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The new normal in adoption: Birth parent no longer a secret

A new survey shows that more than 55 percent of adoption cases are fully open – and 95 percent involve at least some relationships between birth parent and adoptive family.

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Based on a survey of 100 adoption agencies, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute reported today that the new norm is for birth parents considering adoption to meet with prospective adoptive parents and pick the new family for their baby.

Of the roughly 14,000 to 18,000 infant adoptions each year, about 55 percent are fully open, with the parties agreeing to ongoing contact that includes the child, the report said. About 40 percent are “mediated" adoptions in which the adoption agency facilitates periodic exchanges of pictures and letters, but there is typically no direct contact among the parties.

"The degree of openness should be tailored to the preferences of the individual participants,” said Chuck Johnson of the National Council for Adoption, which represents about 60 agencies. “It points to the huge importance of the right people being matched with each other.”

The Donaldson institute, citing its own research and numerous other studies, said most participants find open adoptions a positive experience. In general, the report said, adoptive families are more satisfied with the adoption process, birth mothers experience less regret and worry, and the adopted children benefit by having access to their birth relatives, as well as to their family and medical histories.

“The good news is that adoption in our country is traveling a road toward greater openness and honesty,” said Adam Pertman, the institute’s executive director. “But this new reality also brings challenges, and there are still widespread myths and misconceptions about open adoption.”

The challenges, according to Mr. Pertman and other adoption experts, often involve mismatched expectations as to the degree of post-adoption contact. The Donaldson report recommends counseling and training for all the adults involved, as well as post-adoption services to help them and their children work through any problems that arise.

The president of one of the largest US adoption agencies, Bill Blacquiere of Bethany Christian Services, said his staff encourages expectant birth mothers to meet with the prospective adoptive family to discuss the array of options for an open adoption.

“As much as possible, we allow the parties to design that themselves,” Mr. Blacquiere said. “We mediate to make sure both parties are getting what they need.”

The post-adoption relationship may start out warily, then become more comfortable as time passes, but Blacquiere said each party should keep the other’s expectations in mind even as circumstances change.

“For adoptive families, they need to make sure they live up to their commitments, and not try to go back on their initial agreement,” he said. “On the birthparent side, they need to remember that this isn’t co-parenting – part of their role has to be blessing the new home that their child has.”

One common pattern, according to adoption agency officials, is that the birth parent initially wants more frequent contact with the child than the adoptive family prefers, followed by a gradual shift.

“When the children get older, it’s often the adoptive families wanting more contact, and the birthparents may have moved on in their lives and at that point are interested in less,” said David Nish, director of adoption programs for New York-based Spence-Chapin Adoption Services.

Mr. Nish said Spence-Chapin espouses the principle of self-determination in working with birth mothers on their hopes for post-adoption arrangements. But he said the agency won’t work with adoptive parents who insist on having no contact with the birth mother.

“We try to educate them,” he said. “If they’re really set on it being closed, we tell them we don’t do closed adoptions.”

For Dawne Era, a psychotherapist from Warwick, R.I., the decision to embrace an open adoption evolved step by step 23 years ago when she and her husband decided to adopt after unsuccessful attempts to conceive on their own.

They made contact with a pregnant 18-year-old from Nebraska who’d decided to place her baby up for adoption, then got to know her as the young woman spent her pregnancy in nearby Boston.

After the birth and adoption of a baby boy named Grady, the birth mother and the adoptive parents agreed to remain in contact. It was an informal pact, yet it led to a mutually satisfying relationship that has continued throughout Grady’s life – occasional phone conversations, a handful of face-to-face visits and, more recently, ongoing contact via Facebook between Grady and his birth mother and his younger half-sister.

For Ms. Era, there was a stressful moment when she and her husband got divorced while Grady was a toddler, and she had to inform the birth mother.

“That was very difficult,” Era said. “We had promised to take Grady in and raise him in a two-parent family. I thought she would be very disappointed in me, but she took it well.”

