Thursday, December 06, 2007

Workshop 1.4, Part I: Ensuring Ongoing Relationships--Practice That Opens the Door to Connections

Ethics and Accountability Conference
Sponsored by Ethica and Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
October 15-16, 2007

Bullet points for discussion during Workshop 1.4:
  1. What key factors should assessments address regarding ongoing connections?
  2. What are characteristics of successful open adoptions? What factors undermine the success of open adoptions?
  3. How can families of origin be best educated on their importance to the children and the roles they can continue to play in their children’s lives?


Marilyn Panichi is the Executive Director of Adoptions Unlimited, Inc. She has more than 35 years of adoption and child welfare experience in administration, supervision and casework. Prior to establishing Adoptions Unlimited, Ms. Panichi was the Executive Director of the Adoption Information Center of Illinois under the auspices of the Child Care Association of Illinois. She began her career with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services as a Child Welfare Worker and Adoption Coordinator. Ms. Panichi earned her Master of Social Work and Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Illinois. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and the Academy of Certified Social Workers. Ms Panichi is co-founder of the Adoption Exchange Association where she currently serves as board member and treasurer.

Susan Ogden is the Director of Domestic Adoption at Adoptions Together. She has worked in education and nonprofit program management for 25 years. When she adopted her daughter Sasha in 1992, Ms. Ogden became an advocate for better understanding of open adoption. Her daughter enjoys an open relationship with her birth mother, birth sister and birth father. Their experience was featured in a New York Times article (October, 1998: Secrecy and Stigma no longer clouding adoption.) Ms. Ogden has published in Adoptive Families magazine and the Washington Post. Celebrate Adoption, Inc., an organization of triad members co-founded by Ms. Ogden, published her An Educator’s Guide to Adoption, a booklet that adoptive parents may give to their children’s teachers. The Guide, now in its fifth printing, was featured USA Today and the subject of a segment of the Rosie O’Donnell show in November, 2000. Ms. Ogden worked closely with clients of Adoptions Together in open relationships in making a video about open adoption (Adoption …Real Stories) that is used in outreach to broaden the understanding and acceptance of adoption as an option in high schools, clinics, hospitals, churches and other community organizations that work with youth and women in crisis pregnancies.

Patricia Dudley serves as Director of the Long Island Region for You Gotta Believe! The Older Child Adoption & Permanency Movement. In this position, she has successfully supervised and completed one federal grant and is currently supervising a second federal grant “The Long Island Opening Adoption’s Door To Teens Project”. Over the past five years, under Ms. Dudley’s leadership, the Long Island Region of You Gotta Believe has successfully placed over 80 of Long Island’s hardest to place teenagers into permanent adoptive families. Under her supervision, staff educates potential prospective parents from the community about the importance of continuing to maintain teens’ past relationships with former foster families, birth families, and neighborhood connections. Ms. Dudley has over 20 years experience in the field of child welfare. She is also an experienced adoptive parent having adopted two older children of a different race from the New York foster care system.

Susan Soon-Keum Cox is Vice President of Policy and External Affairs for Holt International Children’s Services in Eugene, OR. She has worked with local, national and international media for more than 25 years. In 1988, Ms. Cox was appointed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Korea to be responsible for media regarding adoption. She has managed media for a number of high profile situations, including the Dying Room stories from China in 1993. Ms. Cox was a member of the White House Vital Voices delegation to Montevideo as a media trainer for women in developing democracies. She also has been a guest media trainer for Women’s Campaign International’s for the Fels School of Government at the University of PA. Ms. Cox has appeared on numerous national television programs and featured in news articles. She has appeared on the NBC “Today Show,” “CNN News, CNBC News, and National Public Radio and Television, and has been featured in articles in the Washington Post, New York Times, Business Week, and Family Circle.

Workshop 1.4:

Marilyn Panichi: Each of our panelists will first address each of the three bullet points for discussion for this session.

