Understanding Post-Adoption Contact Agreements
For birth parents who make the difficult decision to place their child for adoption, one of the most emotionally challenging parts can be letting go of contact and visitation with the child.
However, many adoptive families are open to some level of ongoing contact, which can help reassure the birth parents that their child is loved and cared for.
Post-adoption contact agreements, worked out between the adoptive parents and birth parents prior to finalization, outline the parameters around future visitation and communication. These open adoption arrangements have become increasingly common in recent decades.
While contact agreements are not legally enforceable, they provide a framework for all parties to mutually agree upon for the child’s benefit. The level of openness and specifics regarding visitation and communication can vary widely based on what all sides are comfortable with.
Benefits of Post-Adoption Contact
Maintaining some level of contact and visitation with the birth parents allows the adopted child to preserve connections to their biological roots and cultural heritage. It also gives the birth parents peace of mind that the adoption was the right decision, and that the child is thriving.
Other potential benefits include:
- The adopted child can ask questions of their birth parents and develop realistic views about their adoption story.
- The birth parents can see the positive impact of their choice and gain closure.
- The adoptive parents may gain insight about their child’s medical history, talents, mannerisms etc.
Openness also sets a tone of honesty, and can enable the child to avoid feeling divided loyalties. Adoptive parents who are open to contact convey respect for the birth parents’ role.
Crafting a Visitation Agreement
While fully closed adoptions used to be standard, attitudes have shifted, and most adoption agencies now encourage some degree of openness. However, the visitation agreement needs to strike the right balance between the child’s needs and all parties’ comfort levels.
It’s important not to promise more contact than will realistically be manageable. The adoption counselor will help craft an agreement tailored to the situation. As a starting point for discussion, basic options include:
- Letters and/or pictures exchanged via the agency once or twice a year
- Occasional phone calls or video chats between birth and adoptive parents
- In-person visits once a year or so, perhaps including extended biological family
- More frequent in-person visits several times a year
The adoptive parents’ comfort level is a key factor, as is stability in the birth parents’ situation. Geographic proximity also plays a role. The agreement can always be modified later on if circumstances change for any party.
Navigating Post-Adoption Visits
For adoptions that involve direct contact and visits, the initial meetings are often awkward. Emotions may run high, especially for the birth parents. Certain guidelines will help facilitate positive interactions.
Choosing a Neutral Location
The first few visits should take place in a neutral setting like a park or restaurant rather than at the adoptive parents’ home. This gives everyone time to get comfortable before bringing the birth parent into the family environment.
Before visits, adoptive parents should forewarn their child’s school, activities, pediatrician etc. that an individual named in the adoption agreement may call and request information or access. However, discretion should still be maintained.
Honoring the Adoptive Parents’ Role
During visits, birth parents should follow the adoptive parents’ guidance regarding bedtimes, discipline, gifts etc. This reinforces their authority as the child’s parents.
Focusing on the Child
All adults should put their own emotions aside and interact normally with the child during visits. Processing feelings should happen privately before or after.
Early visits should be limited to just a few hours, increasing in duration once everyone acclimates. Trying to jump right into overnight stays usually backfires.
Considering Support People
Having a neutral third party like a therapist attend can ease tension. Some adoptive parents prefer to have a family member or friend also present for comfort.
Adjusting the Agreement If Needed
If visits become disruptive to the child or family stability, the adoptive parents can limit or temporarily suspend contact per the agreement terms. This should be an absolute last resort.
Making Post-Adoption Visits Positive
While contact agreements create the framework, the mindset going into visits also impacts their success. With planning and sensitivity on both sides, post-adoption contact can be a rewarding experience.
For Birth Parents
- Bring tokens of appreciation like photo albums or small gifts for the child, rather than extravagant presents that could cause tension.
- Respect the adoptive family’s time and schedule.
- Avoid overstepping parental boundaries or criticizing the adoptive parents’ rules and choices.
- Don’t make promises to the child you may not be able to keep regarding more visits, gifts etc.
- Focus on building rapport through activities, not grilling the child about their new home life.
- Be mentally prepared for the child to bond with the adoptive parents, not just you.
- Take pride in the child’s healthy development, even if their life is different than imagined.
For Adoptive Parents
- Speak positively to the child about the upcoming visit and refer to birth parents by name (mom, dad, etc) if desired.
- Have the child participate in choosing locations and activities for the visit.
- Briefly explain adoption to the child in simple, age-appropriate terms so they aren’t confused.
- Treat the birth parents with friendship and empathy, not as a threat.
- Avoid trying to reconcile your own insecurities during the visit. Stay focused on the child.
- Don’t grill the child about details of the visit afterward. Just listen supportively.
- Debrief afterward with your partner or support person, not the child.
While navigating post-adoption contact can be complicated at times, maintaining openness provides significant emotional benefits for all parties. When visits are handled in a spirit of empathy and care for the child’s wellbeing, this openness enriches the lives of everyone impacted by the adoption.