6 Tips for Open Adoption in Foster Care

Today Foster2Forever is hosting a guest post from Jennifer of The Lark’s Nest who will be writing on the sensitive topic of open adoption…


My name is Jennifer (aka Mama Lark).  I am a fellow foster mother and have been doing that for a good 4 years now!  My husband and I jumped into foster care immediately after finding out that we struggled with fertility issues.  We LOVE our lives as a resource family for our state and we wouldn’t change it for anything!  If you want to learn more about my family, please check out our blog.

Foster Care Open Adoption **Disclaimer: Open Adoption in Foster Care is NOT for everyone!! Not all situations would be advantageous for pursuing openness.  These relationships take a great deal of time (and effort).  Open foster care adoptions are NOT for the faint of heart.  As mothers, our primary responsibility is protecting our little ones.  As a foster/adoptive mother, that responsibility is even greater and even more discretion is necessary.  These children have been hurt once before.  Putting them back into a dangerous situation- whether it be physical or emotional- should be out of the question.

Our journey to parenthood was filled with many trials and tears.  On a cool October afternoon, I received a phone call informing me that I would be a mother. Within the week, a beautiful little angel moved into our home (and our hearts)!  After 2 adoptions (and 1 more scheduled for April), we are ridiculously proud parents with the support of 2 beautiful birth mothers whom we have lovingly dubbed our “Tummy Mommies”.

Our daughters are biological siblings.  They were removed from their birth mothers’ custody for various degrees of neglect stemming from her drug abuse.  Miss D was born addicted to drugs, and had developed a muscle weakness in her neck from being left in her car seat too long.  Sassy Pants came to us with a urinary tract infection so bad, it hurt when I used the restroom! An open relationship was NOT something I envisioned in the least bit! It just wasn’t going to happen.  NO WAY, NO HOW!

As random health issues arose, I looked into the girls’ files and discovered their birth mother had also been a ward of the state.  I read through HORRIFIC accounts of her life pre-foster care, and my heart ached for that poor child.  After numerous stints in group homes and few “failed” placements, she eventually aged out of foster care as an unwed, drug-addicted mother.  Knowing her heartbreaking past, made it easier to find some level of forgiveness.  Our open “arrangement” did not happen overnight! (Our youngest was 2 1/2 before I even considered tracking birth mom down.)  When I did, I was pleasantly surprised.  She had stopped using drugs, had gotten a job, was attending school, found a great guy and was raising a daughter with him.  (Believe me- I was skeptical… but she still hasn’t gone back to the old ways.) From her huge lifestyle changes, we were able to form an amazingly strong relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

Do you want a more OPEN relationship?  Are you interested in pursuing some version of “open”? Great!! Remember from my earlier disclosure- its NOT for everyone! But for those of you interested in trying it out…

Here is my list of 6 “Non-Negotiables”:

1. the HMMM stage: Plan this out! Ask yourself questions like, how do I WANT this to look?, how will I explain this to our children?, how will I explain this to other people? If all goes well, you will also find yourself asking, how often do we want to visit? Do we want to visit at all? Would it be easier to just exchange photos and emails so many times a year? Should we invite them over for birthdays/holidays? YOU are the one that needs to feel comfortable!  Make your plan work for YOU!! Do what is within YOUR comfort level!   Once you figure out what YOU are wanting this to look like, set up a time where you and the birth family can meet.  Don’t drag your little ones with you until you KNOW that this is a safe situation for them.  A pre-meeting will definitely help!

2. follow your guts:If your motherly instinct kicks in and tells you something just isn’t right, it probably isn’t! One of my rules from the get-go was Tummy Mommy could only be around our children if she was drug-free.  It would be unrealistic to demand urine tests, but we did other things to make sure it was safe for the kids.  I spoke to police officers and counselors about drug addictions and behaviors that could indicate that she was using…   Educate yourselves!  And even if you think its just a silly reaction- TRUST YOURSELF!!  Don’t worry about offending people when your sole priority is keeping your children safe.

3. communicate!: Tell the birthfamily what you are wanting! If you are hoping for this relationship to grow and develop, being upfront about your expectations.  It may be awkward and weird, but it’s equally awkward for the person sitting across from you.  Be honest in your dealings!  Don’t deviate from the plan you created in the HMMM stage! Make sure that these families know that in NO WAY is this a co-parenting situation!!! YOU are the parent, they no longer are.  They have no say in the way the child is disciplined, in the child’s schedule, schooling, clothing… ANYTHING!!  I also recommend that you come up with what you want the child to call their birth family members.  Like I said, Tummy Mommy worked for us.  The girls know that they grew in her belly, and are now part of our forever family.  They don’t know the exact reasons yet because I don’t feel its appropriate at this point in time…  Just make sure you are comfortable with what they call her.  Our children are small, so I am not sure what the best method would be for older children.  Do some reading & research!

4. BOUNDARIES! BOUNDARIES! BOUNDARIES!: While you are communication your “HMMMM plan” with the birth families, make sure to set BOUNDARIES!! Every relationship has them, this one should be no exception.  Each of us will have different comfort levels which will mean each of our situations will have different boundaries.  Some of our boundaries include:

  • No babysitting!
  • She is never alone with the girls.  We always do “family activities”.
  • No showing up without an invitation.
  • No additional people unless they are approved by me.

I ALWAYS made sure I was comfortable in the situation, so I encourage you all to do the same!  If you aren’t comfortable with birth families knowing where you live, meet in a public place.  If you aren’t comfortable with them knowing what your vehicle looks like, take public transportation to the visit! If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of them posting pictures online, make sure they know that! Tell them if a camera comes out, the visit will be over.  If you don’t want them bringing friends, tell them!  Do NOT be afraid of setting these boundaries!

5. no flakes allowed: Your time is valuable.  Waiting around for a birth parent visit that was supposed to start at ten is not an option!! If you plan on a ten o’clock visit, there needs to be a ten o’clock visit or no visit at all.  If there is a serious issue that comes up, that’s one thing… and you should exercise your best judgment.  If it becomes habitual, visits are not in the best interest of your children.  If seeing their child is not a serious priority to them, don’t put child through the back & forth.  Its not fair to the kiddo, and it just places them back  in the situation where they originated from.  DON’T STAND FOR IT!!!

6. “can I borrow…”: This statement is NOT an option in our arrangement!  Gifts around holidays/birthdays are one thing, but loaning money is not an option.  Our birth mother has never asked us, and knows that if she did, I would tell her no.  (I don’t feel comfortable loaning my little brother things!!)   Don’t pay their bills, don’t ask your friends to do them favors, don’t give them cell phones…. just don’t be naive.  Taking advantage of me is NOT happening!!

Hopefully these things will be helpful to you in planning/organizing a more open relationship.  Please don’t think that I advocate ALL foster care/adoption relationships to be open.  Because I do NOT!! There are cases where it is not safe for the child to have any contact.  As parents, do what works best for your family!!  This relationship has worked out wonderfully for us.  We love and appreciate Tummy Mommy so very much.  She is a great example of what overcoming the adversary should look like.

Foster Care Open Adoption“In the end, the number of prayers we say may not be as important as the number of prayers we answer.”  Our prayers were answered by our beautiful children and the mistake of another.  As long as she is working hard to overcome, we will continue to answer her prayers by letting her know that our children are safe… and oh, so beautiful.