Susan Ogden: I will be speaking about infant adoptions as Director of Domestic Adoptions at Adoptions Together, but I am also an AP in an open adoption
  • Bullet point 1: What key factors should assessments address regarding ongoing connections?
    • We have assessment and educational materials for PAP’s
      • Most prospective adoptive parents, many of whom are moving from infertility into adoption, come to us with the idea of parenting exclusivity
      • One of the first things we do is help PAP's understand the idea of sharing within adoption--helping them move from the idea of parenting exclusivity to open adoption
      • The idea of sharing an adoptive child with another person is very frightening and very alien
      • That’s certainly how I felt as an AP—very frightened and alienated with the idea of sharing MY child
        • We didn’t have a post contact (open adoption) agreement, but we had had a lot of contact before my daughter was born.
        • When my child was 2 yo., we decided to take my daughter to see her birth family in Florida. I remember beforehand thinking that maybe blood is thicker than water and that my daughter would see her birthfamily and completely reject me.
        • But what anyone who has had a two year old since birth knows, is that a two year old is very attached. My daughter was very attached to me.
        • Our open adoption really did confirm the power of that everyday nurturing.
        • By the end of the visit I was very conscious of the fact that she wasn’t reaching out very much to her birthmother;
        • Things are, of course, different now that my daughter is 15, and of course, she reaches out much more to her birthfamily
      • During the assessment process we ask the adoptive family: Do you think you could represent your child’s birthfamily in a positive light even if some of the information is problematic and challenging?
      • Assessment period is designed to be educational and to help the adoptive family grow towards accepting the birthfamily—that flexibility of embracing them, respecting them…
      • We are supporting families in their growth towards the embracing of the birthfamily
      • After [PAP's pass through the assessment period and are]accepted into the adoption program, we help them continue to grow towards this acceptance
      • Many families come to us thinking they could not have an open adoption but by the time they adopt, they are extremely interested and open to having an open adoption; as they fall in love with the child, they want to do the best thing for the child—their compassion and openness towards keeping the child in contact with the birthfamily grows

  • Bullet point 2: What are characteristics of successful open adoptions? What factors undermine the success of open adoptions?
    • What we noticed right away is that we need adoptive parents who are mature, secure people who can respect boundaries. But, of course, there is a wide continuum within normal adult development…
    • One of the first and most important things that adoptive families need to understand is that their position in regard to the child’s love is not going to be enhanced diminishing the birthfamily. It DOES take a mature person—serious adult maturation—to understand that and realize how important that is.
      • It is similar to the dynamics in a divorce situation.
      • If you are bad-mouthing the birthfamily, you are diminishing your child. You are NOT elevating yourself.
      • If you are bad-mouthing the birthfamily, you are diminishing your child and the important connections he has to all those who love him.
      • This is a difficult concept for people unless they really are moving along in the process of adult maturation
      • But is something that we’re really conscious of in our agency and that we work very hard to help people understand

    • Sometimes PAP’s say: Well we don’t want to have an open adoption unless we can be sure that the birthfamily will never disappoint our child—that they’ll always keep those appointments, that they’ll send those gifts regularly, that everything will always be good.
      • And so I ask the PAP’s—“So how many of you have never been disappointed by a relative?” They need to think this through.
      • We can’t control what happens to our children
      • With my daughter’s birthfamily, sometimes they send things, sometimes they don’t
      • My job as a parent is not to harangue them to send something every year. My job as a parent is just to help my daughter talk about her disappointment.
      • Life is difficult. My job as a parent is to make sure that my daughter has the resources to manage the inevitable disappointments in life. My job is not to teach her that she can control how people behave, or that she control how people treat her, or that she can control what the quality of those relationships are all the time.
      • Maturation is an important quality in terms of people’s compassion for each other.