Overall, said Era, the open adoption "has been very positive for all of us.“

Mr. Pertman of the Donaldson Institute has a daughter adopted 14 years ago. He said challenges can sometimes arise even after adoptive parents and birth parents grow comfortable with the rhythms of an open adoption.

He recalled how many members of his daughter’s birth family – including her birth mother, grandparents, a brother and an uncle – came to her bat mitzvah.

"For us and them it was normal, but not for everybody else in the room,” Pertman said. “They got some looks, like ‘What’s this all about?’ ”


Source: Christian Science Monitor

November is National Adoption Month

Adoption Awareness Month: Can We Heal?

Did you know that every November a Presidential Proclamation launches activities and celebrations nationwide to increase awareness around adoption?

It’s true.

Adoption is a huge deal in the U.S. with 125,000 children adopted annually according to the Evan B. Donaldson Institute.

As a two time adoptee, I join this national conversation to offer a unique forum of conversation–the live teleseminar–to discuss HEALING & THE ADOPTEE. Adoptees are too often shoved into a corner, most often a place we put ourselves. We are the silent sufferers and we are the adaptors.

Can we speak up?
Can we share our stories?
Can we transcend our adoptions?

Each conversation this month will take on these questions and more!


Wed, Nov. 2 & 9 @ 1:15 p.m. PST to 2:45 p.m. PST
Featuring: Jeanette Yoffe, Trish Lay & Brian Stanton

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Jeanette Yoffe, M.A., M.F.T., earned her Masters in Clinical Psychology, specializing in children, from Antioch University in June of 2002. She treats children with serious psychological problems secondary to histories of abuse, neglect, and /or multiple placements. She has specialized for the past 10 years in the treatment of children who manifest serious deficits in their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development.

Trish Adoption Awareness 2011:  Can We Heal?

Trish Lay coaches & motivates people to make positive life change. As an adoptee, she has asked herself: “Who am I?” As she got older it turned to “What is life’s purpose for me?” Trish asks these questions of herself and poses them to others. She has been a force of motivation and inspiration for twenty years.

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Brian Stanton wrote about his reunion and issues around identity in his original solo play BLANK, performed in L.A., NY, Kansas City, Dallas, and Orlando. BLANK has also been seen at national adoption conferences for the Concerned United Birth-parents & The American Adoption Congress. In March of 2012, Brian will bring BLANK to the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture 4th International Conference in Claremont, CA.

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Listen to the 1st & 2nd: Jeanette Yoffe, Brian Stanton and Trish Lay.

Watch an except from BLANK:

Sunday, Nov. 13 @ 11:00 AM & 12:30 PM PST
Featuring: Nancy Verrier, Speaker, Author & Therapist

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As a licensed MFT (marriage and family therapist) Nancy Verrier has been practicing psychotherapy and counseling in Lafayette, California, for over 20 years. Her specialty is working with people affected by relinquishment and adoption. Her books include the groundbreaking The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child Adoption Awareness 2011:  Can We Heal?  & Coming Home to Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up Adoption Awareness 2011:  Can We Heal?  . Nancy and Jennifer will talk about issues that impact adoptees that last a lifetime. Nancy will take your questions during this call.

Sunday, Nov. 20 @ 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. PST
Featuring: John Sobraske, MA, Adoption Attachment Counseling
Linda Hoye, Writer, Editor & Adoptee

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John Sobraske is an adopted person, a stepparent of adopted children and an adoption psychotherapist in private practice. His research interests include adoption-related history, anthropology, media and mythology; depth work with adult adoptees; and the use of natural medicine and psychoenergetics for healing.

