the child is placed for adoption. I don’t think it matters what is specifically in the agreements, as long as the safety and best interest of the child are paramount. That’s why I included the “safety” and “medical information” clauses. Beyond that, the agreement is an outline of who is going to do what and when. Because some of the hardest parts of open adoption are setting boundaries and managing expectations, even just the sessions of talking about the agreements can make adoption a little bit easier.
Once again, what did I miss? (I know I didn’t address Safe Haven babies. That’s a whole other topic.)