    • In Maryland, open adoption agreements are enforceable, so when parents sign an open adoption agreement they agree to send updates, and increasingly, often agree—increasingly-- to have at least one visit a year. This is something that in Maryland we can ensure birthparents that is enforceable.
      • Adoptive parents and birthparents are willingly signing agreements that they will meet each other.
      • We always ask--we recommend that these meetings are initially facilitated by the agency. The staff is there at the meeting between birthparent and adoptive parent—whether it be at a park or a restaurant or wherever. We do this because we want everyone to feel comfortable in these initial meetings.
        • Sometimes parents/families go off on their own and they do it exactly like they want to do it and it works out and it’s fine.
        • The question is whether there is an undermining that can sometimes occur.
        • When people go off on their own, and are really making it up as they go, on their own, they can sometimes really run into trouble...and then they call the agency and say: ...gee...this or that is happening.
        • I can think of one anecdotal case in which a birthmother had cell phone contact with the adoptive father and the adoptive father came to feel really guilty about having adopted the child. He felt sorry for the birthmother because her situation was compromised. Because of that guilt, remorse, and all those upset feelings, the birthmother got into asking that they bring the baby over really, whenever she felt like it. For example, she would call up and say..."It’s Christmas and so-and-so’s never seen the baby—could you bring the baby?" And the adoptive parents were complying with those requests because they felt like they had to--but they weren’t comfortable with it. So the AP’s asked us as the agency to get re-involved. So, at that point, we sat down with everyone and did a mediated session and came up with an agreement that really felt right for everybody. It was a little more structured and involved a little more agency facilitation.

  • Bullet point 3: How can families of origin be best educated on their importance to the children and the roles they can continue to play in their children’s lives?
    • One of the biggest challenges in working with prospective birthparents is that there is no role for them in our society.
      • The only images expectant parents know of birthparents are the horrendous images of birthparents on Lifetime television programs
        • That’s the only image for birthparents that most of us know
        • That’s the only role for themselves that they see
      • Our job is therefore to empower them. This involves, if they decide to go forward with adoption:
        • To help them select the parents that they want to raise their child
        • To help them select the degree of openness that they want in their adoption

      • And in doing these things, we offer them a tremendous amount of compassion, acknowledgement, and respect.
      • Because they are in such a difficult place in American society and in their relationships in general
      • Our job is to offer them compassion, acknowledgement, and respect
      • Many say that they do not want to see their children, but we increasingly try to leave that door open for them should they change their minds.
        • They can call the agency and arrange to meet their child and their child’s family, really at any point.

      • At this point there are more AP’s who want that open relationship than there are birthparents who want an open relationship
        • 9 out of 10 of our AP’s are prepared for an open adoption—to begin with or at any time in the future
        • Many actually long for that, especially as their child grows
        • AP’s want their child to have that connection and have that information
        • They especially want a photo of the biological parent, and sometimes that is a very difficult thing for us to get for them and their child

      • There is still so much shame associated with having given a child up for adoption that many birthparents just don’t want to give out information; they don’t want to share that part of themselves
      • They don’t want to be public about it

Patricia Dudley Our work in “You Gotta Believe” is a little different than work with infants. The children with whom we work are mostly teens.
  • Bullet point 1: What key factors should assessments address regarding ongoing connections?
    • We are educating families who have stepped forward to provide care for these children
      • These teens know their birthparents and birthfamilies. They have connections with grandma, or aunts, or even former foster parents.
        • They have ongoing connections to families that have either been taking care of them or else have been visiting them. Sometimes these are even families to whom they have ‘AWOLed’ or run away to.
      • We have many adoptive families who are willing that the children have contact with birthfamilies or relatives; but we also have families who want no part of a teenager who has a connection with someone else from their past life
        • It takes a lot of educating and a lot of talking to bring these adoptive families up to speed