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Linda Hoye is a writer, an editor, and an adoptee. She has reunited with some members of her birth family but both of her birth parents had passed away prior to reunion. She is a member of the Forget Me Not Family Society, the Adoption Council of Canada, and the American Adoption Congress. She recently finished writing a memoir charting a course through a complex series of relationships stemming from her adoptive family and two birth families. Linda maintains a blog called A Slice of Life Writing

Wed., Nov. 30 @ 1:00 p.m. PST
Featuring: Marnie Tetz, President of the Forget Me Not Family Society (FMNFS) & Bernadette Rymer, Director & Newsletter Editor FMNFS

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Marnie Tetz of the Forget Me Not Family Society, Vancouver BC In 2000, “The Post Adoption Registry in Alberta matched me with a brother who had also registered, the following year I paid for a search and my mother was found, the next year I was united with another brother and sister. I had started my search almost 20 years before. The Forget Me Not Family Society has been a life saver for me. I became a director, and then 2 years later Vice President. At the AGM in 2010, I took over the role of President.”

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Bernadette Rymer: “My daughter and I have been in reunion for 18 years. Our first years were tough as we struggled with feelings and questions of how to develop a meaningful relationship. Things improved dramatically as we became involved in the Forget Me Not Family Society which was my first opportunity—after 38 years—to talk about the loss of my daughter and the trauma that had stunted my growth. Since becoming involved in the FMNFS a passion has stirred within me to reach out to others who have similar experiences, heartaches, struggles and successes in the reunion process.”

International Number provided for this very special call with our Canadian friends.

Do not miss these incredible conversations which will also be recorded and provided to those who sign up! Fill in the form below and I will send a confirmation of your registration for these events and details on how to join in the calls.

Ron Huxley Recommends: November is National Adoption Month and healing is at the core of my work with families. I encourage you to check our Jennifer’s website and her teleconferences on “healing and the adoptee.”

Creating an Adoption Lifebook: Instructions and Suggestions to Get You Started

Creating a lifebook is a wonderful way to positively affect the life of a foster or adopted child. Getting started may be the hardest part, here’s how.

Getting started on your child’s lifebook is the hardest part. Once you begin, you may find it hard to stop because it’s so much fun!

Supplies Needed

There are many websites online where you can purchase ready-made lifebooks with fill-in-the-blank pages, similar to a baby book. The problem with using these type of books for a lifebook is that they are one-size-fits-all. Since every adoption and foster care situation is unique, many parents find that they can make very nice lifebooks with a few inexpensive supplies.

First you will need a 3-ring binder, approximately two or three inches thick to allow room to grow over the years. A binder with a clear pocket on the front will allow you to make a cover for the lifebook that is personalized. If you have an older child that you are creating a lifebook with, let him design the cover, making it even more special to him.

Second, you will need a few more supplies:
  • Blank paper—typing paper will work; however, many find that cardstock works better and gives you a nice sturdy page.
  • Clear pages protectors- to keep the pages spot free and for easy loading into the binder.

Next, here is where the fun begins! A lifebook is as individual as the person creating it. You can scrapbook, design and print pages from the computer, or use various mediums to create pages such as: markers, stickers, paint, colored pencils and so forth. Use your imagination and do what you enjoy doing.


The other point to keep in mind is that there are no set rules for lifebooks. They can be as simple or as extravagant as you want to make them. The important thing is to put lots of love into it.

Pages to Include

Lifebooks begin at the beginning of the child’s life- birth. Start by creating pages to tell about his birth parents, such as: names, birth dates, and places of residence. Also, children love to read about the day they were born. Along with the traditional information, include fun details such as the weather on the day they were born, the name of the president and other political figures, titles of popular songs, names of celebrities, and so forth.

More Page Ideas

Once you get started you will find that page ideas come more easily. A few additional page ideas are:

  • Adoption Day
  • Pets
  • The story about why you decided to adopt
  • Where his name comes from and what it means
  • A list of other names you considered
  • Travel information and photos (if you traveled to get him)
  • A local newspaper from the day he was born/ adopted
  • Baby showers, adoption party, or ceremony photos and details
  • Political and Current Affairs
  • Pages for each year of his life

How to Word Delicate Subjects

Handling difficult subjects, such as why the child was placed for adoption or how he came into foster care can be tricky, but should not cause you to shy away from adding this type of information to his lifebook.

