A reader asks
Is birth family contact after adoption wise?

When reading profiles of waiting children, I’ve noticed there is often a request for the child to maintain contact with a birth family member, such as a sibling or grandparent, after the adoption. What type of contact is allowed? Is that safe for the child and for adoptive families?

Each adoption is unique, especially those involving children in the foster care system. The majority of children in foster care know their birth families and remember their lives before they entered foster care. Sibling groups often have a shared experience and tend to be concerned about each other, particularly when they are placed separately. Foster parents who adopt often have a relationship with birth parents long before the child becomes legally free for adoption.

It is common, particularly for older children, to want to maintain relationships with one of more of their siblings (who may be adults or adopted separately) or with grandparents or a favorite aunt or uncle. Relatives may provide emotional support, even if they are unable to provide daily care for the child.

Supportive relationships can look different for each child and family. A yearly birthday card with photos, monthly visits at a park, phone calls, and social media are examples of ways to remain connected. For children in foster care, a more typical arrangement would consist of in-person visits with a grandparent, or for teenagers, phone calls, Facebook contact, or e-mails with a sibling. Since each situation is unique, continuation of significant relationships for children who have been in foster care should be tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual child and family.

This type of relationship offers many benefits to the adopted child. Children find comfort in knowing that their siblings are safe and being cared for, and that their extended family knows they are safe as well. As children mature, they often have questions about why their birth parents were unable to meet their needs and may be able to get answers about their family of origin from these extended family members. This allows the child to mature with an honest assessment of their life story and be better able to resolve grief and loss issues.

There are some situations in which ongoing contact with extended family members is not appropriate. If a birth family member is unable to maintain a safe and supportive relationship with the child or attempts to disrupt or sabotage the adoptive placement, contact should be discontinued until a time when it is safe to resume. If being around the person causes the child trauma, visits should also stop.

Each adoption is unique and how the child views their adoption changes as they mature. When considering adoption, carefully explore how comfortable you and your family would be supporting lifelong relationships for the child. Child welfare workers and local mental health clinicians may be helpful in determining what level of contact will work best for the child and your family.

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I know sibling connections are especially important for children in foster care. When siblings can’t be placed together, what are some things I can do to make sure my child’s sibling connection is not lost?

Siblings in foster care should be placed in the same home whenever possible. Being separated is usually a significant trauma and can deeply impact their emotional well-being. Unfortunately, there are times when siblings must be separated. Here are some ways foster parents can help children in foster care maintain these important sibling relationships:

  • Frequent and consistent visits
  • Joint outings and experiences
  • Celebrate birthdays and holidays together
  • Create new family traditions incorporating siblings
  • Help children cope with their complicated emotions
  • Arrange other forms of contact (e.g., through FaceTime or Skype)
  • Involve the children in the contact planning
  • Overnight visits/joint respite care

Response by the NC Division of Social Services. Portions of this column were adapted from the Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2019 (https://bit.ly/34gV3K5). If you have a question about foster care or adoption in North Carolina you’d like answered in “A Reader Asks,” send it to us using the contact form here.