Open Adoptions in Indiana – Family Law Research Paper (300 Level Course)
An “open” adoption is one where there is mutual disclosure of personal information about the birthparents and adoptive parents. Such personal information may include names, occupations, family background, medical histories, photographs and in-person meetings. A “closed” adoption is one where no personal or identifying information is exchanged and an agency handles all details.
There are many adoptions today which are open because the birthparents want to have the ability to know and decide about who will be best in raising their child, and the adoptive parents want to know some things about the birthparents. The degree of openness is up to the adoptive parents and the biological parents. Many families choose to have some form of ongoing contact both before and after the adoption, whether it is with letters and photographs or conversations on the phone.
In open adoption many birthparents want to arrange an in-person visit before choosing a family they want their child to live with. There are many adoptive parents who send update letters and photographs to the birthparents at least once a year after the adoption has been finalized. An adoption agency can act as an intermediary in these cases and nothing more than first names need be disclosed. In a completely open adoption, there is ongoing contact and visits with the arrangements made by the parties themselves.
Many prospective adoptive parents are worried and very concerned about the idea of an open adoption. Some adoptive parents feel that they will suffer a loss of privacy and also worry about unwanted and unexpected contact from the birthparents after the adoption is finalized. Early in the pre-adoption process, the adoptive parents should be counseled about the options and decide how much openness they are willing to have.
Once a birthmother has been located, both parties should receive counseling and assistance in developing a mutually agreeable adoption plan whether it is an open adoption or a closed one. In 69% of public and private agency adoptions, the birth parents had met the adoptive couple. (Berry, 1991). Adoptive parents must always remember that birthparents are afraid as well. Adoption agencies perform many functions; counseling birthmothers, counseling adoptive parents and assisting them in adopting, performing pre-licensure home studies, performing post-placement home investigations, taking consents from birthparents, taking temporary custody of newborns pending an adoption and much more. Some adoption agencies provide crisis pregnancy counseling for women, as well as support and living assistance.
According to Indiana’s Adoption Program there are many legal aspects of adoption both open and closed that must be followed in order to adopt. Selecting an attorney would be very wise because there are many federal and state laws that apply to adoption which would require certain steps to be followed prior to the finalization of an adoption. The attorney fees will vary around the state and you will need to ask the attorney what fees they charge and how they bill those fees. You may also qualify for a one-time reimbursement of legal fees up to $1500 that your attorney may be able to assist you in applying for.
Prospective adoptive parents need an approved Family Preparation Assessment (Home Study) to be recommended for a child who is a ward. Your local county Office of Family and Children (OFC) and/or the private agency (LCPA) that contracts with the county must determine if you have been approved. You are required to have written approval before a child can be placed with you for adoption and through your local court jurisdiction. The consent of the child’s mother, if she is living, is required by law to complete an adoption. The consent of a child’s father who has established paternity or signed a paternity affidavit is also required. The county Office of Family and Children (OFC) may have completed a court action to terminate the parent-child relationship so that a child who is a ward can be legally free for adoption, whether the child’s parents have consented or not determines the type of court action that is necessary. Your attorney should check with the OFC to see whether all consents have been obtained or determine if the child is legally free for adoption. You will need the consent of the OFC that has the responsibility of care and supervision of the child you wish to adopt for the court proceedings, unless the court finds that their consent is not necessary to serve the best interests of the child. (Indiana’s Adoption Program)
If you are an Indiana resident, you may file your adoption petition in the county where you reside, in the county where the child resides, or in the county where the private agency (LCPA) or Office of Family and Children (OFC) has custody of the child. If you are not an Indiana resident, you may petition to adopt a child who is a ward of Indiana in the county where the LCPA or OFC has custody or the county where the child resides. If you are married, both you and your spouse must sign the adoption petition. Partners of an unmarried couple may not petition to adopt together and in such cases, only one partner may be the petitioner. (Indiana’s Adoption Program)
The following statistics are based on the Grotevant and McRoy longitudinal study on open adoption. Between 1987-1992, information was collected from 190 adoptive families and 169 birthmothers experiencing varying levels of openness in their adoptions.
The data from the study, a snapshot of families taken 4 to 12 years after the adoptive placement, revealed:
* Fears that birth parents would attempt to reclaim their children or otherwise intrude on adoptive families’ lives are not apparent in families with fully disclosed adoptions.
* Openness does not interfere with adoptive parents’ emerging sense of entitlement to parenthood.
* Having a fully disclosed adoption does not guarantee successful grief resolution, as is evidenced by the broad range of grief resolution ratings among birthmothers across all adoption arrangements in this study.
In the same study, thirty-one adoption agencies were also interviewed on their practice toward the range of openness. The agencies were measured in two time intervals: Time 1 was between 1987 and 1989 and Time 2 was 1993.
