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.

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  1. says

    Hi – thanks for these guidelines! We have an open adoption (from foster care) with our son who was 2.5 when taken from his mom. I totally agree that a clear plan and clear communication is vital – you cannot assume that the birth parents will understand your boundaries and expectations!! I did this ok with some areas, but with others I didn’t: for instance, I send his birth mom photos of him occasionally, and recently we discovered one of them on his birth dad’s facebook page – someone with whom we do NOT have an open adoption! We made our boundaries regarding photos clear at that point, but I felt violated in finding that picture. Thanks again!
    Check out what Larissa Green recently posted..Remembering the “No’s”

  2. says

    I’m very proud of you for being open both with us and with your adoption. We are open with a couple from our son’s extended bio-family. The parents, sadly, are nowhere near ready for anything, and even when they had the chance to request visits or even basic information – they never did. It breaks my heart for my son. But we’re happy with the openness we now have with someone in his biofamily.

  3. Marce says

    I could not find much info on how much contact with the birth mother was beneficial to older children. I came across this in my search and am very thankful for your GO WITH YOUR GUT section. I think (after reading this) that my husband and I just need to sit down with the “tummy mommy” and lay out our plan. Thank you SO much for your insight and wisdom!

  4. Lisa says

    Thank you for this!! Hubby and I have a 2.5 year old foster daughter, who was severely neglected, and we are working on adopting. Still waiting for the term. of rights. ….. Just yesterday, I was talking to our social worker and I mentioned how bad I feel for the bio Mom. She has some pretty significant mental health issues which made her incapable of parenting. I know that she does not understand what is going on. In my heart, I cannot fathom the thought of what might happen to her if she thought she would never know what happened to her daughter. This opened up the question of open adoption, which apparently could speed this process along, if we agree to it. So, I am perusing the web for info. and here you are!! Thank you again!!

    • Penelope says

      Wow! I love the power of the internet! Our bio-mom is also mentally challenged. Feel free to send an email through my contact page.

  5. says

    Awesome post! So very nice to meet you!

    We started our fost/adopt journey in ’07 and are currently on our 6th & 7th child (sibs) and (as of this moment) we may make it to adoption. We would absolutely consider an open adoption if it’s safe and healthy. We’ve established a great rapport with several members of the bio family and we hope we can maintain good contact.

  6. says

    Wow! Thank you for an informative and objective post. I don’t know what will transpire in our case, but it is good to have knowledge of all the options…

  7. says

    Great post. We have a complicated open adoption with our 5 kids. 2 sibling groups, 2 sets of bios. Older sibs, we have a legally binding OA w/ their bio mom. We have nothing binding with their bio father, but do have some communication with him and his family.

    With younger sibs, we have a legally binding OA w/ their bio mom, but she’s never participated in that to this point. We have no idea where she or their bio father is.

    We struggle with the bio mom we DO deal with and her ideas on what open adoption mean. She very much wishes for a co-parenting type adoption. She wants us to include her in every decision and wants the kids to see her as their mother. However, due to her choices in their case, she lost any bond they ever had. She went 4 years w/o seeing them during the time of their fc case….DH and I were their only family during that time. It is hard b/c while we want to remain open w/ her and have a relationship, we also don’t want to force this bond between her and the kids that they (the kids) are not interested in (at this time).

    Really enjoyed your blog!

    La Mama Loca
    Check out what La Mama Loca recently posted..Interrupted schedule

      • says

        By legally binding, it means that both sides are ‘required’ to follow the terms set in it. We have 2 visits a year and certain ‘conditions’ that have to be met by bio mom….one being that she does not have a jail sentence longer than 6 mos, one being that 1/2 siblings are present, among a few other things.

        Now, if we as the adoptive family chose not to uphold the visits (which will be altered now that we are moving, but it is a provision in the agreement) and did not continue contact, or anything bio mom felt was not in agreement with the contract, she would have to take us to court to have a judge to have it enforced.

        She would not get a public defender for a case like this, she’d have to pay for all the legal expenses incurred.

        We it set up so that if either party moves more than 30 miles from our current city (we live in the same city as bio mom), visits can be held over the phone.

        We will more likely do some type of video chat, esp so we can ‘see’ the half siblings that in our case, we are all very close to.

        Bio mom may not like this arrangement…but she cannot make us come to her location. If we agreed to it, she would have to pay for all our traveling expenses (for ALL of us, not just her bio children…not that we would do so, but that’s what is in the agreement).

        However, as long as we are at least willing to do the video chat, she could not take us to court.
        Check out what La Mama Loca recently posted..A leak

  8. says

    Great post! For those of you whose meetups with birth families demonstrate that safety is not possible remember that they still gave you a gift of that child. I always tell my kiddos that different people are good at different things. I [at 5’1″] will never be a great basketball player no matter how hard I try. But I am good at other things. I tell them their birth parents were just not good at raising and taking care of children, but they were great at creating beautiful, caring babies. God brought those beautiful, caring babies to me, so that I could use my gifts for raising and taking care of children to raise and take care of them. Then I usually laugh and tell them that if they want to be great basketball players, they will have to look around for someone else to help them with that!
    You are so blessed and your girls are so blessed that their Tummy Mommies were able to be a part of their lives!
    and Thank you for sharing your WONderful guidelines.
    Gail Underwood Parker

  9. Kristin says

    Thank you for this post. I currently have the sibling of my adopted son in my care as a foster child, and her (their) Grandpa and Aunt are in the picture. This is all still very new, and I have only had her in my home for a couple of weeks. I am still trying to figure out what my boundaries are, and what will work for us as far as contact with them. This post was helpful for to to come up with a plan. Thank you!!

  10. says

    Love this post!! With 3 foster children currently, and adoption looking more and more likely in each case, I’ve wondered about this issue A LOT. If we were to adopt – would we cut off ALL contact with their families? Should we? I know that God would lead us.. but it’s a lot to think about. thank you for this post!
    Check out what Mandy recently posted..One Step Forward – Ten Steps Back

    • says

      You are so welcome!!! It really is tough deciding how much vs how little contact should be made. I wish you the best.

      If you have ventured over to my blog, you will see that our daughters birthmother is currently residing at our state prison… and its HEARTBREAKING! Her charges were nothing new, she had an outstanding warrant from years ago that came back to haunt her after she decided to become a better person. :( The hard thing is that I am honestly her only support system. Who would have thought?!?
      Check out what Mama Lark recently posted..Saving Grace

  11. says

    what a great post. thanks for this. Your story is eerily similar to ours…yet birthmom has vanished off the face of the earth.
    I’m always hoping and praying that she’s able to pick herself up and move forward…as her childhood was hard and she really deserves some good in life!


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