For decades, the details of private agency adoption were a well-kept secret. The rationale back then originated with the idea of protecting the birth mother and child from the stigma of illegitimacy. Fortunately, times change.
Years of secrecy and sealed records have taught us that this approach is not in the best interest of the child or the birth families. Unanswered questions left birth parents with a lingering feeling of loss that many were unable to reconcile. And as the field of genetics advanced, it left adoptees without important access to their birth family's medical history.
THE BIRTH OF OPEN ADOPTION
The benefits openness has on all parties involved, including adoptive parents, led to the PACA or Post Adoption Contact Agreement. The beauty of this agreement is that while it may be a legally binding document depending on the State law controlling the adoption, it is highly individualized to meet the specific desires of both the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parents. Once all parties agree to the terms, the agreement may be approved by a judge, or in some cases is only approved by the parties. In cases requiring judicial approval, the judge will base their decision on the best interests of the child.
Throughout your adoption journey, ongoing conversations with your attorney and the birth parents will help you to take a look into the future and begin to determine what kind and level of contact you would like to have with your child's birth parents and, most importantly, to set the contact parameters for your child.
While you may initially feel that you are venturing out of your comfort zone, research shows that adopted children whose parents have a working relationship with their birth parents find it helpful when they get older.
Many birth parents take great comfort in receiving periodic updates on their child to assure them that the child is physically, emotionally, and developmentally thriving.
Open communication early in the adoption process is the key to creating a mutually satisfying PACA. Conversations can be limited to a basic introduction and exchange of ideas to getting to know one another on a much more personal level from pre-birth to post adoption.
Openness is not a legal term, and there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to setting up your PACA. The boundaries set will be your own, a collaborative effort between birth parents and adoptive parents.
Nevertheless, once your agreement becomes a legal document, those boundaries will be clear, leaving no room for uncertainty or anxiety.
While your PACA is uniquely yours, there are certain basic terms that should always be included, such as clauses that:
- Forbid a court from increasing the level of contact at a later date.
- Forbid the posting of pictures or any other identifying information on any type of social media site.
- Require birth parents to notify adoptive parents if the child contacts them without the adoptive parents' knowledge.
It is also very important at this time for you to think about terms you want to avoid. Think carefully about the commitment you are making, and look ahead to the future. Do not allow yourself to feel pressured to agree to something that you are uncomfortable with.
There may also be proposed terms that you would readily honor in theory, but cannot agree to due to circumstances beyond your control. For example, if your employer requires you to relocate periodically, you may not be able to commit to a specific visitation schedule.