Adoptive Parents: Protect Your Privacy and Your Child’s

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My husband and I believe that every single child deserves the right to have a “forever family“. We believe every child has the right to have parents that love them. We believe that family is one of the most important words in the entire world. We also know family means different things to different people, but what’s at the center of family is: a child; children.

The face of that parent (s) in the family could be male, could be female, could be one person could be two; could be biologically related 100%; could be biologically related 50% or not biologically related at all. What is 100% in family is: a child;children and an adult that loves them. What’s 100% is that it is never, ever the fault of the child that they have been placed for adoption.

That is why my husband and I chose long ago to adopt. We have been married 22 years, and even before we were married we talked about how we wanted to someday adopt. Neither of us were adopted, nor did we have family members that were adopted. Adoption was just something we both knew we someday wanted to do.

Years later, we chose to adopt a child from foster care. Specifically we chose to become “fost-adopt parents”. For us, we chose foster care because we learned that every day there are a half a million children in the United States that are in foster care; 118,000 can never go back to their biological families. It seemed to us that every day a family from the United States goes abroad and spends a small fortune to adopt, and no one adopts from within the United States. While not a statistical research study, when I had asked other parents why they adopted from outside the United States they usually said:

  1. We want a baby, and you can’t adopt a baby in the United States easily.
  2. We heard you can easily lose a child you adopt from the states.
  3. Most children in foster care are of minority race.
  4. It’s just as expensive to adopt a child from the states as outside the United States and it’s not guaranteed.
  5. It takes years.

We learned first-hand from our experience that these assumptions were wrong.

While foster care is in place for the purpose of reunifying children with their biological children a “fost-adopt” couple is a couple (or person) who will have the opportunity to adopt only the children, if they so choose, that have been deemed by the court NOT to be able to go back to their biological families. The biological families have in most cases been found to be unfit; a danger to the child; or “inappropriate”. (Inappropriate is not a word I came up with to use to describe an unfit biological relative. It is a court-sanctioned and utilized word. I am repeating words used by lawyers, counselors, case workers and social workers with my husband and I.)

My husband and I love children, but we knew our weakness. We’d never have the strength to allow a child to enter our home; care for them; bond with them; then be happy they were reunified with the family that lost custody of them. We knew our other child(ren) would be hurt when they left.  Kudos to all the families that do foster children. My gratitude and heart goes out to you.

We learned that it was extremely, extremely rare that a fost-adopt child ever went back to the biological family after the court found the biological family “unfit”.

My husband and I adopted through a private adoption agency: Lilliput Children Services. There was no fee. The investment we had to make was in time, identity verification and a background check. (A very nominal fee.) We had “date night” for 10 weeks where we went to training classes at Lilliput to understand more fully what we were committing ourselves and our family to by adopting. We learned that over 60% of the children in foster care were Caucasian due primarily to drug use and abuse by their biological parents. Asians were rarely, if ever in foster care. Blacks and Hispanics followed the Caucasian race. We weren’t concerned about race I mention this information just to dispell what seemed to be a stereo-type. We were only thinking: Where is our child now? How old will they be when they join our family? What room would our new child sleep in? What would he or she look like? What books would they love to hear and learn to read? Would they be in diapers or potty trained already?

There were 8 couples in our 10 week class. Married couples, single parents, same-sex couples. Three of the couples adopted infants. All were placed with children in under twelve months. Our adoption was final ten months from our fost-adopt approved date.

During our training we learned that the recommendation for our child was to have a relationship with their biological family in some way, shape or fashion, as long as:

  • The social workers and/or court found that person(s) appropriate.

They refer to this as: open adoption. Open adoption can include everything from a relationship to the biological parents to aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Again, only with those that are “appropriate”. We want the best for our child, so we chose to do what was best, according to the experts. Allow that interaction with one person in our child’s case.