The key to answering these types of questions on the pages of the lifebook is to keep it simple and keep it on the child’s level. For instance, if the child was the product of a rape, don’t state it as such. This sort of detail is best left for a one-on-one conversation when he is much older and can understand it, and adequately cope with it. Simply say that his birth mother and birth father were unable to take care of him and wanted him to have a family who could take care of him and love him.

Similarly, a child who has suffered abuse and maltreatment does not need all the gory details. A matter-of-fact explanation that his birth parents were unable to take care of him will suffice until he is old enough to handle the information.

Keep It Going

Some choose to end the lifebook with the child’s arrival into the adoptive family; however, life doesn’t stop with the adoption. Consider adding to your child’s lifebook year after year and create a treasure that will be cherished forever.

Ron Huxley’s Review: I am getting ready to teach a class on Adoption Clinical Skills and doing a little online research. Came across this excellent article on creating life books. If you and your adoptive children have NOT done this yet, I would encourage you to do so. It is healing for all members of the adoption constellation.

No shame in giving child for adoption – Chicago Sun-Times

No shame in giving child for adoption


August 31, 2011 6:34PM

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  • Updated: September 1, 2011 2:16AM

    We recently heard from Harper who had a baby when she was 16 that she put up for adoption. When she was 28 and dating “a wonderful man” she told him.

    “He said he could have accepted a child of mine as his own. He said he could have understood if I would have had an abortion. But he could never be with anyone who coldbloodedly gave up her own child. He broke up with me, and I’ve been heart-broken ever since.”

    Here’s what you had to say.

    NORA: I’m an adoptive mother. Ever since my children became old enough to understand, I’ve stressed the bravery and courage of their birth mothers and the pain they endured by relinquishing their child.

    To all the birth mothers and fathers, please know we adoptive parents are forever grateful. To Harper, do not be heartbroken over this heartless loser. Also, do not keep this secret again. Adult adoptees don’t want to be treated like they were some shameful skeleton to be forever hidden away.

    LISA: Harper is well rid of that jerk. I, too, am a birth mother. Making the decision to allow my baby to be adopted was one of the most difficult in my life.

    I told very few people for fear I’d face the same kind of judgment she did. I only revealed it when I was in a relationship that had gotten serious. Not one person ever thought badly of me, and, in most cases, I went up in people’s estimation by recognizing the fact I had done a difficult and loving thing.

    Fast-forward 26 years. My daughter found me! The night I found out she was looking for me, I totally blew the lid off my deepest, darkest secret and blogged about the entire wonderful experience. My family fully embraced my daughter. My friends all embraced the joyous news. I didn’t get to see my daughter get married, but I got to see her graduate from law school. I got to be there when my grandson was born. I get to be in their lives.

    I can’t imagine what it would have been like revealing everything to a spouse or significant other after my daughter found me. That would have been unfair and hurtful to an intimate, trusting relationship.

    I send Harper a great big hug, and I hope she finds someone who will value her for the difficult choices she faced long ago, and for her courage in sharing that information. She deserves nothing less.

    TAYLOR: Before Harper ever gets engaged, she has to let her fiance know. For starters, a pregnancy is an important medical condition that becomes significant if she gets pregnant again. Then there’s always the possibility that she may want to resume contact with the child at some point. Any man who loves her would be OK with that.

    I have a friend who went through something similar. She found a husband who loved and accepted her. She was eventually happily reconnected to her son, who had been raised in a loving home. She said the worst thing about her experience was that she had been told never to talk about it. She said she wished she had been more open about it with everybody.

