Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

Search & Reunion – Doing The Right Thing

December 4, 2008

As guest speaker this week for a group of Confidential Intermediaries through Arizona’s CI Program, I spoke on:  “Engaging the Agency in A Search.”  Arizona’s Confidential Intermediaries are trained by and certified by Arizona’s Supreme Court to do searches for adult adoptees seeking birth family contact and birth parents seeking contact with their now-grown children who were placed for adoption in Arizona.  One central point I made was that, although a CI can get enough identifying information through the Court that they can complete a search without visiting the agency, if there was an agency involved, they should contact the agency as part of the search.  There may have been contact through the agency after placement, and the file may contain updated information that can aide in the search.  Or there may be letters in the file that should be given to the party being searched for.  Here’s how I ended my presentation:

 I’ll end with a story of a search case that Barb worked on.  (Some of you know that Barb was the administrative assistant at Catholic Charities for three years, an adoptee who became a CI and handled the communication log for the agency.)  It was a case that she wasn’t obliged to search for but it was The Right Thing to do.   

Barb received a letter from birth grandparents whose daughter had placed an infant through Catholic Social Services almost twenty years earlier.  These out-of-state parents had sent their young adult daughter to work in Phoenix, she got pregnant, didn’t tell her parents and placed the child for adoption through Catholic Social Service.  Several years later, the mother’s younger brother was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that the parents suspected their daughter also had.  As the family discussed who needed to be told about this genetically linked condition, their daughter tearfully admitted that she had placed a child, her parents’ first granddaughter, for adoption.  After learning about this child (who was at that time aged seven) the birth grandparents began a respectful letter writing campaign to the agency, sending a birthday card every year to their unknown granddaughter, to be placed in her file.  Now, the birth grandparents had retired, moved to the Valley, their granddaughter was ‘of age’ and could be contacted.  They had two questions:  Had their years of letters been shared with the adoptive family, and could the agency help them find their granddaughter?  When Barb pulled the birth mother’s file, bulging with birthday cards, she realized that while the baby was in temporary care with CSS, the baby had shown dysmorphic features, displayed a seizure disorder and, after being in a CSS receiving home for months awaiting approval for placement, had finally been placed with Arizona’s public agency, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), because CSS could not find a family for the child.  There was no evidence of correspondence in the file to these grandparents recognizing their plight or giving them any news of their granddaughter. 

 

Barb, a grandmother herself, wanted to reach out to them.  She came to me as her supervisor to ask if we could look for this child, now an adult, to let her know of her birth family’s love and concern?  Unfortunately the agency’s file only covered the child through the time of legal transfer to DES; we didn’t have the name of the family who took her.  We couldn’t tell from the agency’s file what the fate of the child had been.  Was she adopted? Raised as a foster child?  Did she  survive to adulthood? 

 

After hearing back from DES  that their file couldn’t be located without more detaild information, we searched through our file again.  The last item was a court order transferring custody from CSS to DES.  On the side of the order were the names of the individuals who were to receive a copy of the order. Along with names we did know, there was a name we didn’t recognize. In the case notes, a potential foster mother was discussed without naming her, just that she was a special education teacher and she and her husband were open to many different situations.  Following this hunch, Barb asked the Private Investigator who did some work for us to see if he would help look for this person.  Bingo.  Within an hour he called back with the news that this was the special ed teacher, also the adoptive mom, and he had a phone number.  Barb called this woman, discussed the situation, got written releases from everyone and then gave out phone numbers. 

A few weeks later on a Friday I was notified that there was someone in the lobby asking for Barb; Barb didn’t work Fridays.  I went downstairs to explain why Barb wasn’t there.  The visitors were the birth grandparents, who had come to say Thank You to Barb with a box of See’s Candy.  We sat and chatted about what it had meant for them to meet their granddaughter, a child with a more severe version of the family malady, but who is living an independent life thanks to the support and encouragement of her adoptive parents.  They were ever so grateful to the family who adopted their grandchild, and to Barb for going out of her way to help them find her.  At a meeting on the previous weekend, they had taken pictures of their daughter, their granddaughter, and the adoptive parents, and they promised to email a copy to Barb.  Receiving the photos let Barb know that she had done The Right Thing.  And the chocolate helped, too.

