Informing adoptive applicants of proposed placement meeting and making a contact agreement
Updated: 01 July 2017
What's Important To Us
In all of our interactions with families when facilitating an adoptive placement, it is the child’s life-long feeling of belonging that is at the centre of our attention. Where birthparents and adoptive parents share some common ground and mutual understanding, this is likely to promote the development of relationships between them and build a foundation of trust for future contact, an enduring kinship network and ultimately the child’s comfort and confidence in knowing who he or she is.
Informing chosen adoptive applicants
Following the birth the birthparents will need the opportunity to experience and acknowledge the reality of their child and review their previous plans and decisions. They may then request you to approach the adoptive applicants they have previously selected to tell them that they have been chosen to adopt this child. Remind the birthparents that there is no guarantee at this time that the applicants are in a position to accept the placement.
Telling adoptive applicants that they have been chosen to adopt a child is a very important and emotional experience for them and not a conversation which can be properly accomplished by telephone. While contact has to be made by ‘phone in the first instance, this should be to arrange a meeting in their home or in the office. Delay the interview if necessary until both partners are able to attend and the circumstances allow for effective communication. Keep in mind that applicants may be too overcome with emotion to be able to take everything in so allow time for discussion and repetition.
The adoption as a proposal
Approach the task of telling the applicants in the form of a proposal and not as a fait accompli. They have a decision to make as well. Carefully and tactfully ascertain that this is an appropriate time for placement of a child. The applicants may have to make sudden and drastic changes in lifestyle and employment, or forgo long planned arrangements.
Ensure that their circumstances have not changed in any way which would affect the birthparents’ choice of their profile or the court’s likelihood of granting an order. Sensitive social work is required as any serious health matters or crises in their lives should be known at this point and not only emerge later when reporting to court. Ideally, there should be no surprises if good liaison has been kept up with waiting applicants. It is not unknown, however, for applicants to put off revealing a pregnancy, until it is sufficiently advanced to be secure.
Inform applicants carefully of any particular features of the child’s health, suggesting they obtain professional opinion and consult their own doctor if there is any need. Assure applicants that they are free to consider the facts and accept or decline to proceed with the placement.
Convey the birthparents’ situation respectfully and sympathetically in sufficient detail to enable informed decision–making by the applicants, but not so much as to pre-empt the birthparents telling their own story when they meet. This requires a careful balance. Identifying information such as full names and contact details is for the parties to exchange for themselves.
While not able to guarantee that the placement will proceed, provide an outline of the likely events over the following days, taking the applicants’ needs and responsibilities into consideration. Help them make a preliminary plan for meeting the baby, meeting the birthparents, alerting their employer(s), consulting their solicitor etc.
Adoptive applicants travelling to another area
Allow for time to organise travel if the child has been born in another city. Where a profile has been chosen from another area, maintain close liaison with the social worker from the other site, in order that both parties are given accurate information as the placement proceeds and each party is supported without conflict of interest arising. You will offer information and practical assistance to the visiting applicants where appropriate, but refer them back to their own social worker if they have issues for discussion. It is the applicants’ social worker who will have the responsibility to issue the approval and who should be aware if they have any uncertainties about the placement.
Meeting between birthparents and adoptive applicants
If either party declines to meet, their wishes are to be respected. Assist by exploring the reasons, fears and/or anxieties they may have about meeting with the ‘other’ parents of ‘their’ child. Provide preparation and support to give emotional strength and self-esteem to face the meeting.
Either party may feel unwilling to proceed with the placement if they had been expecting to meet and this can not be arranged. If applicants are agreeable to meet and it is birthparents who want to sign consent without meeting, encourage them to keep their options open for a later date when they might feel differently.
Timing the meeting
Experience indicates that the first meeting should ideally take place after the birth of the child and before the signing of consent, (which may be a longer period than the minimum time of 12 days). Occasionally birthparents might request a meeting prior to the birth. Having the adoptive applicants present at the birth and having them caring for the child immediately after birth may appeal to some birthparents as caring and committed. Some adoptive couples would also value the opportunity to be present at the birth as they feel that this experience could create special bonds for all concerned.
Advise that this needs to be approached with great caution as such meetings might create a sense of expectation and/or of obligation for all parties involved. They need to be aware of the emotional impact for all, particularly if, as can happen, the adoption does not proceed. There is no requirement on the social worker to arrange a meeting before the birth.
Arranging a meeting
Before arranging a meeting between birthparents and adoptive applicants there should be a likelihood that adoption will proceed, but all participants should recognise and respect the right of both birthparents and adoptive applicants to change their decision. The birthparents will decide an appropriate time for the adoptive parents to have the first contact with the child, and whether the couple will meet first with them or with the child.
Consult with all participants in preparing for the meeting. Seek agreement as to:
- the venue and timing of the meeting
- who will attend the meeting, e.g. other family members, children, siblings etc.
The choice of venue may help promote ease of communication. Weather permitting, an outdoor meeting-place can reduce tension, allow movement, avoid awkward pauses and in particular provide for the activity of any children in the party. Consider confidentiality if a café or other public venue is chosen.
Brief notes may ensure that important issues are not forgotten. Be clear in your role as facilitator and mediator, but if all participants agree, leave them to talk together, having achieved the objectives of the meeting.
Contact issues will be discussed at the meeting, but they may not be finalised, either or both parties needing time to reflect and come back with further suggestions. More than one meeting may be arranged.