It meant three to four time a year visits at our house with a great, great, great aunt. Aunt isn’t old and senile. (She’s in her young 50’s and old enough to know right from wrong. ) Visits included supervised outings to sporting events and dinners in our home or invitations to parties in our house. The relative always took pictures. Our child enjoyed their visits. Because bio-relative still had a relationship with bio-family, we never allowed visits at the aunts home. We should have paid attention to the red flag that arose immediately after our child joined our home, when “accidentally”, the bio-family found out we lived in the city we do, and what our last name was. We didn’t.

Enter Social Networking through Facebook.

I received a “friend request” from bio-great great great grandmother even after explicitly relaying to the aunt that we had no desire whatsoever to interact with a single person as the court had already found the biological family and extended family unsuitable. Plus these individuals were the same ones that never did anything when my child was in need. Their lack of action told me everything about who they are.

So when I received the “friend request” in Facebook, I thought:

  1. You’ve got to be kidding.
  2. We’re you not told we want nothing to do with you by your sister?
  3. Thank goodness I had access to the family tree. I could identify this person.

At the urging of my “want-to-be” my Facebook friend, I “checked out her profile”. Sadly I found a warped sense of perspective specific to how close the biological family thinks they are to my child.

Disturbingly, I found the relative that was “appropriate” (Great great great aunt) had exploited my child and my family’s privacy. She entered my home, took photos, and shared them with the biological family on numerous occasions. “Grandma” even had the audacity to post my child’s photo next to “bio mom’s” photo in the “family album”.  How sad.

Upon further review of the “family network”, the invasion of my family privacy extends further. The bio-family network that again, did not come forward to help in my child’s time of need – and when they did in a few instances were found “unfit” by the court – boasted photos taken from my home by the relative I allowed in.

Shame on my husband and myself for our stupidity and openness.

Shame on the aunt.

The chapter of openness in our lives is closed. As I tell my children: we all make mistakes. What’s important is that we learn from them. We have learned from this, and that is why I have chosen to share something so personal. I want to make other adoptive parents aware.

My message to you is:

  1. Adoption is a blessing. My family is blessed.
  2. Adopt a child if you have the room in your heart. (There will never be enough money, or time, so go with your “gut” and the room that’s in your heart. The rest will work out.)
  3. Protect your and your child’s privacy.
  4. While ties to biological family are supposedly beneficial to your child, at this point I can tell you my family has been burned by opening our heart and our home to one bio-relative. While we can forgive; when it comes to safety it’s important not to forget.
  5. If you allow a bio-relative into your home, realize that what they hear, see and learn (and the pictures they take) will go straight back to those in the bio-family. If you understand that, that’s what is important. We hadn’t fully considered this.
  6. Don’t post photos of your adoptive child if anyone in the biological family knows where you live and you don’t have, or want an open relationship.
  7. Don’t post where you live if you are an adoptive family and you don’t want to have an open relationship.

If you have a story or other ways to help others protect their privacy please share.

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  • My new book called “Separated Lives” is a true story about the adoption of a baby boy and years later a friend taking him on a fascinating but uncertain journey to search for his birth parents. It is available from Dorrance Publishing (in Pittsburgh, PA), Barnes & Noble and
    Author: Lynn Assimacopoulos

  • I have read up on this. Many pre-18 adoption reunions have already happened using Facebook. As the result, many adoption agencies have stopped closing adoptions altogether because of this. There are probably many reunions that are never reported.

    Rather than photography restrictions, and the assumption that children in foster care or who are adopted will not use the internet and social media, I think what has to happen is to abandon covering up of one’s previous family, and go with 100% honest life story work as at age appropriate way when it comes to life story work. Once the contact info of a previous relative is in the child’s long term memory, there is no way for the state to restrict this knowledge.

    * Sometimes a simple search of Facebook, Google, or Linkedin may be all it takes to find someone’s contact info in minutes. This can happen both directions.

    * A search of a known childhood friend, and looking into their friends list and recognizing their picture can sometimes find the new name of an adopted child.

    So what should the new model be:

    * Foster children and adopted children need to make sense of their past. Explain to them the real reasons they were taken away from their parents at an age appropriate way. How you will explain this to a 4 year old is going to be different from an 8 year old, from a 12 year old, and so on.

