Is Open Adoption Right For My Baby?

This guest post is by Michelle Erich at Michelle Erich Law.

Our society promotes and publicizes only one choice for a surprise pregnancy. Society seems to be preaching a “take the easy road and terminate” philosophy, unless it was a planned event.

Don’t just follow the crowd. There is the choice to parent and the choice to give a parenting opportunity to someone else through adoption.

The choice to parent even is not always a realistic option. The Salvation Army and other religious organizations view parenting as the only pathway, the only alternative to ending the pregnancy. Keeping the biological family together is part of their mission, while the third option, often the better choice for both mother and child, the adoption choice, is ignored. Adoption should never be ignored.  Carefully consider all of your options.

Who Should You Ask For Help?

As a  mother considering the less traveled third fork in the road, you may struggle to find someone who can talk with you knowledgeably about placing your child for adoption, the pros and cons.  Everyone knows where the clinics are, but where do you go, who do you ask about adoption?

There are several choices available for gaining information to help you in deciding if the adoption option is where you want to journey. You may consider an adoption attorney, a private agency, a social worker, a therapist, or a combination. If you choose to speak with someone from an agency, an attorney’s office, or a social worker be advised that they may all have an agenda.  You need to make sure it is compatible with your own goals.

Do You Need Psychological Counseling?

The answer is almost certainly, yes.  If you see a therapist through a public health care system, and you mention adoption, it will likely result in a county social worker referral and possible CPS (Child Protective Services) call.

A private therapist with adoption experience can help you find a representative to guide, advise, and counsel you about adoption. Please consult someone with adoption experience and a PhD in psychology or a PsyD (doctorate in psychology).

Many people can legally call themselves therapists, but may lack the knowledge that you need. If the situation has resulted in a level of anxiety or depression that requires medication a licensed therapist can refer you to a psychiatrist for medication. A social worker is not a therapist. A marriage and family counselor may not be a PhD or PsyD. Ask about the licensing, education and experience.

What Are Your Goals?

Do you want later contact with your child/and or the adopting family? Do you want to personally select the adopting parents? Do you need financial assistance? Do you have other children and want sibling contact to be allowed?

You can see that any agency or adoption attorney is financially motivated by the prospect of an adoption, since the fees are paid by prospective adoptive parents, nevertheless talking with both may afford  you valuable information on your rights and the procedures for placing a child.

The process of a private, independent adoption through an attorney is somewhat different that the process of relinquishment of your child to an agency. An attorney will work with you all the way through the process. Ask about the opportunity of obtaining a contact after adoption order, if you want one.

Learn Your Rights

Social workers are surprisingly non-objective. In my county a social worker informed me confidentially that those working for the county and the staff social workers at the hospitals have been instructed to only inform pregnant women about foster care and the county fost-adopt program, if an adoption inquiry is made.

These avenues do not lead to contact with the child after adoption; on the contrary, contact is discouraged and rarely allowed. They neglect to say that putting the county in charge of the child’s future comes with a court order terminating their parental rights, a negative that can later come back to haunt the mother and affect her parental rights to other children.

These social workers are specifically instructed to withhold information about the private adoption options that might include later contact. Private attorneys and private agencies arrange the adoption without a termination of parental rights. Consenting to adoption (independent adoptions) or relinquishing rights voluntarily (private agency adoptions) do not leave any negative parenting history.

Beware of CPS Intrusion

The information on private attorney or private agency adoptions is also withheld when a CPS (Child Protective Services) inquiry is made and an investigation initiated. I recently handled a placement by a mom of two beautiful kids under age three. She was homeless, jobless, and living with a brother who was dealing drugs. The kids’ father was on the run with five outstanding warrants related to gang issues.

This mom had seen CPS take kids from her friends; she had never seen a child returned. She chose an open independent adoption through me with a liberal contact agreement, so that her kids would not be separated from each other and would be spared years of foster care shuffling. CPS does not give this information when they investigate any complaint of abuse or neglect.

Did you know that if you test positive for any controlled substance or alcohol while pregnant, a “flag” is sent out to all hospitals in the county instructing them to contact CPS if you deliver there?

In my county this is an automatic dependency case for your child.  If you have ever been flagged, your name may remain on a list and all future deliveries may result in CPS involvement with that new child regardless of the time that has passed or the changes in your life and lifestyle.

What Are Safe Haven Laws?

Some states have safe haven laws. Check them out carefully. In my state, California, the law allows a mother to anonymously leave a child at a designated safe location like a fire or police station, or a hospital.

It is not anonymous if a name is provided, so if you are a patient or known at a hospital, you will be named as abandoning the child and a case to terminate your rights, by name, will ensue.  Again this leaves a public record of negative parenting affecting your future parenting rights.

Adoption Attorney or Agency?

On balance, I think your best bet in the beginning is to consult a private attorney and learn your rights. You are then in a better position to decide on a private adoption with the attorney or going to a private adoption agency. As soon a you make a firm decision to become a birth mother, depending on the state, you may be able to receive legal and psychological counseling and other assistance as part of your placement at no cost to you.

Adoption may not be the most common choice, but it is a choice that will give you years of satisfaction that you made a parenting decision to allow your child life, the knowledge of a first mother’s love, and a loving, stable permanent adoptive home!

Michelle Erich is an open adoption attorney in Ventura, California with more than 20 years of experience working with expectant parents and hopeful adoptive parents. You can find out more about her and her services at Michelle Erich Law.

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Photo: mgstyer