Extended Birth Family Visitation Rights

Although birth parents have relinquished their rights or had those rights terminated by the state, your child may have relatives who don't want to lose contact. Frequently, grandparents or uncles and aunts may have cared for your child and established bonds with her. These people can be important support and a source of reassurance for your child and you.

Responding to Requests for Visitation

If you are contacted by a biological relative, you must first check with your agency (or whoever facilitated your adoption) to find out what your obligations are. In most cases, you don't have any legal obligations to allow access to your child.

Guided by your agency, find out exactly what the relationship was and whether or not there is any reason to limit contact. Today, kinship placements are usually sought before a child is released for adoption, so perhaps home studies took place or family members were asked to take the child and couldn't. Get the specifics so you can plan appropriately.

Usually, extended family will welcome contact within the boundaries you set. Few children can have too many people who love them. Be vigilant, especially during the years when your child is young, and avoid overnight or unsupervised visits. Trust your instincts and help your child learn to process her own emotions.

Different Types of Family Bonds

Families today are complicated. Some pundits joke about family “bushes” rather than family “trees.” Divorces and remarriages, as well as kinship adoptions and open adoptions, can be very confusing to young children. While adults have the reasoning capacity to understand different levels of relationships, children may get lost in trying to navigate those levels.

Adopted children may have stepparents, grandparents, and cousins. They may have siblings from the same mother and father or from different mothers and fathers. The siblings may have lived together for awhile or been in different households. Your child may have formed a sibling attachment with other children in her foster home. Or your child may acquire a sibling after being adopted.

Question

How can I answer my child when she asks what her birth family looks like when I really don't know?

Show her pictures of your birth relatives who have similar features and coloring to you and tell her that genes passed by parents determine what people look like. Then stand with her in front of a mirror and talk about the coloring and features that her birth family may share based upon the characteristics of herself that she sees in the mirror.

All of these relationships will have an impact on her. Be as open and accepting as possible as you explore her feelings with her. This openness will help her understand her emotions and how they change as she grows up.

Be alert to your child's fears, uncertainties, or resistance to interacting with birth family members. Although you don't want to be unduly suspicious, always trust your parental instincts. Talk to a therapist or someone objective if you find yourself growing more concerned over time.

Separated Siblings

Siblings are closer genetically than parents and children. Relationships can be especially strong in dysfunctional families where siblings took care of each other. Find out just what kind of sibling bond your child had. That knowledge will dictate what kind of contact you allow, as well as the frequency and location of visits. You might find it helpful to support sibling contact if they trust and enjoy each other's company. You might also find it necessary to limit contact between siblings if your child was overly responsible for his sibling or overcontrolled by his sibling acting in a parental role with him.

Benefits of Placing Siblings Together

Your child may share a history with his sibling. If the brother or sister is older, that child can help the younger one understand the dynamics that led to the separation and help fill in gaps for memory books and therapy. If your child came from an abusive or neglectful home, the sibling bonds will be stronger than the attachments to their parents. Therefore, having each other could lessen the trauma of separation from their parents.

Importance of Sibling Bonds

Agencies work with the rule that siblings should be placed in the same home if they've lived together or have more than a casual bond. Some cannot be placed together because of the size of the family. It can be difficult to find adoptive homes able to take more than two or three siblings. Obviously, if a sibling abused a brother or sister or if there was some other toxic element to the relationship, placement in the same house would not be appropriate. If placement isn't possible because of health or other issues, then every effort should be made to ensure an ongoing relationship if that relationship would be beneficial.

Strategies for Promoting Sibling Bonds

If your child has siblings who are not in your home, you can help establish and maintain ties. Consider your child's age and whether or not a relationship existed previously before you decide just what type of contact and how much to encourage. Toddlers and preschoolers who have no memory of a sibling will just be confused if you introduce an unknown sibling who doesn't live with you. Wait until your child is in elementary school before springing the news.

Essential

If you know your child has a sibling but you can't have contact or don't know where she is, help your child make a Sister's or Brother's Box which can contain drawings, pictures, and small gifts. Occasionally get the box out and add to it. At some point, your child will probably want contact, but maybe not until he's grown.

Once you and your child know about the existence of a sibling and your child is old enough to understand, don't wait for your child to request contact. Depending on where the sibling lives, try to arrange for face-to-face visits as frequently as possible. Use technology, the phone, instant messaging, and so on (but be sure you monitor the calls or messages, so nothing inappropriate takes place).

Invite siblings to special events like birthdays, sports tournaments, school activities, and holidays. Keep pictures of the siblings with other pictures of members of your family.

Maintaining a relationship with a sibling means that you will have to maintain contact with the sibling's family. The sibling might live with your child's birth parents, or may have been placed in an adoptive or foster home. You will need to develop a cooperative relationship with the parents to ensure that visits do happen and that they happen smoothly. If your child's birth parents are not permitted to have contact, it may be difficult to arrange visitation with a sibling who still lives with the birth parents. Discuss the possibilities with your agency.

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