    • We have a lot of panels in our classes
      • We have panels that include adoptive families who talk about the experiences with their teenagers and those teenagers' birthfamilies and other people in their community.
      • We bring the teens in and we let the teens talk about how important it is to them to maintain these connections to people from their past—with their birthfamilies, with their foster families, with their friends, even with their friend’s parents.
      • We also try to educate important persons in the teens' pasts. We have gone to the counties and actually asked to be able to bring birthfamilies into our classes
        • Not only to educate these birthfamily members as to how important these connections are to kids
        • But also to ask them to be resources for these kids
        • I have placed kids back in their birthfamilies with grandparents who had originally been told, when the child was taken into care at 6 or 7, that they couldn’t care for the child because the mother would be around the grandparents; grandma had subsequently been a resource in the child’s life for 10 years, during which time she had not seen/heard from her daughter for five of those years. We were subsequently able to place the child with his grandmother.
        • I was able to place teens back with a cousin who under the county had gotten guardianship of three children; one was in a residential treatment center and when the child got out, I advocated for adoption of the children by the cousin; the cousin needed more resources than guardianship could provide; she needed the added support that comes with adoption—mediators, someone who would come in to help, Medicaid that would come with adoption—which was more than with guardianship.
        • I’m an adoptive mom. My daughter came to me when she was 9. I had two children, 9 and 7, when my daughter came to us. When my children were younger, every year we would go to the Bronx zoo, but we stopped going when we adopted my daughter because I had this fear that we would meet up with someone from her past life at the zoo. I had that fear too. It was a serious consideration. My daughter had a sister who did not go into care but who was raised with their grandmother. My daughter named every stuffed animal, every doll was named after her sister. She wanted to know where her sister was. Because of particular circumstances, I didn’t know whether birthmom was going to be around by the time my daughter was 18 so that she could contact her birthmother. When my daughter was 14, she started to ask where her sister was and why we couldn’t find her sister and at the same time, birthmom letter saying that she wanted contact with daughter. They put us in contact. One of the worst things that I did was agree to contact with supervision. I talked to birthmom and I agreed that she could write letters to my daughter and send them to my office. I would screen them and if they were appropriate, I would give them to my daughter. She would write letters back, if I thought they were appropriate, I would pass them on. However, after awhile the letters stopped coming to my office. My daughter was smart and had the letters sent to her friend’s house. My daughter was very angry that I did not trust her—that I wouldn’t make a bond with her strong enough to trust her to decide where her loyalties lay. My daughter did establish full contact with her birthmom after she was 18. In fact, when her birthmother died, she died in my daughter’s arms.
          • My daughter later made the comment that her sister was NOT better off for having stayed with the birthfamily—her grandmother was an alcoholic—and having been passed from family member to family member.
          • My daughter observed all the things that her sister never had, the fact that she never finished high school, and the fact that there was no ongoing family to be a family to her sister when her sister had children of her own later.
          • I asked my daughter if she had at least gotten a chance to ask her birthmother all the questions that she had wanted to ask her before she died. The answer was no—she was too sick. I was taking care of her and I didn’t want to hurt her by asking too many questions.

  • Bullet point 2: What are characteristics of successful open adoptions? What factors undermine the success of open adoptions?
    • A successful open adoption is when your child knows where their loyalties are. When they can meet with their birthfamilies and get all their questions answered and literally not have to fantasize about what life would have been like had they been with their birthfamily. For worse or better, they need to know.
    • I think a successful adoption for me is when I can place a child or a teenager back with a family member or someone that they knew back in the community. I’ve even placed teens with their cafeteria worker—if they were the only ones that the kids knew consistently for three or four years. I placed one child with the cook from a residential treatment center. The teen was aging out of care at 18 and all the teen wanted was to have a family and to go to college. The worker took her home. I think that’s where my successful placements are—placing the teens in their community, with people they know, with people they feel understand them, and where they feel safe.

