Kinship Care: Is It for You?

grandparents walking with two young children

As you think about your pregnancy options, have you considered kinship care, or family placement?

Many expecting parents prefer to place their child in the care of someone they already know. While only you can decide what’s right for your family, we’re here to help you explore this option.

Kinship Care — More Than Free Babysitting

The tradition of relatives helping raise a child has been around much longer than child welfare agencies. Kinship arrangements mean more than having an extra pair of hands to help with diaper changes or grocery trips, however. State and federal laws recognize kinship care as an official type of foster care.

Ever since the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, relatives are the first to be given the choice of raising children whose parents cannot be the primary caregivers. As of September 2016, 32 percent of children in the foster care system were placed in foster homes with relatives.

What some expecting parents don’t realize is that they can explore the option of kinship care before their baby is born, similar to the adoption process.

All in the Family

Like adoption, kinship care can take many forms. Although the kinship care model typically means literal “kin” or family, it also can include a close friend who cares for your child.

In some arrangements, the birth parents maintain legal custody of their child, with the kinship foster parents assuming physical custody and day-to-day parenting responsibilities. This type of agreement allows birth parents to still make decisions concerning their child. In other arrangements, kinship parents receive both legal and physical custody of the child.

Kinship care is a common type of adoption for teenage birth parents. Often, it starts out as a temporary arrangement and becomes permanent if the relative chooses to adopt the child.

Because some kinship arrangements start out informally, kinship parents don’t always receive the same recognition or support as other adoptive or foster parents. The needs and demands of kinship parenting are just as real, however. We encourage kinship parents to seek counseling and support services from experts who can help them care for themselves and their loved ones. Kinship caregivers may also find assistance through national resources and state programs like the DC Child and Family Services Agency’s Grandparent Subsidy Program.

Family Matters

Families can be complicated and messy, and they come with their own set of challenges. Similarly, placement of a child within a family comes with many special considerations.

One of the most unique parts of kinship care is that the child’s kinship parent also has a personal connection with the birth parent. This can be comforting for older children entering kinship care, since they are going to live with someone they already know.

On the other hand, these same ties can make it difficult for kinship caregivers to “own” the role of parent from the start. While it takes time, it is important for kinship parents to model stability around roles, routines and a sense of home to the children in their care.

Another hurdle that kinship parents might not expect is the foster care system and its many policies and requirements — many have only the experience of raising their own children to guide them. And when kinship parents are the child’s grandparents, just the thought of raising a child in today’s era may be overwhelming.

Support from experts and other families bonded by this unique type of arrangement can help kinship parents provide a stable home for the children they already know and love. If you’re thinking about placing your child permanently or temporarily with a relative and want to chat with a counselor, contact us anytime via email, text message, phone or by chatting with us online.


Can I get paid to give my baby up for adoption?

“Can I get paid to put my baby up for adoption?”. We get asked this question a lot, and it’s time to talk about it.

In Maryland, it is legal for adoptive parents and licensed adoption agencies to pay “reasonable expenses” for women considering adoption for their babies. The payment of “reasonable expenses,” which generally includes necessities such as housing, food, and clothing, was already legal in 37 states, and until Maryland passed a law allowing adoption agencies and adoptive parents to help birth mothers with these costs, Maryland families and agencies were only allowed to help cover birth mothers’ medical and legal bills. As a result, some birth mothers were choosing to make adoption plans with families out-of-state so that they could receive financial assistance with living expenses while pregnant.

Help During a Tough Time

Birth mothers who were going out of state in order to receive financial assistance were not always able to find an ethical adoption agency or attorney who ensured that they received thorough counseling and legal representation. Legalizing the payment of birth mother expenses in Maryland was good news in terms of protecting the rights of birth parents. It was also good news because most birth parents are already struggling in some way, and those struggles only increase once they become pregnant. Many women who are considering adoption do not have stable housing; they live with family members, rent rooms, or stay in shelters. They are often either unemployed or underemployed, and those who have been able to find work risk losing their job once their employer finds out about the pregnancy. If you’ve ever been in this boat, then you are well aware that even a small amount of financial assistance with paying rent or buying food can make a big difference to the physical and emotional health of a pregnant woman.

Under Pressure

We also need to acknowledge, however, that financial assistance can add pressure to an already emotionally difficult situation. Even when we do a lot of counseling with birth mothers and they understand that legally they can change their minds about their adoption plan at any point until their parental rights expire, they usually still feel a deeper sense of obligation to make an adoption plan if they have received financial assistance during their pregnancy. We never want a woman to go through with an adoption simply because she feels she can’t change her mind, so the fact that Maryland women can now receive financial assistance makes providing emotional support and counseling for birth parents during their decision-making period more crucial than ever.

