This is in answer to the questions posed at WriteMindOpenHeart. You can see Lori’s answers there and get links to other answers around the blogosphere.
1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures?
Yes. While open adoptions are enforceable in some states there have been few court cases testing the waters (see Carla Moquin) and my understanding in speaking with adoption professionals is that there are very few judges who will go against the wishes of legal parents. Remember that when an adoption is finalized the birth parents effectively cease to be. They are no longer legally connected in any way to their surrendered children. As more states move towards opening records this might change.
2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?
In a fully open adoption both sides have identifying information and so can manage the communication between themselves. In a semi-open adoption there is an intermediary who forwards the letters or arranges the visits. For example, in a semi-open adoption one parent may contact the agency or attorney and ask to arrange a visit. The agency or attorney will contact the other party and work that out. In a fully open adoption there is direct communication. There are shades between semi-open and fully open (for example, the families may not exchange fully identifying information but provide each other with email addresses or phone numbers) but the lack of an intermediary is generally one of the marks of a fully open adoption.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?
The greatest disadvantage in having an intermediary is that the intermediary can disappear. The agency might go under. The attorney might retire. It happens. The great disadvantage of not having an intermediary is that the families may not feel prepared for direct contact and may flounder without support.
4. How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system?
My understanding is that generally during placement but before parental rights are terminated the agency may help manage open relationships as part of the regular visitation that birth parents have with their children in care. Depending on the worker and the agency, there might be attention paid to nurturing a relationship meant to live beyond termination and there may be post-adoption support for all the family members. I know of at least one agency here in central Ohio that is committed to creating open adoption relationships out of their fostercare program and I know several that aren’t. There is certainly NOT consensus on this and of course a great deal depends on why the child is in care in the first place.
5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption?
I have not heard of any adoption agency that is making money on openness. I do know of terrific organizations that support openness and who may charge for their services (Center for Family Connections) but they’re certainly not selling openness to make money. Rather they have a number of post-adoption services and this includes mediation (to help manage open adoption agreements), support groups and other kinds of counseling.
6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out?
I spoke with one agency director in Virginia who said that the reality is that most contracts are as valuable as the paper they’re written on, which is to say, not at all. My hope — and the hope of open adoption advocates everywhere — is that this will change. Meanwhile expectant parents considering adoption need to know that even in states that recognize open adoption agreements there may not be recourse if the adoptive parents renege. They must be allowed to make fully informed decisions and too few agencies acknowledge the tremendous risk that expectant parents take when they choose to make an open adoption plan. Further, adoptive parents need to be better educated to the benefits of openness and there must be more post-adoption support so that families can truly thrive.
7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?
The same thing that stops your neighbors, cousins and co-workers from showing up unannounced. Then again, some do. Families need to talk about their expectations ahead of time and address issues as they come up. That said, most first parents are pretty cautious because of the power differential in the relationship. Most are pretty careful about not stepping on boundaries. Does it happen? Sure. Just like it happens in other relationships.
8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed?
I do not off-hand although I’ve read here and there about birth parents bringing adoptive parents to court. Again, I’ll refer you to Carla Moquin‘s case since it’s been widely covered and there is a lot of information out there about it. It’s important to note, though, that Carla is not fighting for more openness; she is fighting for the return of her daughter.
9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests?
There are a lot of people who are pro-adoption but feel very cautious about openness. There has not been the rise of a group like Origins, for example, that is specific to openness and my sense is that there is a discussion going on among those organizations about how to support first parents and adoptees who are living in open adoptions. Right now there seems to be a division — happily it is a narrowing division — among first parent groups that can sometimes separate closed and open adoption birth parents. For example, a first mom in an open adoption may come to an online support group and be told by closed-era first parents that she should feel lucky to have any contact.
As to adoptee support, widespread openness is relatively young and so the children of open adoption are still relatively young. In the next decade or so, we will likely see changes as those children grown up and begin to find each other.
10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?
I really think this depends on the adoptee. But the argument that open adoption takes power away from adoptees seems akin to saying that children shouldn’t have to see their grandparents or their cousins or their aunts and uncles until they’re old enough to choose. Recently an adult adoptee in an open adoption contacted me saying she does not believe in openness because her birth family was unkind to her and made her feel awful. I honor her pain and am sorry that her adoptive parents didn’t do a better job of protecting her. But arguing that all openness is suspect because of someone else’s bad situation is like arguing that because my friend was molested by her father that none of us should have access to our fathers.
The truth is, families are complicated and we cannot generalize one situation from another. There are people on this site in fantastic open adoptions and others who are struggling with problems big and small. What we have in common is a commitment to figure it out for the good of our kids and our answers are as individual as we are ourselves. It’s my opinion that as helpful as an online resource can be, nothing can beat meeting people face-to-face who know where you’re coming from so I encourage people to seek out those resources — contact the local agencies, contact Origins and CUB. Talk to the good folks at your local branch of the American Adoption Congress. Even if there isn’t a group, you may find that one other person who can hold you up and see you through.