' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: 'Open' adoption letters released in Texas...with redactions

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

'Open' adoption letters released in Texas...with redactions

Protesting at a Gladney event--in Texas 
Boxes and boxes of letters from first mothers to the adoptive families and vice versa that were left unattended when a major San Antonio agency shut down in 2012 will be forwarded to the people to whom they were intended, the state of Texas announced yesterday. However, though the agency, Adoption Services Associates, had promised "open adoption" to the unsuspecting and naive women who gave up their babies through ASA, all the identifying information in the letters will be blacked out.

We reported earlier a reputable agency in San Antonio, Abrazo (that only handles fully open adoptions), had stepped in and tried to help the first mothers who counted on continuing
contact with their children, but only a handful were able to do so since the women had so little to go on and the adoptive parents could not be located. According to Elizabeth Jurenovich, director of Abrazo, the mothers who used ASA were led to believe they had open adoptions, but they didn't. "They were given no identifying information, no home addresses, no written post-placement contact agreements, and in most cases, no direct means of contact, given that the phone numbers they were typically provided were 'baby lines' only--toll free numbers set up by the adoptive parents until they got the baby home." That's not an open adoption. That's an open adoption scam, trapping unsuspecting and desperate women at a time they are the most vulnerable.

To make matters worse, open adoption agreements in Texas are not enforceable, according to Fort Worth attorney Gerald A. Bates. So even if ASA had stayed in business, mothers would have had no recourse if the adoptive parents simply stopped sending promised pictures and letters.

WHEN AN AGENCY CLOSES, SO DO THE LINKS 
Since the only tie between natural mothers and child and adoptive family who went through ASA was the agency itself, that connection evaporated when the agency shut down. Thousands of letters--66 filing cabinets and 25 boxes of them--were never forwarded and left for whomever stumbled on to them. The door to the shuttered agency wasn't even locked, according to our source, and the correspondence was found by a news reporter for Fox 29 in San Antonio, Yami Virgin. The agency has facilitated more than 3,000 domestic and 700 international adoptions.

Lorraine
When first alerted about the letters a year ago, the Texas Department of State Health Services said nothing could be done. After Fox 29 stayed on the story someone had a change of heart and they apparently sorted through the letters and will forward them (after a fee is paid and identity certified) but as noted, contact information that is found will be redacted. This means that no matter what the agency promised, no matter how open the adoption was promised, no matter what--perhaps reunion at age 18?--all the birth parents and adoptees affected are sealed off from one another under Texas sealed birth-records statute. Period.

According to the Fox 29 story, one mother, Jessica Esquivel, had the adoptive family's last name and though she and they had exchanged letters and pictures for seven years, that came to an abrupt halt four years ago. She found the family on Facebook and has been able to see pictures of her daughter there, but the family has not responded to her letter.

First mothers, adoptees and adoptive parents who wish to retrieve letters that may have been sent to them should cal512-776-7388 to check if there is correspondence in their file. The state is also recommending for those who were a part of an adoption to go to the state's adoption registry, but we caution that such state registries are famously inadequate and let to extremely few matches. 

AGENCY TO THE STARS
ASA was the go-to agency for quite a number of those movie-star adoptions we've read about in recent years. Perhaps they were attracted to it because of the qualifications of the adoption attorney, Linda Zuflacht, who founded the agency and ran it since 1984. Zuflacht was a founding member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and had been mayor of a city located in the San Antonio metropolitan area, Shavano Park. Zuflacht was not prosecuted--no law against shutting down a private business, no matter who it hurts or what promises are broken. Besides--who said open adoption agreements were even enforceable? Zuflacht skedaddled to New Mexico where she ran for municipal judge in Raton. She lost. She is in private practice there today.