A Temporary Solution

And of course, whatever financial assistance a birth parent receives during her pregnancy is only temporary, which is why birth parents should always work with an adoption counselor to come up with a reasonable amount to request. For example, it probably isn’t wise for a birth mother to ask for assistance in paying rent for an especially expensive apartment that she will no longer be able to afford after her pregnancy.

If you’re considering adoption and need to chat with a counselor about financial assistance, contact us anytime.  You can reach us via email, text message, by phone, or by chatting with us online. 


How Will I Know If Adoption is Right for My Baby?

Birth mothers often ask us how they can know for sure whether their decision to place a baby for adoption was the right choice to make. We wish we could give them an answer so they wouldn’t have to wonder, but unfortunately we can’t.

No matter how well we’ve gotten to know a birth mother, we only see tidbits of her life. We don’t understand what it feels like to be in her shoes every day, what she is ready for, or what will be too difficult for her. No one but a birth parent can know whether adoption was the right choice for them.

The question is normal, though. When we make difficult decisions, we often look for signs that might tell us whether we’ve made the right one. Sometimes we find them, but other times we don’t. Trying to find meaning, to find lessons, is part of the cycle of grief, loss and healing.

But what if we stopped looking for signs, and just made them ourselves? What if, instead of waiting for them, we made meaning from our choices?

People choose adoption for all sorts of different reasons. The circumstances that led you to choose adoption for your baby might or might not have been in your control. What you definitely can control, right here and right now, is what you decide to do now that you’ve made the choice. Did you choose adoption so you could pursue your education? Use this experience to help you stay dedicated to that goal. Did you choose adoption in order to better provide for your other children? Spend extra time playing with them and nurturing them (they grow up fast!). Did you choose adoption so you could try to make some changes in your life? Remind yourself what those changes were, and reprioritize them if you need to.  Remember that we are here for you when you need us.

You won’t necessarily get a sign that adoption was the right choice for you to make. The only way to be sure is to create it yourself. There will be times when you doubt yourself, but you can use those painful moments to propel you forward. Your adoption story is a part of your life, and every step you take is a chance to write that story yourself.

Have you ever doubted your adoption decision? How have you determined whether you made the right choice?


Adoption vs. Safe Haven Laws: What You Should Know

pregnant woman wearing white shirt cradling her belly

Adoption vs. Safe Haven Laws: The Important Differences

In the 1990s, there was a surge in the number of babies being abandoned by their birth parents. Because they were left in unsafe places, many of them died. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by pregnancy or parenthood, it’s easy to imagine how these parents felt when they left their babies alone: frightened, uncertain, and desperate.

In response to these deaths, many states enacted what are known as Safe Haven Laws. Safe Haven Laws allow parents to leave an infant at a designated location – usually a hospital, police station, or fire station – and as long as the baby has not been harmed, the parent will not be punished for leaving them. Proponents of the laws hoped that they would encourage birth parents who felt they couldn’t care for their children to leave them in a place where the baby could be found and cared for, instead of abandoning them unsafely where they might not be found.

The well-being of children is our top priority at Adoptions Together. We believe that Safe Haven laws work well when they keep babies from being harmed. However, we feel that it is crucial for birth parents to know that Safe Haven is very different from choosing adoption for your baby through a non-profit agency.

If you are pregnant or a new parent and feel like you need someone else to take custody of your baby, take a moment to learn about the differences between using Safe Haven laws and choosing adoption.

Difference #1: Adoption gives you time to be certain about your decision.

Everyone feels overwhelmed at times. Some problems seem too hard to solve. But most of the time help is available, even if it seems difficult to find. An ethical adoption agency will help you access resources that can help you decide whether parenting is the right choice for you.  And adoption agency’s job is to help support you and help make a plan that’s right for your family. Safe Haven placements are designed to be anonymous- you don’t get that type of support, and you can’t just change your mind once you’re feeling better; you’ve already given up custody of your child. Plus, if you decide one day that you want to know how your child is doing, you won’t necessarily have the right to get in touch the way you would if you arranged for an open adoption through an agency.

Difference #2: With adoption, you are in control.

Ethical adoption agencies like Adoptions Together put you in control of your baby’s adoption process. This means that you can choose the adoptive family you want to raise your child and that you can determine what kind of adoption relationship you’d like to have with your child’s family, whether that means yearly letter-and-picture updates, in-person meetings, or other arrangements. If you give up custody of your baby under a Safe Haven law, the baby will go into the social services foster care system and their future will be determined from there. Not only can this take up to a year – which is a long time for a baby not to have a permanent family – but you don’t have any control over who eventually adopts your baby. Nor can you specify what type of contact you’d like to have with them and with your child in the future.