  • Bullet point 3: How can families of origin be best educated on their importance to the children and the roles they can continue to play in their children’s lives?
    • The answer is bringing them in, talking to them, letting them know what their roles are, letting them know that just being there—being able to answer questions—and sometimes it just having them know that sometimes all they need to do is simply have one visit with the teen in order to help the teen move forward into a placement.
      • Anecdotally, we had a teen coming out of a residential treatment center who was 16 and who was entering our adoption program hoping to be adopted. The teen was in contact with her sister. That sister was in contact with the biological mom. The sister told biological mom that the teen was hoping to be adopted. The mom said, if she gets adopted, I will kill myself. Mom’s reaction got back to the 16 year old and she tried to drop out of the adoption program. We attempted to reach the mother, but couldn’t. A god-sister, however, showed up interested in being an influence in the girl’s life. Eventually this person wrote a letter saying to the girl—you need to move on and get a family of your own. That was all it took—someone from her community, her previous life, saying it was time to move on. The girl moved forward in the adoption program again. Eventually we were finally able to contact the mother whom it turned out, was very scared. She was afraid she’d permanently lose her daughter. She thought as long as the child stayed in foster care, she’d come back to her eventually. But the mother realized what was best for the child. She was able to help her daughter move through the adoption process and into her adoptive family.

    • Adoption is a celebration for the adoptive families. But not the teen. For the teen it is the end of a hope that things would finally come together with their birthfamily.
      • Adoption is a difficult time, not a celebration for teenagers. It is a loss. It is the end of their past lives.
      • For a teenager, we try to show them that it doesn’t have to be an end, but that they can blend their families together—their lives together—so that they can be a whole, happy, productive person with the support of all their families.

Susan Soon-Keum Cox: My perspective is from that of international adoption.
  • Bullet point 1: What key factors should assessments address regarding ongoing connections?
    • I am an international adoptee who was adopted in 1956
      • There have been about 200,000 adopted internationally to the US and I was about number 167. So I really was very much at the beginning of that process. Sometimes I think I am the oldest living international adoptee on the planet!
    • I can tell you that adoption is generational. I am so aware of that because I had the pleasure of becoming a grandmother this past year.
      • When you adopt a child, either domestically or internationally, it isn’t just that child that you are bringing into your family. You are integrating them and the generations that follow into your family. You are altering the family tree for generations to come.
      • For those who adopt internationally and interracially, it isn’t just that you are adding a child of another race to your family—that you happen to have a child of another race in your family. You ARE an interracial family.
    • In 1956, when I came to my parents, the idea that I would ever know my Korean family was not a thought in anybody’s mind
    • The idea at that time, in 1956, was to “Americanize” children as quickly as possible. The worry was how will children “fit in.” In the concern to do this, we certainly did become acclimated to whatever community and neighborhood we were in—recognizing, of course, that a lot of children were also adopted to Europe as well.
      • The sadness of this approach is that the child lost connection to the birth culture and heritage.
    • So we really have learned some things along the way. In three generations of adoption, we are making much better progress in recognizing that the ideas of race, culture, and ethnicity are not just “nice” ideas, but are central, and are, in fact, essential to a successful international adoption
      • However, there are STILL families that look at international adoption as the way to avoid all this—to avoid openness—as a way to ever having to address the issue of birthfamilies. But the fact is, none of us international adoptees were the result of an immaculate conception. We came to our adoptive families through a *birthfamily.* And our connection to those birthfamilies are for ALWAYS.
      • Any adoptive parent that has the fantasy that adopting from another country will somehow eliminate the possibility of birthfamily, first of all is terribly misguided. You can’t pretend that you child simply came from whatever airline. They really started in another place. And that history, that beginning, is so essential to who they will become. So adoptive families should embrace the child’s birthfamily and heritage in the same way as if the child had come from a domestic adoption
    • So if you are working IA families, certainly help them to understand that first of all, every child has a birthfamily. And that is a good thing. And this fact is something that they need to incorporate into the way that they think about their adoption
    • One of the things that I think is so critical in preparing adoptive parents for adoption is this—we always talk about adoptive children, we talk about babies, about children…. but the fact of the matter is that we adoptees grow up. Some of us even are getting old… So those practices that we have at the very beginning must be able to translate to the long term.
      • Whatever you do at placement obviously needs to be effective for right then, at placement. But those things also have to be effective and practical for when that child grows up, for when that child, that person, becomes a parent, for when that person becomes a grandparent. Those decisions need to be crafted not just for the moment, but also for the future.