 

 

 

 

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Bibliotherapy in the World of Adoption

October 10, 2008

It is my intent to blog about adoption from the viewpoint of the adoption professional.  After almost 30 years in infant adoptions, mostly in Arizona,  I have observed many changes in the adoption community.  The bulk of my experience has been in working with birth parents: women and their partners who have placed infants and toddlers for adoption through private adoption agencies. 

When I began to work in adoption in 1979 in Tucson, I realized it was a field in which I was not well versed.  There are no ‘adoption classes’ taught in any formal learning environments, i.e., grad schools of social work or counseling.  Many people who come to adoption as a profession are participants: people who have adopted a child or adopted persons all grown up, who have a desire to help others in a field close to their hearts.  Fewer professionals are birth parents because it is still hard to admit one’s role as birth parent; therefore many birth parents are still ‘in the closet.”  However, the movement toward open adoption has brought the cleanser of sunshine to adoption, and with it, a lessening of the stigma of being a birth parent. 

So in 1979 I went to the Tucson library to check out books on adoption; there were three:  Orphan Voyage, The Adoption Triangle and Shared Fate.  Today, there are LOTS of books on adoption.  Most of them are written to the audience of adoptive parents (how-to books, mostly) and adoptees (picture books for children to help them understand adoption, and search-for-self for adult adoptees who wonder about searching for the original parents who are by-and-large unknown to them).  Fewer books are available for birth parents.  That is the area that I intend to address, over the next few months, in this blog.   But first, a little more about how I got here.

Orphan Voyage  was written in the 1950s.  The author, (as I recall; this book is out of print now) was the wife of an adoptee who wanted to talk to other adoptees, but in the fifties adoption was a shameful topic seldom discussed.  The author put ads in big city newspapers inviting contact from individuals who were adopted, to tell their stories of growing up adopted.  Many people had not been told they were adopted and only learned after the death of their parents, or were told but in a negative way and cautioned by their parents to keep it a secret.  Adoptees who had told their friends were ridiculed and socially exiled.  I experienced a flash back to a childhood memory. 

Two new kids who rode the school bus from our country community were living with their grandmother because their daddy, a soldier, had been sent overseas and their mother had to work full time.  Diana was my age; we were in the same second grade classroom.  Her brother Donnie was in first grade.  One day I overheard my mother exclaiming to my dad that an older ‘busybody’ neighbor had cornered Diana and asked her if her grandmother with whom she lived ‘treated her the same as her brother.’  She wondered because, after all, her daddy (the grandmother’s son) wasn’t really her daddy, like he was the daddy of her brother, and she was just wondering if her dad and his mother treated her as if she was loved the same way that Donnie was loved.  Diana’s grandmother had been in tears as she told my mother what the busybody had said: that Diana was adopted and this raised the question of ‘equal love.’

The Adoption Triangle was written in 1961 and is a ground-breaking and still-revered book about adoption.  Written by Reuben Panner and Annette Baran, two social workers from Vista del Mar, an adoption agency in the Los Angeles area, brought to the fore the issue of sealed records and the adoptee’s right to information about who they are and where they come from.  That edition that I checked out of the library identified Arizona as an “open records state” which meant that the original birth certificate was available to an adoptee when he/she reached majority.  I hadn’t worked in adoptions long, but I knew that Arizona was no longer (by 1979) an open records state.  What I learned was that the law had been changed and applied retroactively, because in just a few years we started getting calls from adoptive parents who had been telling their children “when you turn 18 we’ll get your original birth certificate and we’ll find her to get answers to your questions.”  These adoptive parents felt they had been lied to, and passed that lie on to their children because the lawmakers closed the records that they felt their children had a right to.

Shared Fate by H David Kirk read as if it was a doctoral dissertation (perhaps it was) written by an adoptive father who worked to help his children and other adoptees and adoptive parents to see their lives as interwoven, with the suggestion that the adoptive parent should help the adoptee understand Self.  He went on to write other books on adoption. 

It is my belief that people learn a lot from books, and that the current market of self-published and small press books have brought an awareness of adoption issues.  However, unlike when there were fewer books, it’s seldom these days that a book on adoption is advertised.  There are websites like Tapestry Books and Perspectives Press and EMK Press that showcase books in this niche market.  In each upcoming blog I will discuss books on adoption. 

I welcome your feedback and comments.

Beth Kozan – Phoenix, AZ