Ultimately, we all want children to be safe. If leaving your child at a Safe Haven location is the best way for you to keep them out of harm’s way, then we trust you to make that choice. But we also want you to stay safe, both physically and emotionally, and we don’t want you to give up your right to be a part of your child’s life if there might be another way. If you’re in crisis and worried about caring for your baby, we hope you’ll call us or another licensed agency so we can figure out a plan – together.


Will You Spend Time With Your Baby in the Hospital?

Making a hospital plan when you decide to place a baby for adoption can be stressful. If you’ve already talked to an adoption counselor, you’ve probably heard her say, “only you know what’s right for you”, so let’s build on that and talk about how things might work in the hospital when your baby is born.

Over the years, many birth parents who chose not to spend time with their baby in the hospital have told us that they regretted that decision. Some of them chose not to see their baby because they worried that doing so would make it even more difficult to go through with their adoption plan. Interestingly, we’ve found the opposite is true. In our experience, birth mothers who see and hold their baby after delivery tend to be better able to process the adoption later on because they don’t have unanswered questions about what their baby looked like or about what it would have felt like to hold, smell, and hear their baby.

If you are in the process of making an adoption plan, you may worry that spending time with your baby will create a bond between the two of you that will then make it impossible for you to place them with another family. When blogger Liz held her baby, her baby’s birth father warned her, “Be careful Liz, you’re creating that bond…” He assumed that their spending time together would make the adoption process more emotionally difficult for Liz. But Liz’ description of that moment says it all: “Little did he know, [my baby] and I already had the most powerful bond on earth.” In the end, adoption is bittersweet no matter what; deciding not to see your baby won’t change that.

Importantly, many of the birth mothers we’ve worked who have changed their mind about adoption were the same ones who made the decision not to spend much or any time with their baby while in the hospital. In some cases, their unanswered questions and feelings became too overwhelming and they ended up going back on the entire plan. As the folks over at Birthmom Buds explain, “Many birthmoms have regretted not spending time with their baby but we have never come across a birthmom who spent time with her baby and regretted it afterward.” We’ve found this to be quite true, and so have a number of birth parent bloggers, including Janel Indingaro, who spent time with her baby and the adoptive family in the hospital:

“I have photographs of all four of us spending time in my room. In the photos we are laughing and holding this sweet precious girl and I cherish those pictures. I am glad that I had this time with the three of them which helped me find a comfort zone with everything going on around me. During my hospital stay, I had no idea of the coming whirlwind of emotions I would soon cope with…”

In fact, far from wishing she hadn’t spent time with her baby before placement, Janel wishes that she had gone one step further and had fed her baby too: “If I could change anything about the delivery room and the recovery room, it would be getting the opportunity to feed [her]. I wish I would have said, ‘I want to hold her; I want to provide food for her.’ ”

Remember, seeing and spending time with your baby doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. You get to decide how much contact you want to have. Maybe you want to look at your baby through the nursery window but not hold them. Or perhaps you’d like to have just an hour or two with your baby. You’re in control; you get to make the plan, and you can always change your mind.

And we know we’ve said it before, but……only you can know what’s right for you!


Will I Have to Tell the Birth Father?

“Do you need the father’s consent to put a baby up for adoption?”

Birth fathers have the same rights as birth mothers in most states. In order to ensure that adoption placements are legally safe, we make every effort to contact the birth father to obtain his permission to move forward with the adoption process.  Your adoption counselor is trained to make this process as smooth as safe and stress free as it can be.

More About Birth Father Consents

One of the hardest topics for our birth parent counselors to bring up with birth mothers focus on father’s rights. Many birth moms have difficult relationships with birth fathers and would do just about anything to keep from talking about him or getting him involved in the adoption process.

If they don’t know very much about him, they might be embarrassed to tell us how casual the relationship was, no matter how many times we explain that we understand casual relationships and support women. If the relationship is tumultuous, they may be mad at themselves for having had sex with him – birth moms can be very hard on themselves! We have also worked with many survivors of sexual assault, who are worried that we won’t believe them or who feel ashamed about what happened, even though we firmly believe that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. We’ve also worked on our fair share of cases where the birth father was mean, uncaring, or just generally difficult- cases in which the birth mom often assumed that the adoption process would go more smoothly if he just stayed out of it. (P.S. We’ve also worked with some wonderful birth fathers – that’s just not the subject of this post!)