    • One thing about IA and transracial adoption is that the adoptee will always grow up—in his/her childhood—with the question of who he/she looks like. Who is his/her real mom and dad? Who does she look like?
    • There is some open adoption with international adoption, but not much. That is a trend that is just starting to emerge. So there is very little.
    • But what there is in IA is the “re-opening” of adoption. Adoptees who never expected to be able to reconnect with their birthfamilies are finding their birthfamilies. Family members are re-finding each other.
      • And I think it’s the natural human response to want to know: Where did I come from? Who do I look like...
      • Certainly that was my experience growing up

    • When you talk about what are some of things that can happen in the beginning, in the assessment—it is true you can’t transfer domestic open adoption—or the domestic open adoption process here in the US—internationally. The process is too different—it is separated by geography, by language, by culture.
      • When you talk about adoption from the birthfamily’s situation—the triad here in the US—you are all, most of the time, going to be speaking the same language. You may have very strong differences in terms of social and economic status, geography in terms of say Pennsylvania versus Oregon, and all of those things…. But you will at least know the same words that you are speaking.
      • With international adoption, language is a huge barrier. And it isn’t just the spoken word, but it is also what each party knows about and considers to be—adoption.
      • So, for those of you who work in international adoption, when you are preparing for adoption—it is true that the sensitivity required for a birthfamily in India is totally different from the sensitivity required for a birthfamily from Washington, DC.—in terms even of their ability to understand the concept of adoption.
        • At the same time there are things that you can do to make that much more real for the adoptee in the future.
        • For example, you may not be able to put in identifying information. They may not even give you identifying information. Many times, even now, the information that birthmothers present about themselves is not accurate. It’s not their real name. It’s not their real situation. And that is because they need to be able to move back into their lives. But what you can do is to ensure that what is written in the margins—is there. It’s really important. You may not be able to have a picture, but if you take a picture of the mother, even if it is unidentified, that is such a treasure for the adoptee to have.
        • To be able to say to the adoptee—to be able to write a word picture—because you may not be able to take a photo of the birthmother—she may not be comfortable with that. But if you describe her. Describe what it was like the day that she came in and talked to you. As you worked with her and helped her make an adoption plan for her child, what was her voice like? What did she like to do? What was she wearing? What were her thoughts? Paint a word picture.
        • For many of us adoptees, that is the ONLY picture of our birthmother that we will ever have.
        • Please take the time to do that. It is not too much trouble. It is really important.

    • In the 1950’s and 1960’s while I was growing up, there were really no opportunities for my adoptive parents to know about Korean culture and heritage in the way we know now. There were not parent groups, there were not books, there were not resources. But today we are much better able to help families to parent their children transracially.
      • People ask me now if there were opportunities growing up in little Brownsville, Oregon, to get to spend time with other Koreans—or even other Asians? The answer is no. But my parents were wise enough to know that Korea was important—the way that they talked about it.
      • Even though I didn’t grow up eating Kimchi or knowing about fan dancing or many things that represent the richness of my birthculture, what I did know was that my parents believed that Korea was a most amazing place—because that’s where I was from and I was their daughter.
      • It’s that to-my-bones-feeling-about-a-place that adoptive parents truly need to embrace

  • Bullet point 2: What are characteristics of successful open adoptions? What factors undermine the success of open adoptions?
    • When you talk about the success of open adoption, I think you must have realistic expectations. That’s not easy.
    • For many of us adoptees, many of us have these fantasies about who our birthfamilies are.
    • When you are adopted you have all these questions, for which there are no answers.
      • My fantasy was, of course, that my mother was a princess. I learned at some point that I had been born in Inchon. And I frankly got tired of people asking who my real parents were—who was my real mom, who was my real father--and so at some point I started telling people that my birthfather was Douglas MacArthur. He was at Inchon at about the right time!
      • When I celebrated my 40th birthday, I decided to take back my Korean name. And I embarked on a search for my birthfamily—never, never expecting in my wildest imaginings that I would be successful. For some reason, I was particularly fixated on who my birthmother was. I had a deep longing to know who was this woman had carried me and given birth to me. And I was about 5 years old when I was adopted, so I somehow I should have had some memories of my mother. But somehow they were all gone. I had no memories of—what did she look like—and somehow that was so important to me.
      • What I didn’t think about was siblings. So, to my surprise, I was found, or should I say, we found each other. My birthmother had actually died. In fact, she had died the year that I went to Korea for the first time. So, for whatever reason, we were never going to see each other again on this planet.
      • But I found out that I was my mother’s secret.

