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Building a relationship with birth siblings

Q: Our 11-year-old daughter is the only child in our family, but her birthfather has two children that he’s raising. She’s communicated with him via the letters and pictures that we exchange, but we haven’t told her about his kids. Should we tell her about her siblings now? Should we encourage the kids to write to or e-mail each other? Or should any sort of a reunion wait until she’s 18?

A: I recommend that parents be involved in the decision to open adoptions before their child turns 18. Ideally, an open adoption should feel somewhat like an extended family.

Of course, not all adoptions should (or could) be open. I am in no way recommending that. Each family must decide what feels right for them.

But because you have kept alive the connection with this birthparent, my advice for you and your husband would be to meet with him in person. Find out who he is and what he believes, and then take time to decide whether you think the siblings should develop a relationship. Make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding expectations and the language to be used in talking about adoption. If, instead, the children were to start e-mailing each other with no prior connection and no common understanding between the parents, it might be less than helpful.
—Joyce Maguire Pavao,
Center for Family Connections, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Siblings separated by a fost/adoption

Q: Our son has lived with us since he was 6 months old, and we recently finalized his adoption (he’s now 4). His birth family, including two biological brothers, has been in our lives the entire time.

The boys have spoken a few times, but I am reluctant to let them see each other. The birthparents both have criminal histories and problems with drugs, so I am afraid that the brothers may become bad influences. The siblings all miss each other, however, and I worry that being an only child will be hard on our son, especially knowing that he has siblings and that we are keeping them apart.

A: Thank you for your sensitivity to your son’s needs. Your son’s siblings will and should remain a presence in his life, whether they have direct contact or not. Without knowledge of how they are doing, he will wonder and worry. Try exchanging letters through your public agency. You can get a feel for what is said before you decide how to proceed further. In addition, supervised visits might work out well. I know that you are concerned about the negative influence of his siblings’ parents, but lack of contact with his brothers could result in more difficulty of another kind later on. The sibling bond is powerful.
—Jayne Schooler, author of
Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child

School Records

Q: We adopted our son from foster care. The social workers filed forms explaining his troubled past to obtain special-education services for him. We are moving, and I want to purge my son’s school records of personal information and ensure him some privacy. The school’s lawyers, however, insist that everything in his file is a legal document and must be kept. Does my son have a right to privacy, or is he forced to drag his foster and birth family history with him for the rest of his academic life?

A: FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is the federal law that governs student-record issues and confidentiality considerations for public schools. Under FERPA, you have the right to ask the school to amend your child’s record if you believe it violates his privacy or contains misleading information. If the school refuses, it must give the parent an opportunity for a fair hearing to challenge the refusal.

State law and county school system regulations also govern the amendment of school records. These policies are often accessible over the Internet. Parents should be aware of their rights when interacting with their child’s school. I’d advise you to start by meeting with the school’s principal and go from there.
—Peter J. Wiernicki
Adoption Attorney
Washington, D.C.

Adoption fraud

Q: A local adoption agency referred us to an attorney for an adoption from Romania while the moratorium was in place, assuring us that the attorney would be able to “get around it.” We paid thousands in fees, and, eventually, received a referral. Romania has since shut down its international adoption program completely, halting all adoptions. The attorney refused to return our money, so we reported her to the Police. What else can we do? Are there any federal agencies that can intervene?

A: Since you have already contacted the police and the attorney to no avail, I suggest that you consult a consumer fraud attorney now. I suspect you will have to sue the attorney to get your money back.

You should file a complaint with your local bar association, the state Attorney General’s office, and the state adoption supervisor. The Attorney General will likely have the most clout toward getting your money back, and will pursue the case more vigorously if you are also a resident of the same state. If not, ask your state’s Attorney General to put pressure on the one in the attorney’s state.

I think you should also file complaints against the agency, to hold it accountable for putting families at risk through misinformation.

Currently, adoption is regulated exclusively at the state level. After the U.S. becomes a party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, federal legislation will begin regulating agencies that oversee international adoptions. But at the present time, no federal agency has power over adoption service providers.
—Susan Freivalds
Editorial Advisor,
Adoptive Families

Relative adoption

Q: How and when can I explain what adoption means to a child who was adopted from a relative? This relative remains a vital member of our family and has a relationship with my daughter as her “aunt.” And should I explain her connection to her aunt when we explain adoption?

A: Talk about adoption as you would if the child had not been adopted from a relative. Start the conversation with something like, “I (we) wanted a baby, but couldn’t have one. Your birthmother was growing a baby in her womb but wasn’t able to be a mommy at that time. She found us and now you are our baby forever.” Soon after you explain the adoption story, you should let her know that her “aunt” is her birthmother. The longer you wait to tell, the harder it gets to figure out the “right time” to do so. If you wait and she finds out elsewhere, she may feel foolish for not knowing the truth sooner and reluctant to trust you again for a while.
—Ronny Diamond
Adoption Resource Center
Spence-Chapin, New York City

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