If you are worried about talking to your adoption agency about your baby’s birth father, you’re not alone. Most of the birth mothers we work with are not in a committed relationship with their baby’s birth father. Every individual person and relationship is unique and complicated, and no good counselor or social worker will ever judge your situation.  Any ethical agency should be committed to ensuring your adoption is safe and legal, so contacting your baby’s birth father is in your best interest. They should also be committed to working with you to do that in whatever way is most comfortable and least upsetting.

If you are not comfortable or don’t feel safe contacting the birth father yourself, an ethical agency will work very closely and carefully with you to make sure you stay safe and out of danger. Birth fathers who are abusive usually don’t want to be found because they know their actions are wrong and they fear being charged with a crime. Typically, in these situations when an agency makes the “good faith effort” required by law, these birth fathers often find a way to stay out of sight. And even if your baby’s birth father is not abusive but you know he is going to make things difficult for you, we promise – and any other ethical agency will promise – to stand by you and do whatever we can to make the process bearable while also following the law.

If getting permission from your baby’s birth father is holding you back from making an adoption plan- contact us and we can help.

Were you worried about talking to your adoption agency about your child’s birth father? How did it turn out?


The Myth of the Careless Teenage Birth Parent

birth-mother-and-child

Let’s talk about teenage birth parents.

Who are they?

Getting pregnant, no matter how old you are, doesn’t mean you’re careless. And although there are thousands of teenage birth parents, there are even more birth parents who placed a baby for adoption as adults.

It’s time to dispel some of the birth parent myths which too many people still believe. With the help of the Donaldson Institute’s 2006 study “Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birth Parents in the Adoption Process,” we went ahead and took a look.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are teenagers.

Fact: Birth parents are an extremely diverse group.  But, statistics show that most birth moms today are high school graduates in their 20s, many of whom are already parenting other children. Only about 25 percent of birth parents are teenagers.

 

Myth: Most birth parents are drug users.

Fact: Many Americans struggle with substance abuse, and so do some birth parents, but that doesn’t mean that all birth parents abuse drugs. Every year about 13,000 to 14,000 women place an infant for adoption, and they each have their own unique situation and story.

 

Myth: Birth parents “give up” their babies for adoption because they don’t care about them.

Fact: Most birth parents choose adoption out of love for their babies and feel a deep loss after placement. Those who have open adoptions and are able to know how their child is doing as they grow up have been shown to experience lower levels of grief and greater peace of mind as time goes on. The term “give up my baby for adoption” is not positive adoption language, and we don’t use it!

 

Myth: Birth parents want to drop their babies off and never see them again.

Fact: Birth parents have the right to choose the level of openness they want in their adoption, and Adoptions Together respects the needs of those who do not wish to keep in touch. However, most birth parents say they do want to have contact with their child and their child’s family after placement, or at least receive information about how their child is doing. If you choose to place a child for adoption, we can help you decide what level of openness you’re comfortable with.

 

Myth: Sometimes biological parents don’t realize that adoption is the best choice for them and need a friend, family member, social worker, or medical professional to help them understand why it is.

Fact: No parent should be pressured into placing a child for adoption. Research shows that those who feel pressured into adoption have a much harder time healing after and adoption takes place. This is why Adoptions Together supports state laws that require thorough in-person counseling as well as waiting periods during which birth parents can change their minds.

If you’re a pregnant teenager and you’re interested in learning about your options, feel free to contact one of our pregnancy counselors at any time of day by calling 301-439-2900, or sending us a private email at pregnant@adoptionstogether.org.  Your calls and emails are 100% confidential, and we can’t reveal anything to your parents.

What other birth parent myths have you come across? Tell us in the comments!


Is Open Adoption the Cure for Adoption Loss?

image c/o missleaman.com

Sometimes it seems like all we ever talk about here at Adoptions Together is Open Adoption.

We talk about the research that shows that birth parents who have ongoing contact with their adopted children have lower levels of grief after placement and feel more at peace with their decision than do birth parents with closed adoptions.

We talk about how open adoption can provide reassurance for birth parents who might otherwise assume the worst about how their child is doing.

We talk about how openness mitigates any feelings of abandonment that children may have and helps them form a strong sense of self.

We talk about the importance of post-placement contact agreements and how much we wish they were legally enforceable everywhere.

All these things that we talk about are true – but they are not the whole story.

A few years ago, one of our birth parent counselors explained it this way: “openness is not the ‘solution’ to the pain of loss.” Yes, open adoption is the healthiest form of adoption when it’s possible – but it doesn’t “solve” the grief and loss that every birth parent experiences. It helps birth parents to process those painful emotions, but it doesn’t get rid of them.

