Vol. 15, No. 1 • November 2010

A Foster Parent Asks . . .
Is continued contact between adopted children and their relatives wise?

Question: In reading profiles of waiting children, I’ve noticed there is often a request for the child to maintain contact after the adoption with a birth family member, such as a sibling or grandparent. 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. Unlike infant adoptions, the majority of foster children have knowledge about their birth families and memories of their life prior to entering 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 a relationship with one of more of their siblings (who may be adopted separately) or with grandparents or a favorite aunt or uncle. The child may see these adults as being emotionally supportive, even if they are unable to provide daily care for the child.

Depending on the people involved, this type of relationship can include anything from a yearly birthday card with photos to monthly visits at a park. For children in foster care, a more typical arrangement would consist of in-person visits with a grandparent at a park, or for teenagers, phone calls, Facebook contact, or e-mails with a sibling.

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 the 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 or increases their stress level, visits should also stop.

Each adoption is unique and how the child views their adoption changes as they mature. When considering this type of adoption, carefully explore how comfortable you and your family would be supporting this type of relationship and seek professional guidance as needed.

Question: I’d like to send a Christmas gift to a waiting child I saw on an adoption website. Can you tell me how to send a gift for a particular child?

It is wonderful that you feel a connection with a particular child, but it can get surprisingly complicated trying to send a gift for a specific child. For safety reasons, the location of waiting children is kept confidential, so it would be impossible to send a gift directly to the child or their agency. While NC Kids often serves as an intermediary between the public and adoption agencies, we are not equipped to handle these types of exchanges. It can also be confusing to the child to receive a gift from someone who saw their photo on the Internet.

A better option is to contact your local DSS or private adoption agency and ask if they accept gifts for their foster children. Many offices have a staff member or volunteer group that helps coordinate gift giving during the holidays. They may be able to give you gift ideas or let you know the ages and gender of children still in need. Although your gift will remain anonymous, know that your generosity is appreciated and sure to put a smile on a child or teenager’s face.

Response by Robyn Weiser, NC Kids Adoption and Foster Care Network. If you have a question about foster care or adoption in North Carolina, send it to [email protected].

Copyright 2010 Jordan Institute for Families