Q: We first had non-identifying communication with my child’s birth family, but they stopped responding. My daughter is now eight. I did some searching online—but can I share information about the birth family that I obtained without their consent? What should I do?
A: First of all, anything we put on the Internet is, for better or for worse, in the public domain. So, unless you hacked into a secure site, the information you found may be shared. If the information you found is appropriate for an eight-year-old to know, explain to your daughter that you know that having information about your birth family is important for someone who was adopted. Since the birth family stopped communicating with you, you looked on the Internet to see if you could find information about them. This is what you found….
Your child may ask whether you can contact them, so you should explore this before you talk. Even though communication stopped years ago, the birth family may feel differently about it now. You can always communicate through special e-mail addresses or a post office box.
—Rita Taddonio, Adoption Resource Center, Spence-Chapin, New York City
Q: My husband and I applied to an adoption agency a few months ago. Can we apply to another agency, while continuing with the original?
A: Two agencies with different roles can work together to help you complete an adoption, but you must be open with both. It’s fairly common for agencies to partner up, with one doing the homestudy and post-placement, and the other matching you with a child. You might ask the first agency whether they ever work with another licensed agency for the placement component.
It is not acceptable to sign on with agencies that are not working together. If two agencies are trying to match you with a child, you may encounter legal entanglements that will, in the end, result in a longer process for you—and a longer stay in an orphanage or foster care for a child in need of a family.
—Vicki Peterson, Executive Director of External Affairs, Wide Horizons for Children, Waltham, Massachusetts
Q: Our five-year-old daughter has a processing disability. How should we explain to her that she was adopted? I tried to start a conversation about it the other day, but she didn’t seem to understand.
A: Until age six, all adoption talks are simply foundation for future conversations. Telling the basic outline of her adoption story with a joyful tone sends the message that you love your child, and that she can discuss adoption with you at any time. It is common for a child with a special need to think she was adopted because something was wrong with her. And because your child has a processing disability, she may be an extremely literal thinker.
Spell out to her that her birthparents would have placed any child they had at that time. Then give her concrete examples of people she loves who have imperfections: “You love your brother, even though he has temper tantrums. You love Mommy, even though I can be strict. Actually, no one is perfect, but we are loved for who we are. You have a disability and we love you just the same.” It may help to act out scenarios with dolls or stuffed animals. Gauge her reactions and know that it’s OK to proceed slowly.
—Joni Mantell, Infertility and Adoption Counseling Center, Pennington, New Jersey
Q: We used to have a good relationship with our son’s birthmother, but haven’t heard from her since he was two. He’s now nine. I recently searched for her online, and learned that she’s in jail. Should I send her a letter? We’ve always been honest with our son, but I don’t know how to handle this information.
A: At nine, a child may be too young to know that his birthmother is in jail. If your son asks, and you think he’s mature enough, you could share the information by saying that you don’t know what she did, but when someone breaks the law, they have to be punished, just as he is when he breaks a rule.
If you decide not to share that big piece of information now, you can still initiate a conversation. Say that you’ve been thinking about his birthmother a lot recently, has he? What would he like to know? As to writing to her, be aware that she may be embarrassed that she is in jail, and not want you and your/her son to know. I would write only if your son wants you to try to contact her again. If so, let her know of his interest in her and how you located her. If she declines contact, respect her wishes. Your son can write letters that you save for the time when she may be more receptive.
—Ronny Diamond, MSW, Adoption Resource Center, Spence-Chapin, New York City
Q: I’m about to move. Can I readopt after I move, or do I have to readopt in the state I lived in when I brought my child home?
A: If you have filed a petition for readoption in your current state, and have to move to another state before it’s finalized, the court in your current state will maintain jurisdiction over your readoption. If you have not yet filed your petition, you can start afresh in your new state. The rule of thumb is that you file your readoption petition in the state in which you reside. There is no requirement that you have to go back to your original state of residence to readopt.
—Peter Wiernicki, Member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, Rockville, Maryland