How Your Post-Placement Contact Agreement Can Help You Heal

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image c/o Tom Hunter via www.saatchigallery.com

Is it possible to predict how you’ll feel after placement?

The short answer is no. Every person is different, and your emotions will vary based on your personal situation and on how you handle life’s hurdles in general.

The longer answer is …. sort of. The Donaldson Adoption Institute found in an early 2000s study that birth parents who chose their child’s adoptive family and who had ongoing contact – or in some cases just a little bit of information about their child’s well-being – had lower levels of grief after placement and felt more at peace with their decision than did birth parents with closed adoptions. 

Women with the highest levels of grief after adoption were those who thought they would have ongoing contact with their child but whose adoptions ended up being closed. This can happen for many different reasons; check out our blog post “When Adoption Is Less Open than You Thought” to learn more. When open adoptions close, it is often because they were arranged through a for-profit adoption facilitator; facilitators generally end their involvement after they’ve been paid by the adoptive family, which means there is no one around after placement to make sure the lines of communication stay open.

Ethical adoption organizations agree that birth parents who specify from the beginning that they want to have contact with their biological children have the right to do so, which is why organizations like Adoptions Together also believe that post-placement contact agreements – the plan that birth parents and adoptive parents sign that specifies how they will keep in touch with one another after placement – should be legally enforceable. Right now, contact agreements are only legally enforceable in thirteen states, two of which are Maryland and Virginia (woohoo!) It is rare that contact agreements actually wind up being used in court, but knowing that they are official legal documents sometimes helps birth parents and adoptive parents stay on track with openness even when their lives and relationships get complicated.

If you live in a state where post-placement contact agreements are not legally enforceable, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to minimize the risk of your open adoption closing unexpectedly. First, make sure that the agency handling your baby’s adoption is licensed, non-profit, and regularly provides support to birth parents and adoptive families after placement. Second, ask the agency whether they teach their waiting adoptive families about the importance of open adoption. Organizations like Adoptions Together work with adoptive families to help them understand why openness is beneficial for their child, for their child’s birth parents, and for them. Third, make sure you still have a written post-placement contact agreement, even if you know it’s not legally enforceable; it never hurts to have things written down so that everyone is 100% clear on what’s supposed to happen.

As we said in our March 30th post, we never know exactly how relationships will turn out, and that includes relationships between birth parents and adoptive families. But planning for openness with a post-placement contact agreement plants the seed for a positive experience. It’s a good start, both towards ensuring a positive relationship with your child and their family and towards healing and coming to peace with your adoption decision.

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