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Rights and Responsibilities within the Adoption Circle

by | May 15, 2019 | Adoption

There are a great many problems with adoption; the nature and practices of adoption as it has been practiced and still is today. One of the most glaring inconsistencies for me is that the act of adoption is always portrayed to be in the best interests of the child, yet once the adoption has taken place, anything that happened before it is hidden behind an impenetrable wall which the child is all too often actively prevented from trying to peer behind.

The cold hard truth is that for most children of closed adoptions, we have different origin stories than children who are with their natural parents. We are different because we weren’t born, we were delivered. We are prevented from seeing the true beginnings of our stories. Could you imagine the irony of having your adoption facilitated by a social worker or lawyer with the surname, ‘Stork’?! Children of closed adoptions, for all intents and purposes, have to begin their stories with being delivered.

And very often, when we begin to make serious attempts to find the truth, we are actively discouraged, and made to feel enormous amounts of guilt. “You are being ungrateful to your adoptive parents”, “You might be opening a Pandora’s Box”, “Forget it and get on with your life”, “By finding her you are invading her life”, or “It’s just biological.” These are the answers we get to our very natural quest to know our beginnings. YES! it is biological!! There is nothing more compelling, nothing more deeply rooted than biology- especially to someone to whom it has been denied.

It was more than 50 years before I was able to experience sitting in a room with blood relatives- something extraordinary, something primal, something that most people don’t even think twice about because they have been surrounded by blood relations their whole lives. For the first time in my life I sat in a room and just knew- this is where I come from; this is my heritage; this is who I look like. I can’t begin to try to describe what a life-changing moment that was- especially after more than three decades of searching.

The question isn’t how can you search?, the question is how can you NOT search?

Betty Jean Lifton, an adoptee and counsellor, has written two seminal books on this and the interplay between all of the principle participants in what she (and many others) call the Adoption Circle: the birth parents, the child, the adoptive parents, and the social workers/legal agents. I cannot recommend these books strongly enough to anyone who is a part of this circle.

Based on her work and the work of many others advocating for open records and change in not only the way adoption is practiced, but in how it is viewed in the collective consciousness, she has presented a list of the rights and responsibilities of each of the groups in the adoption circle. This list is not a reality in most places, but it is a vision, and one to aspire to.

Search Find Become fully supports and advocates for these rights and responsibilities and many of them inform the structure of our course.

Please find links to the books at the end of the article.

Adoptees have the right:

  • To know that they are adopted.
  • To a birth certificate that has not been amended or sealed.
  • To knowledge of their origins- the name they were given at birth, their ethnic and religious background, the complete medical and social history of their birth families.
  • To open and honest communication with their adoptive parents.
  • To updated medical and social history on the birth parents and their respective families.
  • To personal contact with each birth parent.
  • To live without guilt toward either set of parents when they explore questions about their heritage.

Adoptees have the responsibility:

  • To treat their adoptive parents as their “real” parents.
  • To help their adoptive parents understand their need to know their heritage.
  • To contact their birth parents in a discreet way that will not invade their privacy.
  • To be considerate of the birth parent after contact.
  • To be considerate of the adoptive parents during their Search and Reunion period.

Adoptive parents have the right:

  • To be regarded by the child and society as the “real” parents.
  • To raise the child according to their social and religious background, even when it differs from that of the birth family.
  • To expect the birth parents to respect the privacy and integrity of their family unit, and to make contact through them or an intermediary rather than through a minor child.
  • To full information about their child at the time of adoption, and updated information on the birth parents over the years.

Adoptive parents have the responsibility:

  • To explore open adoption.
  • To tell the child that he or she is adopted and to keep communication channels open after that.
  • To obtain all the information they can in writing about the child’s background at the time of adoption.
  • To have empathy for the child’s need for knowledge about his heritage and to help him integrate it over the years.
  • To avoid inflicting feelings of indebtedness of guilt on the child.
  • To give the social worker or legal agent updated material on the child’s development should the birth parents request it.
  • To request updated information on the birth parents.
  • To have some kind of communication with a birth parent who has made contact either directly or through an intermediary.
  • To inform an adoptee of such contact.
  • To avoid going through black marketeers to find a child, and to be certain the child’s records are not falsified.
  • To lobby their state legislature for open records.

Birth parents have the right:

  • To explore open adoption.
  • To privacy from the public, but not from their own child.
  • To put their own requirements into an adoption contract.
  • To waive their option of confidentiality at the time of adoption, or at any time afterward.
  • To updated information about the child’s development while it is growing up in the adoptive family.
  • To determine the time and place for a meeting with a child who has searched for them in such a way that will preserve their privacy.
  • To contact a child who has reached adulthood.

Birth parents have the responsibility:

  • To explore open adoption
  • To work with professionals rather than baby brokers.
  • To supply the agency or legal go-between with a complete medical and social history and to update this over the years.
  • To balance their right to information about the child with respect for the adoptive family.
  • To find some way to contact the adoptive parents of a minor child, either directly or through an intermediary, rather than approaching the child.
  • To meet with their child if they are contacted, and to reveal any relevant information, especially the identity of the other birth parent, siblings, or half-siblings.
  • To lobby their state legislature for open records.

Social workers and legal agents have the right:

  • To arrange legal adoptions.
  • To receive reasonable fees for their professional services.
  • To expect state legislators to clear up the present ambiguities in the adoption statutes.

Social workers and legal agents have the responsibility:

  • To offer open adoption to birth parents and adoptive parents.
  • To examine their own attitudes about adoption and to be trained in the psychology of the adoptee, the adoptive parents, and the birth parents.
  • To choose adoptive parents who are able to understand the psychological needs of the adopted child.
  • To keep legal fees reasonable, and to itemise costs.
  • To have legal counsel representing the child at the time of the adoption procedures.
  • To consider the needs of all parties while writing the adoption contract.
  • To place twins and, if possible, siblings in the same family.
  • To get a full medical and social history from both birth parents, as well as their authentic names and addresses.
  • To give all information in writing to the adoptive parents.
  • To give updated material to all parties on request.
  • To treat adoptees who contact them with courtesy, consideration, and honesty.
  • To act as an intermediary for any party requesting this service.
  • To get a full medical and social history on children of intercountry adoptions.
  • To lobby for controls on black market adoptions.
  • To lobby in state legislatures for open adoption records.
  • To help medical schools and schools of social work to devise courses on the adoption syndrome and the psychological complexity of the adoption circle.

Excerpt from Lost & Found: The Adoption Experience, by Betty Jean Lifton. Pgs. 283-287.
Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience. By Betty Jean Lifton.
Journey Of The Adopted Self: A Quest For Wholeness. By Betty Jean Lifton

Written by Derek Grimm

Derek was adopted at birth in Calgary, Canada. He began his 35 year journey in his late teens little realising how long it would take before finally piercing the veil and making contact with both sides of his birth family. The experience he has gained through the years of his search, the successes, and the lessons he learned from the mistakes he made form the backbone of the Search Find Become course.

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