Welcome to my first OART! These questions posed by JoAnne are eerily similar to questions I've been getting since Baby X was placed with us. Questions asked by friends and acquaintances, many of whom have not been touched by adoption (except that they know us, and apparently haven't been listening).
Although our placement and contact with C is very new, I think I have some perspective with which to answer most of the questions.
1. Can the adoptive parents really go back on their word after the adoption has been finalized and do whatever they please in regard to updates and pictures?
In the state in which we live there are no statutes addressing post-adoption contact. This means that adoptive parents can go back on their word with no legal recourse. It's a travesty because it keeps reinforcing stereotypes and it's not fair to the first-parents or the adoptee.
Several states do address post-adoption contact. http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/cooperativeall.pdf
2. Who is the go-between for communication with most Open Adoptions: the case worker, the placing agency, or the lawyer handling the adoption?
In my opinion, a truly open adoption has no third party intervention. Currently, we are in a semi-open adoption. In our situation, C has to call her caseworker to set up a meeting with us. We have an agreement to send letters/pictures to the agency on a regular basis, which then are forwarded to her. We don't know where she lives or her last name, and likewise she doesn't have that information for us.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the above contact persons?
In our situation, I feel like there are many disadvantages for C. The onus is on her to decide she wants the contact, and then she has to go to a third party, instead of us directly to set up a meeting. It seems intimidating, but I also don't know what kind of relationship she has with her caseworker. I observed that her caseworker seemed very involved and concerned for her well-being during the placement process. But that's a brief observation I may add.
As far as advantages for us, I suppose the advantage is that we could go along our merry way and just send the updates as prescribed to the agency and not worry about meetings unless we're told that she wants a meeting. BUT, I've read some first-mom blogs and responses to OARs that have expressed trepidation at asking for contact even when they are in a fully open adoption. So, I don't really see that as an advantage. C has expressed the desire to have fairly frequent contact, we agreed to it, and we want to follow through. I should have pushed to give her an e-mail address where she could contact us directly, but even I felt somewhat hamstrung by how the agency operates, and didn't want to rock the boat immediately. And honestly, I was in shock from Friday afternoon, until Tuesday night when we brought him home. It's amazing I/we were even coherent. So, in our first meeting with C we expressed several times that we want visits too. And that e-mail address, if we don't see her soon, will be in the first package we send to the agency.
And, if I could just hop on a soapbox for a minute...I would like to point out that during our homestudy, a way long time ago, our caseworker was adamant that on our checklist, we only write down our level of openness that was comfortable. In fact, I felt that we had to keep repeating ourselves, when I got the phone call about being profiled, in our initial meeting after we were matched, and when we were signing our paperwork before placement that we are totally fine with regular visits. It was annoying, because we felt like we were being put through the wringer a little bit regarding what we thought was a simple matter. WE had been discussing openness for two years, they acted like we might be jumping on the bandwagon because we had been waiting so damn long for a match. I do feel that our agency is very careful about these matters and in no way pushed us to say we were going to do something we had no intention of following through.
And one more thing, several of my acquaintances are confused by our statements that we've met C and that we will be having more visits in the future. Seriously, I have heard this more than once "You're open to that?" Whether we like it or not, and I can try to educate until I'm blue in the face, stereotypes are alive, well, and not going away any time soon.
4. How can case workers be involved in Open Adoption as well if DHS are already so understaffed and the budgets are maxed out for the thousands of forgotten children lost in the system?
Caseworkers are not involved in Open Adoption. They are involved in Semi-Open adoption. I don't know if DHS was even involved in C's case. I think what happens in the case of a mother who has not made a plan by the time a baby is born, DHS may be initially involved, but often, a private agency is contacted to take over her case, and to place the baby if an adoption plan is made. When we meet with C through the agency, at least one caseworker (probably hers) will be present, I think.
5. Is there an incentive such as money for the adoption agency to be still involved indirectly and indefinitely for an Open Adoption? Does it cost the prospective adoptive parents more money upfront for it to be an open adoption?
As I can only speak for my specific case, our agency has a fixed fee schedule for all prospective adoptive parents, no matter what the circumstances of placement are.
6. If the contract is legally binding, what happens to the adoptive parents if they don’t follow through? Is there really any legal recourse for both parties that are clearly spelled out?
Again, I refer you to this link which lists all states and whether they include post-adoption agreements in their statutes, as well as possible recourse. http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/cooperativeall.pdf
7. What deters the birth parents from coming to your house unannounced?
Even my mother doesn't pop by unannounced.
8. Do you know if there are any court cases where it’s obvious that there are loopholes in Open Adoption that need to be addressed?
I haven't heard of these types of cases, but it doesn't mean they aren't out there, especially with some states now making post-adoption agreements legally binding.
9. Just like there are issues with closed adoptions and we have the outspoken activists’, etc., are there any Open Adoption opponents or vice versa that are working to be the voice for the birth mothers as well as the adoptive children and their best interests?
I'm sure there are open adoption opponents, just as there are blanket anti-adoption activists. Personally, I don't go looking for those organizations. I'm just trying to get through my specific situation, and I don't need someone who doesn't know a damn thing about our situation attacking my choices, or C's choices.
10. When is the adoptee old enough to choose if they want contact or not? What if they are the ones who want to break off ties with the bio parents?
In an open adoption from birth, with regular visits, there would not be a specific age. As the adoptee gets older and starts questioning decisions made by all the parents involved, then maybe something would go down. I think that at some point, the relationship between the adoptee and his/her first-parent takes on a life of its own. Maybe, maybe not. It's all pure speculation on my part.
11. Are there any support groups/legal aids for birth mothers where they can get honest answers with their concerns for open adoptions?
I don't know. Obviously adoption is lopsided and the power lies with the adoptive parents and the adoption agencies and many first-parents feel like they don't have a voice.