Making a contact agreement
Where birthparents and adoptive parents share common ground and mutual understanding, this is likely to promote the development of relationships between the parties, and build a foundation of trust for future contact, an enduring kinship network and ultimately the child’s comfort. While they are not compulsory, we assume that contact agreements will be made.
Preparation for contact agreements takes place well before a specific placement is proposed. A template for a contact agreement is located in CYRAS. See Resource: Contact Agreement (DOCX 20 KB) for more information.
Applicants encounter the concept in ‘Ways to Care’ where there is material in the workbook for them to study and to discuss at home and with the social worker during assessment interviews. They will know that when birthparents are choosing a profile, their own attitudes to contact will be fully examined and taken into consideration. Birthparents considering adoption also need time and information to consider what kind of involvement will be appropriate for them.
Both parties may start from the position of not feeling emotionally able to agree to ongoing contact, particularly where the people are unknown and the circumstances seem uncertain. Reassure them that they may ‘start small’, being realistic about their uncertainties, and that Oranga Tamariki will provide ongoing support and mediation in a process which has generally been demonstrated over time to enhance confidence and reduce mystification.
Both parties may prepare contact agreements from their own situations as a basis for subsequent facilitated discussion. This will take place only after the child has been born and the birthparents have re-confirmed their decision to place.
When a placement proposal is made to the chosen applicants, the birthparents’ views about contact will be conveyed to them along with other background information. Should there be any uncertainty about ongoing contact, this may need to be negotiated in advance of the parties actually meeting.
Characteristics of a contact agreement
Contact agreements are agreements between placing parents and adopting parents that detail how and when contact and communication will be handled from the time consent to adoption is signed and following the granting of an Adoption Order. Ideally an agreement will be made in writing so that there is some certainty as to terms, but an agreement can be made orally.
Contact agreements are not legally enforceable or more binding on one party than the other but are made in good faith in the best interests of the child. Each situation is unique. The primary benefit is that all parents are making a commitment to the child. A written document, prepared with respect and centred on the child, serves as a reminder of this commitment and encourages families to work through any problems that may arise.
It is up to the parties to agree upon the amount of contact that they wish to have with one another. Individual arrangements can be flexible and can be reviewed over time by either party as the need arises. Assist birthparents and adoptive parents to reach a mutually acceptable contact agreement.
Although there will be common elements in each contact agreement, it is important that they be tailored to the individual participants. To the basic template in CYRAS, consider also:
- additional elements may cover exchange of gifts, how a child’s culture may be maintained in a cross-cultural placement, how the child’s wishes may affect contact in time to come, how siblings, birth and adoptive, may be included
- bringing into the discussion how the parties want to be known to one another, and perhaps more importantly, how they want the relationship to be known to others. While both families may be happy to have the relationship open between themselves, they may or may not feel comfortable to have it known publicly
- asking participants to be frank with one another about privacy; they will need to consider the future feelings of the child when they are debating whether she or he will mind being displayed on facebook or some other medium accessible to people who do not even know her or him
- encouraging parties to bring forward issues of significance to themselves.
As clients are under stress of emotion and the pressure of events, all will have as much time as they need to make decisions they can live with in the future. Timing of consent will of course depend on this. Meetings to establish contact agreements can occur on as many occasions as are required, although amendments are possible by ‘phone, e-mail, or via social workers.
When placements are made between sites the social worker for the birthparents will be responsible for managing the contact agreement, in consultation with the social worker for the applicants. When in the same site two social workers may be involved.
Most commonly contact agreements will be made between parties who are known to one another by name. They may also be made between parties who do not choose to exchange identifying information, but maintain some form of communication at the time of placement and later.
While other family members may be included for contact they are not parties to the agreement, but may be included with the agreement of the parties to the adoption. Ideally the birthfather is a participant in the agreement from the outset. Where he is not present at the time of placement his inclusion may be negotiated later.
If no contact is agreed at all, there is no contact agreement.
When the contact agreement has been made
If they wish to, parties to the agreement may sign a copy for each participant and one for the file. Some people prefer not to have a signed agreement, and this will not negate the intention, so long as both parties agree about this. Their involvement will have been recorded in case notes and any information about the agreement given to one party should also be given to the other.
As the contact agreement is an expression of trust and mutual respect, both parties will be clear that the child’s interests are advanced and they are committed to the arrangements agreed before the birthparents sign their consent. It may not be appropriate, however, to delay consent only for the reason that the final document has yet to be produced or a minor amendment made.
While monitoring the placement before reporting to the court for the Adoption Order the reporting social workers may enquire about contact. Append a copy of the contact agreement to the court report as it is of direct relevance to the placement. Where there is no agreement for contact, include the reason for this in the body of the report.
Essentially however, parties have undertaken to ask for assistance if the agreement is not working, in which case social work mediation will be available. In the absence of a request, Oranga Tamariki has no ongoing responsibility to ensure that the agreement is honoured by either party.
If the adoption placement does not proceed
If the birthparents and the adoptive parents have met one another, and subsequently a decision is made not to proceed with an adoption, Oranga Tamariki needs to support both parties. Encourage the party who withdraws to communicate with the other party directly, or by telephone or letter if they feel able to do so. This is ultimately a social work responsibility: there are no sides to be taken, no blame to be ascribed - all who need it are entitled to support.