Adoption Adventures

Follow Cory and Rebecca on their quest to adopt!

Spooked by “Open Adoption”?

People can get pretty freaked out about the concept of open adoption. Ask around and you may be surprised at what you hear. Some are concerned that a child can’t understand who their “real” parents are if they have any contact with their birth parents. Others believe that birth parents are just waiting in the wings to swoop in and take a child back. And then there are those who still believe that all adopted kids are destined to become troubled adults. I’m not going to spend time here debunking these common myths, because others already have. Additionally, as an adoptee, I know these concerns are unfounded. Although I was born at a time when closed adoption was common, I know from having been raised aware that I’m adopted ensured that I was never confused about who my family is. It’s not a stretch to understand that adoptees who have contact with their birth families aren’t confused about who Mom and Dad are.

OpenSignMy own concerns about open adoption have dealt more with the possible problems of knowing a would-be birth mother or birth parents before a baby is born and before their final decisions are made. As I’ve said previously, it seems like things could get mighty problematic when a couple with the resources to adopt an infant and whom an official agency has deemed to be “fit parents” is brought into a situation where an often young woman with less access to resources is trying to make a life-altering decision about an unplanned pregnancy. Years of advocating for women’s reproductive rights have taught me: a woman’s personal choices about her pregnancy are up to her and her medical provider. As soon as you start factoring other people into that equation, you could be asking for trouble in the form of coercion. I was worried that open adoption could go against my personal beliefs, as well as put Cory and I in a difficult position if the birth mother should change her mind after giving birth. I remember hearing a colleague years ago talk about an adoption that didn’t work out for her and her husband, and she spoke so negatively about the mother for changing her mind. I understood the woman’s pain (that situation would be amazingly difficult for anyone to go through), but her anger at a woman for making the completely valid choice to parent the child she birthed… It was stomach-turning. Just as I was afraid of coercing a woman into an adoption she didn’t 100% want, I was afraid of becoming that woman.

All of this is why it pays to choose a good adoption agency that shares your values! Through working with ours, I’ve found that they do comprehensive options counseling with every potential birth mother who calls them. Birth mothers and families typically aren’t matched until her sixth month of pregnancy–beyond a time when she would be considering abortion. The birth mother chooses the adoptive family for her child and the adoption plan is a joint effort between the two parties. If a birth mother (or adoptive parent) feels like the relationship isn’t working out, she can “unmatch” from them at any time.

Learning more about the process has shown me that it actually dovetails perfectly with my belief system. If a birth mother chooses us, we’ll be helping her fulfill her own plan for her pregnancy and her child’s adoption. What’s scary about that?

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GAL-ling Around

Who doesn’t love a terrible pun? Many people, it turns out. That’s why I’m having to restrain myself from making GAL puns these days.GALBlog

GAL stands for Guardian ad Litem, which is what our state calls volunteers who are trained and appointed by judges to be advocates for children who were abused or neglected, and are now in foster care. In some states, Guardians ad Litem are called CASAs, or Court Appointed Special Advocates. You can read all about what GAL and CASA volunteers do on the national CASA website.

As the regular readers of this blog know, our attempts at foster care adoption opened our eyes to the many challenges that children in care face and the need for more advocates of all types both inside and outside of the foster care system.  A representative from the GAL office came in to talk with our MAPP class last year and I remember thinking to myself, “These GAL folks are totally the badasses of foster care.” In a system where so much emphasis is put on the rights of biological family and there’s such a large amount of red tape to get through to make change happen, the GAL is able to advocate solely for the child in care. And, as a volunteer, a GAL isn’t beholden to the same people as a social worker or foster parent. The goal of every GAL is permanence for “their” child, whether that be reunification with the child’s birth family or adoption outside of the child’s biological family. Studies have shown that children with GAL/CASA advocates are substantially less likely to be in long-term foster care, they have a higher chance at adoption, and they get more support services while in foster care.

Seeing as a large part of our interest in adopting a child from foster care was to give a child a safe, loving, and permanent home, becoming a GAL was right up my alley! So I signed up, was interviewed, completed the training offered through our local GAL office (it’s a challenging course, but doable), and was sworn in last week, and got my first cases yesterday. If the stats on the CASA website ring true for me, I’ll be able to help get far more children in permanent homes as a GAL than if we had simply adopted. As with so many things, it’s all about figuring out where you can do the most good, then getting in and doing it!

Quick update: I got the opportunity to talk with a local reporter about being a Guardian ad Litem in hopes of bringing more volunteers to the program.

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Orienting Ourselves

We attended an orientation with our new adoption agency several weeks ago, and our experience there versus those through the foster care program couldn’t have been more different. Even though domestic infant adoption and foster care adoption are similar legally, they’re certainly not in other ways. First off, the other orientation attendees were closer to our age than those in our foster care class. They typically didn’t have children already and seemed much newer to the idea than folks we’ve met in the past. I think the most striking difference was in how our potential for adopting was presented. Throughout our foster adoption journey, it seemed like when adoption (rather than just temporary foster care) was spoken about at all, it was phrased as something that may happen despite all of the enormous challenges of the foster care system. During the recent orientation, the agency representative presented adoption as something that will happen–although it may take a while.

One of the more unsettling "online dating" photos I could find online

One of the more unsettling “online dating” photos I could find online

The reasons for the differences are pretty clear. One is a private agency in the business of marketing would-be parents to would-be birthmothers and providing services to make sure those connections go smoothly. The other is a government agency with the overarching goal of reuniting children with their birth families, and–in the rare circumstances that reunification isn’t possible–they try to find suitable adoptive homes for kids. The foster care system has so many regulations and so little staff and funding that it can’t afford to be nimble or make the kinds of changes that smaller, private agencies can in order to succeed. I talked with someone working within the system recently who wondered why the type of technology used in online dating can’t also be used to match up kids in foster care who are available for adoption with suitable families. Maybe there’s potential for a renegade, family-creating match.com?

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