Arranging meeting and relationship building
We start arrangements for meeting and relationship building between the birthparents and adoptive applicants once:
- the birthparents have selected an adoptive whānau or family from profiles
- it's likely that the adoption will proceed, and
- birthparents confirm they want to meet the applicants they have chosen.
However, we recognise and respect that either party has the right to change their minds.
Ideally, the first meeting should take place after the birth of te tamaiti and before signing consent for the adoption placement (which is a minimum of 12 days). We should:
- ask the birthparents when they want the adoptive applicants to have their first contact with te tamaiti. Encourage birthparents to meet the adoptive applicants first without te tamaiti to help establish the adult relationships
- get agreement from the birthparents and adoptive applicants on the place and time of the meeting — where you meet can have an impact on communication, for example:
- meeting outdoors or in a neutral space can reduce tension, and provide space for moving around and for tamariki to play
- meeting in a café or other public place could make it hard to maintain confidentiality
- help the birthparents and adoptive applicants prepare for the meeting so they know what to expect — make sure they understand what will be covered in the meeting and have thought about what they want to find out when they meet. This will also help with managing any initial anxiety and uncertainty
- get agreement on who will attend the meeting, for example, other whānau or family members, and support people.
At the meeting
We act as facilitator and mediator at the meeting. Take brief notes about what needs to be covered at the meeting so that important issues aren’t forgotten.
We can discuss future contact arrangements — this may take more than one meeting to finalise as the parties will need time to reflect and come back with further suggestions.
Make sure everyone is clear about how they'll contact each other after this first meeting. It's preferable that the social worker facilitates further contact. This can act as protection for both parties – direct contact can increase expectations or obligations, either real or perceived. This means both parties should not share contact details until after consent is signed.
Once we’ve covered everything and everyone agrees, we can leave the participants to talk together.
What is a contact agreement
Contact agreements between birthparents and adoptive applicants’ detail what identifying information the parties agree to share with each other, and how and when contact happens between the parties – including te tamaiti – from when consent to adoption is signed and following the granting of an adoption order.
A contact agreement is:
- not enforced by law
- not compulsory
- usually a written document; where this is not possible, ensure that any verbal discussion is recorded in a casenote and referred to in the court report
- a commitment to te tamaiti made by all involved and a reminder of this commitment if any problems come up later
- prepared with respect and centred on te tamaiti
- flexible and reviewed over time, if required.
What’s in a contact agreement
Although there will be common elements in each contact agreement, it’s important that the agreement is tailored to individual situations. We can add to the basic template such things as how:
- contact and communication will be handled from the time of placement of te tamaiti with the adoptive applicants and following the granting of an adoption order
- gifts are handled
- the culture of te tamaiti is maintained in a cross-cultural placement
- to deal with the future wishes of te tamaiti about contact
- siblings, birth and adoptive, may be included
- the parties want to be known to one another and how they want the relationship to be known to others – whānau or family may not feel comfortable with the relationship known publicly
- parties would like to be located and contacted in the future by Oranga Tamariki – it's important that the contact agreement specifies the parties’ agreement to being contacted in the future, especially when they lose contact with each other and there is a specific need to re-establish contact or share important information.
Making a contact agreement
We help birthparents and adoptive applicants to start preparing a contact agreement before a specific placement is proposed. At first, both parties may not want ongoing contact, particularly when the people and circumstances are unknown. Reassure them that they can ‘start small’, be realistic about their uncertainties, and we’ll give them ongoing support and mediation around the process.
- Adoptive applicants are given information about making a contact agreement in the adoption preparation training programme – birthparents will consider their views about ongoing contact when choosing a profile.
- Birthparents considering adoption need time and information to decide what kind of involvement will be appropriate for them.
Once te tamaiti is born and the birthparents confirm their decision to place te tamaiti for adoption, both parties exchange their views about ongoing contact. We use these initial agreements to help birthparents and adoptive applicants reach a mutually acceptable contact agreement. We facilitate this in contact meetings by:
- exploring and clarifying expectations – misunderstandings about ongoing contact can damage the relationship
- asking participants to be honest with each other
- talking about privacy and social media, for example, whether or not they’ll post pictures of te tamaiti on social media sites
- encouraging parties to bring up any issues they have
- advising that the agreement is flexible and may change over time by mutual agreement.
We can meet several times to finalise the contact agreement and make minor changes by phone, email and through social workers.
- Contact agreements are usually made between parties who know each other’s names. They may also be made between parties who don’t exchange identifying information, but they want to maintain some form of communication at placement and later on.
- Other whānau or family may be part of the contact arrangements but they are not party to the agreement. Ideally, the birthfather is part of the agreement from the beginning – if he’s not available he may be included later.
- When placements are made between regions the birthparents’ social worker is responsible for managing the contact agreement, in consultation with the applicants’ social worker.
- If no contact at all is agreed on, there is no contact agreement.
When the contact agreement has been made
When the contact agreement is finalised both birthparents and adoptive applicants may sign the agreement but it’s not required. Not signing doesn’t negate the arrangements. Both parties’ involvement is recorded in casenotes.
By finalising the contact agreement both parties are clear that the interests of te tamaiti come first and they’re committed to the agreed arrangements before the birthparents sign their consent. However, do not delay consent to wait for the final document to be produced or to make small changes.
Give each party a copy of the agreement and place one on the adoption file. Attach one to the court report when reporting to the court for an adoption order.
Although we are not a party to the contact agreement, if the agreement isn’t working at any stage and we’re asked for help, Oranga Tamariki can provide mediation. As the contact agreement is not legally binding, such mediation is at the agreement of the parties. The mandate for future involvement of Oranga Tamariki should be explicitly stated in the contact agreement.