    • And this is one of the things about adoption that is so important to understand. Secrets are so painful and so difficult. And they should be unnecessary.
      • And so my mother died saying to my youngest brother—you have a sister and she went to America. And this wasn’t in the context of anything he knew. And so, when I found them, I was a big surprise, as you can imagine.

    • For some reason I had never really considered that I might have siblings, but after all these years of wondering who do I look like, to finally come face to face with people who look like me…what a surreal experience that was.
      • And yet we don’t share language, we don’t share religion, we don’t share history.
      • In my adoptive family I am the oldest of five siblings. I have more in connection with them in terms of history than in terms of biology. The feelings that I have for my two Korean brothers are so different from the feelings I have for the siblings with whom I grew up with.
      • I have always believed that adoption was a difficult choice for my mother. I guess I wanted to believe that. Whether I had memory of that, I don’t know. But finding my Korean siblings confirmed this for me. My brothers think I’m terrific, but it’s because I left. Had I stayed in Korea, I would have been the illegitimate, half-Korean sister that they would have been deeply ashamed of. I don’t blame them or question that. It simply is the way it is.

  • Bullet point 3: How can families of origin be best educated on their importance to the children and the roles they can continue to play in their children’s lives?
    • There is much about adoption that is simply bittersweet.
      • The fact that a birthfamily must look at adoption for their child to have a family.
      • The fact that for an adoptive family, the only way to have a child, is to give up the dream of having a child born to them.
      • And for the adoptee, particularly for the international adoptees, it’s the disconnection from the culture and heritage that they were born to.

    • But the sweet is...
      • For a birthmother, like my birthmother—who tried to keep me—she kept me with her for five years, she dyed my hair black, she did a lot to try to keep me with her—for her, the sweetness of adoption is that I could have a family that would love and cherish me every day in a way that she simply could not.
      • For adoptive parents, the sweetness is the opportunity to love and cherish a child not born to them, and that sometimes, doesn’t even look like them.
      • And for the adoptee, the sweetness is, of course, the opportunity to have a family.

    • The choice is not distinct. It is not that you give up one for the other. I believe that you should and you can have both. They’re very different things.
    • One of the things that undermine the success of an open adoption is that it is fearful. How will you feel about the family that gave birth to you compared to the family that you lived with everyday?
      • As a parent, I can certainly understand the worry that that presents. It is similar to when you go through a divorce and the former spouse remarries. What is the loyalty of the children towards you? How do you really know that your place within their life is really secure?
      • But children are much wiser than grown-ups many times. Grown-ups need to trust the children. They should know that children are able to make those distinctions. And it isn’t necessarily so difficult for children to chose. You simply are who you are and if parents can have the courage to understand and accept that—it’s really very important.

    • As we move forward with international adoption particularly, we had better be prepared for open adoption. We’d better be prepared for ongoing relationships between birth and adoptive families. And that really, is a good thing. It is not something to be fearful of. It’s a challenge, yes. It’s difficult, yes. But is it worth it? For the best interests of children, I think, yes, it is worth it.

The preceding are detailed notes. They do not constitute the exact words of the speakers, but a--hopefully accurate--summary of the ideas of these presentations and questions. If any of the panelists or attendees take issue with any of these summaries, please let me know so that I can correct them.

Please see "Workshop 1.4, Part II: Ensuring Ongoing Relationships--Practice That Opens the Door to Connections--Questions & Discussion" for notes from the remainder of Workshop 1.4


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