    * Confidentiality till age 18 should not be guaranteed but parents and children should be warned that the more information they put online, the greater chance of being found or a birth parent reunion happening. The actual duration of confidentiality and “adult control of all contact” in the digital age will vary with the following:

    – The child’s ability to remember identifying information from when they were younger (remember the child’s long term memory is not erased when a child is moved). The older they were at the time the parental rights were terminated, the more likely they are to remember their birth parents or siblings names.

    – The child’s level of technical and computer knowledge. Remember a child who has a middle school or high school level of computer knowledge may be pretty internet and digital graphics savvy, and is far closer to that of a young adult than a baby at this point and will only increase as a child ages.

    – The child’s level of rebelliousness.

    – The child’s desire to search

    – The child’s level of social media and mainstream media presence. The more media presence, the greater chance of being found.

    – The child’s desire to take things into their own hands and are going to great lengths on their own to do so. If a child is very determined to make contact with a long lost birth relative before they are 18, it is probably best to support their decision and assist them with developing the relationship. Otherwise, the child will likely succeed on their own and do so without support, leading to disaster.

    * Relatives that did not harm the child that the child wants to keep in touch with should not have their relationships severed at the time of adoption or foster care. Remember, it is not fair to cut off all members of the birth family a child loves for the “bad acts” of one member.

    * With digital cameras and smart phones everywhere, and many teens using Facebook and other social media services, there will not be a 0% chance of a adopted child’s photograph tagged online.

    * Parents should understand that the use of geotagging in photos may increase the chance of a child being found.

    * Contact with low risk members of the birth family should be allowed to remain at the time of foster care or the child is adopted.

    * Each case of a foster or adopted child being contacted or found online by a birth relative is going to have to be taken on a case-by-case basis. For example, if it is a high risk relative, sometimes blocking or restraining orders may be necessary. On the other hand, if it is a low risk relative or someone who cleaned up their bad acts in recent years, and the child’s newfound relationship with them is turning out very positive for the child, then letting the relationship continue from that point forward the normal way could be very safe.

    * Social workers should assist when a child wants to re-establish a birth parent or sibling relationship during childhood.

  • Marilynn:
    Thank you for commenting. You offer very thoughtful insight.
    The training and education my husband and I received when we became foster-adopt parents was exactly what you said and aim to achieve through your work: it’s important for a child to have a tie to their biological past. We agree.
    We also learned that a child has a right to understand as much as possible about their past no matter how difficult. The information is to be shared as early as possible and talked about as much as the child desires, in an age-appropriate and open context.
    We are very fortunate to have photos and other important information related to the biological family, case history and our child’s early years. All information is openly shared and talked about at home with our child. They’ve known from day one that once they are the right age, they are more than welcome to meet anyone from their biological past and that their mom or dad will be there with them when and if they are ready.
    It just won’t be done over a social network as a result of someone in the biological family violating our privacy.
    Thank you for helping children in need.
    Mary Kay

  • Oh my. Even if they are not great people this child you adopted is still a member of their family. Think of how great it will make your kid feel to know that they never stopped loving/caring about him/her to the best of their ability. Some people are poorly equipt to raise children and can’t really do right by them and thats just unfortunately the way it is. Luckily there are loving homes like yours for the child to grow up safely in. I reunite families seperated by adoption and I tell moms and dads in cps cases, family members never to give up do everything they can short of exactly breaking the law to make their presense known to the child and to keep an eye on the kid. Join their church attend the same events whatever because someday that kid will turn 30 and know they were not forgotten about. Its important that the kid know that just because they were no good at raising them does not make them less real of a family. I hope you find a way to make it work so that you feel like your protecting the child without – without doing somethiung that the child will someday be resentful for. It does not matter how much the adoptive family does for the child all the money and the love in the world won’t mean anything if they feel their adoptive parents somehow manipulated or prevented them from being viewed as valuable and important in their own family to whatever extent that’s possible.

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