In some ways, open adoption is more difficult for birth parents than is closed adoption. Some birth parents worry that they may be confusing their child about who their “real” parent is (although we have not seen this happen in the adoptions we’ve facilitated). More significantly, seeing and hearing from your child is wonderful, but it can also serve as a reminder of your loss.  It’s a tradeoff – you might experience negative feelings and memories, but you also get to see your child living and thriving in the world.

We hope you know that our strong feelings about open adoption don’t mean that we don’t understand how painful adoption can be, even in this form. People with closed adoptions and those with open adoptions both struggle with grief and loss; choosing which one is right for you means carefully considering both your emotional needs and the needs of your child.

What have your experiences with open or closed adoption been like? How do you feel about having one type of adoption versus another? Please tell us in the comments section below.

 


When Adoptee Rights Clash with Birth Parent Rights

image c/o www.washingtonblade.com

When a child is placed for adoption, their original birth certificate – the one that names their birth parents and that identifies them by the name their birth parents gave them – is “sealed,” or made private. In most states, the sealed certificate cannot easily be reopened.

Many people whose lives have been touched by adoption support the relatively recent movement to give adoptees access to their original birth certificates so that they can see their original name and the names of their birth parents. Sixteen states, including Maryland, now open or partially open adoption records to adoptees once they reach a certain age (in Maryland this age is 21). Many adoptees have used the information to search for their birth families.

“My Birth Certificate, My Rights”

People who support the unsealing of records believe that:

  • Everyone deserves to have access to their own information
  • Keeping original birth certificates sealed perpetuates shame about adoption
  • It is healthy for adoptees to know where they came from
  • Adoptees need to know who their birth parents are so they can access important medical information
  • Adoptees and birth parents should be able to communicate with one another if they want to

“My Adoption Plan, My Rights”

On the other hand, people who do not support the movement for unsealing records argue that not all birth parents want their children to have identifying information about them and that giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates violates these birth parents’ right to confidentiality. Historically, adoption professionals have promised birth parents that their identifying information would never be shared. Plus, it is important for birth parents to have some control over who knows about their decision given that adoption is often shrouded in secrecy. So the question becomes…

Whose Rights Come First?

We at Adoptions Together have generally supported the opening of adoption records because we have seen adoptees use the information to make connections with their birth parents that improve their well-being and the well-being of their birth parents. However, we are also very strong proponents of birth parents’ rights, so the idea of giving adoptees access to information that a birth parent may have specifically wanted to keep private doesn’t sit very well with us either, especially given that each birth parent has their own reasons for choosing whether or not to remain involved in their child’s life.

What do you think? Do adoptees have the right to their original birth certificates and to communicate with their birth parents based on that information? Do birth parents have a right to privacy from their biological children if they want it? What would you do if you find out that your child had seen their original birth certificate and now wanted to communicate with you? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!


Why We Love Post-Placement Contact Agreements

 

Open adoption is part of Adoptions Together’s mission. We think open adoption is part of healthy adoptive relationships. Let’s talk about one feature of open adoption that keeps birth parent and adoptive family relationships strong: the Post-Placement Contact Agreement!

birth-mother-and-child

We love post-placement contact agreements so much that we think they should be part of every state’s adoption laws – keep reading to find out why!

What Is A Post-Placement Contact Agreement?

A post-placement contact agreement is a plan for how birth parents and adoptive parents will keep in touch with one another until their child turns 18. The agreement might include exchanging letters and pictures, getting together every year, or some variation of the two – or both.  This is how open adoption relationships stay healthy.

Birth and adoptive families often talk about openness before placement happens, but having a physical contract makes the plan clear to everyone and gives each party concrete steps they can take to benefit from their adoptive relationship. It sets the stage for openness right from the get-go, which is great because a child’s connection to their birth family is an important part of their identity, and because birth parents who have ongoing contact with their children generally have a smoother healing process after placement than those with closed adoptions.

What’s the Law Got to Do With It?

We are glad that post-placement contact agreements are legally enforceable in Maryland and Virginia and believe that other states should include them in their adoption laws as well. Making the agreement a legal document underscores the importance of openness and also reminds birth parents, adoptive parents, and agencies how important it is to keep the promises they’ve made to one another. Making contact agreements part of every single adoption would also make cases where the reality of an adoption doesn’t match the birth parent’s expectations much rarer.

How do you feel about your post-placement contact agreement? Has your experience matched your expectations? Do you think these agreements should be legally required and enforceable?