* Only 11 of the original 31 agencies (35%) offered fully disclosed adoption options as part of their standard practice at Time 1. Four to five years later, 22 of the remaining 29 agencies (76%) offered full disclosed adoptions.
* By 1993, 2/3 of the agencies offered the continuum of openness in adoption, from confidential to fully disclose. In 1987, most agencies offered only confidential and mediated adoptions.
* 2/3 of the fully disclosed adoptions in this sample did not start as fully disclosed: 5% began as mediated and 14% began as confidential. (Grotevant and McRoy, 1998)
I conducted an interview over the phone with a woman named Anna Connaughton whom I met through a friend at a jewelry party. Anna had been married for several years before she and her husband had decided to adopt children. Before the Connaughtons decided to adopt a child they went to an all day class about adoption and many seminars to help them better prepare for the challenges that lay ahead of them in their decision to adopt. Anna and her husband adopted Jack when he was 2 days old, Jack who is now 4 years old is doing well and happy with his adoptive family. Anna and her husband went through a private agency to adopt Jack. Jack was adopted through a mixture of both open and closed adoption. Anna knew all about the biological mother, but the biological mother knew little about them, that is to say she did not know the specifics about them, where they lived, their last name, the personal things in their life. Anna spent three months with the biological mother before Jack was born and was there when Jack was born. Anna was also the biological mother’s Lamaze coach.
Jack’s biological mother was 17 years old and had decided with her family that having a baby was not in her best interest or the child’s being that young and not living on her own and would not be able to support herself, let alone a child. Jack’s biological mother called an agency with her decision and they helped her locate a family that would love to have the opportunity to adopt Jack as their son. Anna wrote a “Dear Birthmother” letter to tell a little about herself and her family. The birthmother and her family also looked through many scrap books of families that were looking to adopt and out of those many scrap books she choose to pick the Connaughtons as the family to adopt Jack.
Jack was officially adopted when he was two days old. Anna stated that the biological mother and the Connaughtons had to wait 48 hours after the birth of the child for the biological mother to sign the papers which gave the Connaughtons full custody of Jack. Only the Connaughton’s attorney and a counselor from the private adoption agency was allowed in the room to give the papers to the biological mother and have her sign them. The biological father signed away his rights to Jack before he was even born. I found that through my research that this is the case many of the times with the biological father
I asked Anna to estimate how much money it cost her and her husband to adopt Jack. She hesitated and told me $18,000. I was astonished and asked her why it was that expensive and she told me that the money went to her attorney and the agency which placed Jack with them. She told me that there was a limit to how much money you could give an agency for the living expenses for the biological mother; she said it was around $3,000. Anna told me that the reason you could only give the mother so much for expenses was because she had heard of women who would shop there unborn child around and collect from many families before deciding who to give her child to.
The biological mother has seen Jack three times, but not a lot lately and has had inconsistent contact with the Connaughtons. They send the biological mother pictures and gifts. Anna goes on to say that the biological mother comes in and out of touch for long periods of time and she has stated that she, the biological mother, feels bad on occasion and struggles with the decision she has made, but also realizes that it was the best decision for her and Jack in the long run and would have made the same decision if she had it all over to do again. Anna and her husband feel that it is a good thing that Jack knows he is adopted from the start; they have never tried to hide it from him at all.
Anna stated that there are many advantages and disadvantages to the open and closed adoption. Anna states that the adoptive parents are responsible for all the medical expenses acquired by the biological mother during her pregnancy and the adoption process. The Connaughton do receive a tax credit of $10,000 for adoption which helps them provide excellent medical insurance and many of the necessities that are required by a 4 year old boy. She stated that her worst feeling is that the biological mother would one day come into Jacks life and try to interfere at an age he is not ready for. Anna doesn’t feel at this time that the biological mother is ready to see Jack again right now because she has been really inconsistent with her visits and her letters.
The letters seem to be directed to Jack now and also as if he were old enough to understand them and what they say, which he is not. She did go on to say that she would keep these letters for Jack and when she feels he is ready she will give them to him at that point in time. Anna did state that open adoptions must feel right and the biological and adoptive parents must have the right fit in order for the adoption to work. Anna further states that open adoption is wonderful because she can answer Jack’s questions whenever he has them and will be able to give him all the answers he needs when he is ready. She then said that she never dreamed she would say that, but it was the truth.
The Connaughtons also adopted a little girl from Guatemala who is now a year old. I asked Anna if she would ever adopt again and she said definitely, but this time it would also be an international adoption because domestic is so hard and expensive where as international is easier and you can time it better.
I feel that adoption is best when it is open because like Anna, I would want to have information about their birth parents when he or she was ready to seek them out. Your birth parents are a part of you. Ancestors, genetic make-ups, environmental and social developments are all part of who a person is. All of these things make a person complete.