Making Promises You Cannot Keep

Our Birth Parent Department Supervisor, Sue Shaw discusses the importance of Adoptive Parents keeping their promises to Birth Families.

Sue Shaw

I have been working at Adoption STAR for almost 7 years and have worked with over 200 Birth Parents. I am present for many of the pre-match meetings and also present at hospital discharges (for both the birth mothers and the babies). The vast majority of the time, I find that adoptive parents do a phenomenal job of “holding up their end of the bargain” when it comes to maintaining contact with the birth family (which, depending on the mutually agreed upon level of openness that is specific to each individual adoption, could mean things like e-mails, phone calls, meetings, or maybe just the exchange of pictures and letters). However, we occasionally find that adoptive parents make grandiose comments about future contact with birth families, and ultimately they aren’t able to “make good” on these comments. Nothing breaks my heart more than to hear waiting adoptive parents and matched adoptive parents make promises to birth families that they aren’t able to keep.

I recall some years back a specific situation with a birth mother and the adoptive family who were chatting together at the hospital prior to discharge. Everyone was saying good-bye and the adoptive mother told the birth mother to call them “whenever she wanted.” Then, a couple months later, the birth mother called me crying because she had left several messages with the adoptive family and they were not returning her calls. This birth mother was devastated that the family had openly encouraged her to call them and then didn’t keep their word. She said to me that she almost felt that the family “got what they wanted” and now “didn’t need or want her” in their lives anymore.

I feel the same when adoptive parents don’t stick to their Post Placement Family Report and Photo Schedule. Birth Parents look forward to receiving their pictures and almost all of them remember the dates that they should be receiving them. I had a 14 year old birth mother (who was still within her first six months of placing a baby for adoption) send me a text message indicating that she had only received one set of pictures within the aforementioned six month time frame. She said to me that she couldn’t understand why the family wasn’t sending the pictures when she “gave them a baby” and “made them parents.”

A lot of birth families will choose to have a Post Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA) drawn up prior to placement. The PACA is a legal document outlining the contact the birth parents may have with the adoptive parents and the child after the adoption is finalized. The PACA is a legally binding document in New York State, so a PACA can protect the rights of the birth parents when it comes to post-adoption contact. However, many birth parents and adoptive parents don’t enter into a PACA. Rather, they have a conversation and enter into an informal agreement regarding post-adoption contact (more of a “handshake agreement” than anything else). In these situations (and please understand that I know everybody can get caught up in a moment), I cannot stress enough that adoptive parents shouldn’t make promises that they cannot keep. Birth parents remember what is said and trust that adoptive parents will keep their word.

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