Options for birthparents considering adoption
Updated: 01 July 2013
What's Important To Us
Birthparents who are thinking about relinquishing the care of their child will only be able to make a fully informed decision about adoption when they have had the opportunity to consider the alternatives. Such an important decision needs to be explored over time with a social worker who respects the open expression of thoughts and feelings. The social worker will not urge any particular choice but help to consider the short and long term effects each option may have on all parties, particularly the child.
When a woman less than 12 weeks pregnant wishes to consider terminating her pregnancy, inform her promptly about specialist counselling, by either a hospital social worker or at a Family Planning Clinic. Delay in holding the first interview could deny a woman the opportunity to consider this option. It is not the role of a social worker in Oranga Tamariki to counsel in relation to abortion.
Inform young women about section 38 of the Care of Children Act 2004 which allows a female of any age to consent to or refuse an abortion. The consent of her parents or guardians is not required, although she may accept your support to let them know of her situation. If the birthmother is very young and/or there are any reasons at all to believe that the pregnancy has resulted from an abusive relationship, consult with your supervisor and practice leader about what, if any, action should be taken.
Parenting the child
Assist birthparents to identify and evaluate their own strengths, abilities and potential to parent their child themselves. They may want the opportunity to explore ways in which caring for the child will affect their plans in relation to further studies, careers and relationships. Suggest they check the support they can expect from family and friends.
When either birthparent would be sole-parenting, he/she needs to be aware of the demands and stresses of single parenthood, considering the developing needs and interests of the child. Ensure they know their entitlement to benefits and to any other assistance available to them through Work and Income and to assess their future financial situation in a practical and realistic way. If they do not live together and one of them raises the child, the non-custodial parent will be a liable parent with child support responsibility under the Child Support Act 1991.
Discuss their rights and duties as guardians and read Key Information: Custody, Guardianship and Wardship for more information.
Permanent placement with others - attachment
In addition to the legal issues, explore with birthparents the fundamental needs all children have for primary attachment to a stable parental figure, both for brain development and for on-going emotional wellbeing. Talk about the reality that if they place their child in the on-going, day-to-day care of others, those people will become parental figures to that child, whatever their legal status.
A parenting order, as distinct from an adoption order, will not in itself, enable birthparents to remain emotionally attached parents. This bond develops with constant day-to-day interactions, and not through occasional contact. If birthparents want to maintain primary attachment, they might rather arrange to care for their child themselves.
Permanent placement with others - adoption
Adoption is a legal transfer of ongoing parental rights and responsibilities from birthparents to adoptive parents. An adoption order has the effect of severing the legal relationship between the child and its birthparents, including all lines of kinship and succession in the wider birth families. The adoptive parents will name the child and a new birth certificate will be issued.
For all intents and purposes adoption is final and the child becomes as if born to the new parents. This is not to claim that the child is born to the adoptive family but that he or she has the same status as a child born to them. There is no further connection with the Court or with Oranga Tamariki.
Remind birthparents that while adoptive parents are different from themselves, they are not necessarily better. Applicants who have been through Ways to Care and assessment have had some preparation for the task of parenting a child not born to them, but there can be no guarantee about the stability of an alternative family, who run the same risks as any family of marital breakdown or parenting difficulties. Refer to the resource: Open adoption for further details.
Alternatives to adoption
Ensure that birthparents are aware of the option of placing a child with others under guardianship and parenting orders as an alternative to adoption. This is more appropriate when family placement is contemplated.
Placement within the family/whānau
Explore options for placement within the family as a first consideration if birthparents feel unable, or do not wish to parent their child themselves. An in-family placement keeps the child within natural kinship/genetic continuity with at least one half of his or her family. Connection with the other parent’s family is also important of course and particularly where the birthparents are not in agreement, emphasise the benefit for the child of the family making the effort to maintain a relationship.
Initially, no formal status may be sought, but legal orders such as additional guardianship and/or parenting orders may be explored within the family. For some families adoption has importance as recognition of the altered parental status, but adoption is not necessary to secure stability. Families need to consider that altering relationships within the family can make a mother a sister to her own child, and will remove the legal connection with the other parent’s family altogether.
Privately arranged placements with friends and others
If family placement is not an option, birthparents may wish to place with people known to them. This may have the advantage that the proposed parents are known and presumably trusted, but for this very reason it may be difficult for birthparents to disappoint their friends if they wish to change their minds as the pregnancy progresses and after the child is born.
A birthmother may be approached by a third party offering to facilitate a placement – a doctor, lawyer or friend may recommend an infertile couple known to them. Ensure the opportunity to consider whether these arrangements best meet the needs of her child and the conflicts of interest which may be operating.
Discuss with birthparent/s that choice involves having a number of options to choose from, rather than being presented with just one. Information about people put forward in this way may not be as comprehensive as that in the profiles of prospective adopters presented by Oranga Tamariki. The lack of preparation and assessment for the task of parenting a child not born to them is an important point to explore.
Privately arranged open adoption contact agreements are no more enforceable by law than any other. Advise birthparents to obtain legal advice if they are unsure about their legal rights and obligations under such arrangements.
Explain that the law does not allow for any applicants, other than a near relative, to take the child into their care without prior social worker approval (or an interim order of adoption). If birthparents choose privately, stress that the prospective adoptive parents should attend Ways to Care and then be assessed prior to the birth, if they are to be legally able to take the child into their care.
Birthparents should know that they are able to change their minds before or after the birth, which may be difficult enough in any case, but more so when feelings of obligation have developed.
Placement of siblings
All things being equal it will maintain the sense of belonging to keep siblings together in one family. If a half or full sibling of an adopted child becomes available for placement, discuss with the birthparents the possibility of placing the child with his/her sibling.
When considering an alternative placement, consider the issues of accessibility, and likelihood of contact between the siblings. Children may grow up with an awareness of their kinship even though in different families who agree to preserve the relationship.