Monday, May 7, 2007

Facilitated Openness Can Benefit Children Adopted from Care

By Diane Riggs, NACAC communications specialist

When my parents adopted in the early ’60s, adoption was not something we shared openly. Today, most adoptive parents don’t keep such secrets and realize how important past ties are to their children. Given the proven value of openness, we must consider how safe contact with birth family members can benefit children adopted from care.

Facilitated contact, though difficult at times, can help children:
• The promise of birth family contact can help some youth accept adoption. A recent study found that before agreeing to an adoption plan, “adolescents needed to be told early that adoption would not preclude contact with their birth families.”
• Contact with past caregivers can ease the adoption transition and keep children from worrying about whether they are okay.
• By promoting contact with important figures from children’s past, adoptive parents show respect for their children.
• Helping children face family realities is better than allowing them to invent nightmares.
• Keeping in touch can ease worries and promote information exchange.
• Contact can help youth reconcile disparate pieces of their identity.

When pondering contact, parents must put their children’s well-being first, and never force contact if the children are unwilling. Barb Fischer, an adoptive, foster, and kinship parent in Minnesota, encourages contact only after she confirms that it is in her child’s best interest.

After agreeing on contact, families must set rules about the amount/kind of contact, supervision needed, and how to avoid bad situations. Parents must also guide children through feelings and behaviors that may arise, and limit or stop contact that proves harmful.

Parents may find it hard to reach out to their child’s first family. Contact can, however, help children and teens gain a better sense of who they are and how they fit in their adoptive family.

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