As adoptive parents we want to give our baby the best we can to prepare our child for the future. We give our little one nourishing food, loving attention, the security of family life. All of this helps to set the stage for the important changes that come with adolescence, when our child will balance on the brink of a new life as an adult. The same is true of adoption issues: we must give our infant the tools that will help him forge a positive identity.
This is why it is so vitally important to collect all of the information we can now, not only about birth parents but also about our child’s extended birth family and cultural heritage. This information is likely to be unavailable or at least difficult to find when our child is a teenager. In open adoptions, of course, and with placements which have some degree of openness, much of this personal history is shared and available. But with other placements, particularly when children are removed because of abuse or neglect, or with many international placements, this information may never have been available. In too many adoptive placements even basic “non-identifying” information, such as the first names of biological parents, their ages, religion, and ethnic background may be missing. Sometimes this is because attention at the time of coming into care was focused on the immediate needs of the child for safety and shelter, sometimes because the particular country does not ask for or record such information.
Practical information about birth parents’ medical and psychological history, education levels, and the circumstances of conception and birth may also be missing. In addition to information related to birth family, personal information related to the child may or may not be accessible. This might include information such as how and when the child came into care and what happened afterwards, medical and developmental information, or the child’s adjustments, routines, and behaviors while in care. It is more likely that public agency adoptions in the U. S. and Canada will have more detailed evaluations of the child or birth family than will many international placements, but this varies country by country, or agency by agency.
The first thing adoptive parents can do to locate information is to ask for it. Put together a short list of the information you feel is important. Call and/or write the child’s agency or adoption facilitator, whomever you know who may have had contact with your child or your child’s birth parents and subsequent caretakers. Ask if there are documents, reports, and, especially, photos of the birth family, child or foster family. Get as much in writing as you can, and put into writing anything you are told verbally. Make copies and store the originals away carefully with other irreplaceable family documents. Put this information together in a life book for your child. It should have information about the paths of your adoption journey and your child’s journey home, and where they crossed to make a family.
When there is little or no information available, you may be able to piece together likely scenarios for your child based on general information about why children come into care in your child’s country. These are only possibilities, however, so it’s important not to present them as absolute fact. Especially with international and trans-cultural or trans-racial adoptions, read as much as you can about your child’s birth heritage. Get involved with community activities that reflect your child’s heritage or join an adoptive parent support group. Talk with professionals, volunteers, and others who have lived and worked in your child’s first home community, particularly people who have worked with children in foster or orphanage care. They can give you insight into the circumstances of birth families and the patterns of life for children in care. Each child’s life is a gift to us. If we are to help our child realize how true this is, we need to encourage an awareness of the variety of contributions and paths that led to the unique person he or she is within our family. This additional information and support, added to our ongoing love and commitment, can provide a stronger anchor during the rough times of adolescence. It’s never too soon to add to our love for our children.