When it comes to involving birth parents in the lives of adopted children, both parties should know what they're getting into. If both sets of parents go into this decision with the child in mind, the benefits to the child can be enormous.
Benefits to the Children
Adoption agencies began sealing adoption records somewhere around the 1930s, making it a real challenge for an adult child to find his birth parents. According to the consensus at Adoption Network Cleveland, many adopted children are curious about their birth parents and hope some day to cultivate a relationship with them.
In recent years a few states have unsealed their adoption records. According to Eileen McQuade, president of the American Adoption Congress, this procedure has not created problems in the states that have done so to date. These states include: Alabama, Delaware, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee.
Michigan adoption documents were sealed from 1945 to 1980, but pending legislation may reverse that action. According to the April 25, 2008, issue of The Detroit News, many of the more than 20,000 adults who were adopted during that period are anxiously awaiting copies of their original birth certificates.
Understanding the Need to Know
Even in the happiest of homes, adopted children may still want to find out about or meet birth parents, for several reasons:
Right to Know
Birth parents and children both have rights in adoption matters. Some birth parents do not wish to be contacted, and some adopted children do not wish to meet their birth parents. It boils down to respect. But if both parties are interested, and the parents of the adopted child are in agreement, there is no reason not to meet and become involved in one another's lives.
If you feel a meeting between your child and his birth parents would be a good idea or could be detrimental, talk to your social worker, adoption agency or other professionals who can help you make the educated decision.
Because an adoption attorney may have access to necessary files and information, it's always wise to consult with an attorney before you start your search. As a general rule, adoption records are held and governed by the laws of the state in which the child was born. For out-of-state adoptions, a child may need to travel to that state in person to get records or to appoint a proxy in that state to handle the research. Social workers and attorneys are commonly used as proxies, and you'll need to pay their fees along with any fees that are part of the research process.
A few states, including Illinois, are now using the Web to provide information on birth parents to adopted children. The Illinois system gives both children and parents the right to allow or refuse contact.
Meeting Birth Parents
If everyone's in agreement, understand that this will be a stressful and emotional time for everyone, particularly the child. Birth parents can start by explaining the circumstances surrounding why the child was given up for adoption. After that obstacle has been overcome, giving the child information about his family background is usually helpful. Does your child look like someone in the family? Was she named by or for someone special? Does she have the same interests as someone else in the family?
Because your child now has two sets of parents, everyone needs to be understanding of one another. Your child is the one who should come first. If you feel meeting with the birth parents will be good for your child, adopted parents should do whatever they can to make these meetings a positive experience. Remember, as the adoptive parent, you may be a visitor in this particular situation, but you are still the parent. Your rules and expectations still come first.
If your child will be spending time away from you with birth parents, make sure they understand your rules and expectations. Don't allow leniency or a separate set of behaviors while your child is away, or you'll find yourself in constant conflict with your child.
Adopted Foster Care Children
Before setting up meetings between the birth parents and a child you adopted through the foster program, examine the situation from all angles. Foster care is reserved for negative situations, so it may be best to keep the child separated from his birth parents. When the child is of age, he can decide for himself whether he wants to reopen communications.
Whether or not adopted children should know their birth parents is an emotionally charged question. In recent years, the stigma previously attached to adoption has all but vanished.
Adopted children are naturally curious about their birth parents, and some will go to any lengths to meet them. This presents challenges for adoptive parents, who may fear losing their role.
The surge in open adoptions over the past 30 years has made the process to find birth parents much easier. Since the advent of the Internet, an entire industry has sprung up to meet the growing demand.