    Send your questions to

    Creators Syndicate

    Copyright “+yr+” Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    There is a tremendous amount of social shame on mothers who “give up” their children for adoption. Often they do not “give up” on their own volition as they do so based on family and financial pressures. Couldn’t this be a best choice scenario for the child versus a “cold blooded act” as the man in the article states? What about the birth dad? Does he have feelings of shame? Much more to this frequent situation than we are willing to look at…

    Attachment Disordered Children – Radio Show Interview with Ron Huxley


    If you didn’t catch my radio show interview this morning you can listen to the archived mp3 at Brenda Nixon, host of the Parents Plate radio show, invited me to chat about the controversial diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and the current state of mental health treatment of traumatized children today. I shared some great ideas in our hour long discussion that you will want to listen in on…everything from how children are diagnosed to attachment neuroscience to practical parenting tools. I even shared on why children with attachment impairments “Monster Up!” – a phrase I coined. Take a moment to download or stream the show at


    How can you punish an abused child?

    I recently watched a movie called “Unthinkable” (CAUTION: Movie spoilers ahead) and was shocked by the intensity of the violence. At first I turned it off then later went back to finish watching the movie. There was something about the plot line that drew me back in. The subject matter was simple: A terrorist sets up nuclear bombs throughout America, is captured, and then tortured to tell their locations. Yes, tortured. Aside from the more obvious political messages here, there was a subtler, frightening psychological message.

    No matter how much the terrorist was tortured physically or mentally he never broke. He suffered but he continued to play mind games with this capturers till the very end. What would hold a person together despite such horrific punishments? I realized what the answer to this question was when the terrorist stated that “he deserved this” for all the bad things he had done. The movie never really described what these “bad things” were but it was enough of a mindset for him to endure unbelievable torture. His captors tried everything to break him: reason, empathy, brutality, mind games, more brutality and finally more brutality. They just kept upping the ante on the terrorist with the belief that eventually everyone breaks. He didn’t.

    What struck such a cord in me was that many of the children I work with, who have been mistreated,  have this “terrorist” mindset. Their behavior says: “What can you possibly do to me that I have not already endured in a much younger, more vulnerable state as an infant or young child?” So many of the children who adopt this “defiant” attitude have a deeper narrative that they deserve the punishments they are getting. Children internalize their abuse and believe that they are responsible for what happened to them. In fact, they often believe that they are “damaged goods” unworthy of love or kindness or anything good. They may set up caregivers to make them angry and want to punish them. It is easy for an adult caregiver to play right into this narrative and reinforce the very thing they want to change in the child. They may not beat them or leave them in a closet for days but we do use other punishment-based techniques (lock them up, move them from home to home, shame them with words or actions, make them carry out sentences, etc) all with the hopes that they will express their guilt and shame and change their behaviors.

    I think the end goal is a worthy one. We want to help the child see things differently but our methods need some updating. Hope for this is coming from the field of neuroscience which is why you will see so much of this in this blog. It may not be the final answer but it is allowing us to see the small, hurting child behind the big terrorist mask. It is telling us that children’s brains and minds are affected by their mistreatment and we must go back and redo attachment-based treatments to help them rebuild the mental and physical capacity for love and affection and moral reasoning too.

    I know it sounds like I am hard on the adult caregivers. I guess I am but we are the ones who have to do something different. We can’t expect the child to “get it” and explain it to us. We have to look deeper to see the alternative narratives for the child to live out. That will take time and patience. Unfortunately, we caregivers are products of our own culture and parenting narratives. A shame-based approach to parenting is how many of us were raised and so, it is the only approach we  know how to use. If time out for an hour in a child’s room doesn’t work, what else is there? More time in the room? Perhaps we should yell louder or threaten more? Obviously not. The answer to my title: How can you punish an abused child, is simple. You can’t.

    The mission of the Parenting Toolbox blog is to give parents more tools. I used to teach a lot of court-ordered parenting classes where parents where referred to learn non-punitive parenting skills. I quickly learned that you got no where trying to debate the punishment mindset. I realized that I couldn’t really win the “spank/no spank” argument. I might get some compliance from the parent but there was no change in insight. My focus became teaching other things the parent could do by giving lots of parenting tools. This worked. It is my vision to see parents better equipped and hurt children healed with this blog as well.

    * Get some power parenting tools in our new premium newsletter. Subscribe today!