If you were part of an adoption through ASA and you have a story to tell, contact Yami Virgin at yvirgin@sbgtv.com AND PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW. All comments welcome. If you were part of a broken open adoption, your story may prevent another such adoption from happening.--lorraine
_____________________
To see the story at Fox 29:
Adoption Letters Will Be Released
Texas Adoptions

FROM FMF
An Un-Open Adoption: Adoptive Parents Lie and Break a Mother's Heart
The promise of 'openness' lures vulnerable mothers to be 
Considering Open Adoption? What You Should Know

Open adoption--does it really solve all the problems?
When an agency promises 'semi-open' adoption, look elsewhere

RECOMMENDED READING
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child
by Nancy Verrier--adoptive mother; biological mother; therapist 
If you are considering adoption for your baby, skim through this classic first. It may change your mind. From an adoptee at Amazon:
"I could not have written this book better myself. It is an extremely insightful book which opened up a world of understanding to myself and also to my loved ones. It helped me understand why I am the way that I am, why I do some of the things that I do, why I struggle with love in my life, and why I have this subconscious fear of abandonment and trust."

27 comments :

  1. As always - when it doubt, shut them out.

    Of course, this does not solve the ongoing problem of future letters. Once these letters are delivered, who is going to take responsibility? Crickets....

    Okay - State of Texas - how about when you forward the letters, you include a paper which allows the parties to choose (a) no further communication, (b) direct communication, (c) communication through a mutually agreed upon intermediary. Once that is done, you can wash your hands of the whole affair - just like ASA and Zuflacht. Deal?

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    1. That is so sad...for everyone. It is rare that an adoptee is always completely happy and wishes no contact with their first parents. It is also rare for a first parent to not regret their decision and not long for contact with their child. It is also rare that many adoptive parents feel comfortable with the idea of their children seeking out their first parents. I see heartbreak all around this dynamic

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    2. Not that easy. What if different parties want different options?

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  2. Once again.... why can't we be honest? Forward the letters as is and let the adults involved decide among themselves how to proceed . If the adoptee is young, can't both sets if parents come to a reasonable decision ?

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    1. It would be nice if they could. I think adoption is a dishonest approach to serving a child's best interest. Once you have that foundation under you everything else is unstable. Separation permanently is a tragic response to serving family needs.

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  3. This is so sad. Missed opportunities. I had a similar situation in the UK where Adoption services (a government run department) failed to pass on my details to my daughter (they were lost somewhere) and she was unable to find me. They have since found the information but it may be too late!!

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  4. Not one FREAKING thing has change.
    makes me sick that nothing has changed for so many years..Like i tell everyone Open Adoption is an adoption term not a legal term, no matter what the agencies say Lies Lies Lies

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  5. This is one reason I don't like when adoptions are classified as "open" when both parties don't have some kind of contact info. Relying on an intermediary for this is fraught with so many issues because there is no regulations or requirements, and when an agency closes, this is precisely what happens.

    The fix for this is to not seal away OBCs and also have legal contact after adoption agreements that either occur with both parties having all the information necessary to contact each other, or a reliable intermediary that is unbiased and not capable of closing and disappearing (it would have to be some sort of government agency, I would imagine).

    The selfishness of those involved never fails to amaze me....

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  6. In Texas, according to adoption attorney Gerald A. Bates, open adoption agreements are not enforceable. http://www.txadoptions.com/OpenAdoption.html. Apparently, according to Bates, mothers can negotiate the amount of contact, including knowing the identity of the adoptive parents if they have a private adoption through an adoption attorney. Thus, can know who has their child even if they cannot enforce the agreement. If mothers use an agency, the agency dictates the terms of the agreement, typically that contact is through the agency only.

    Mothers considering adoption need to be aware, not only in Texas, but throughout the country, that they can negotiate the terms of an open adoption agreement. If they don't like what the agency is offering, they can go to another agency or attorney.

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    1. and I would add to this..that all the negotiation in the world can take place with the agency and anyone can say what they want but no legal right will not be enforced

      My son adoption was in the state of Texas (28 years ago) with promise of open meaning letters, pictures and small amounts of face to face. not one time did this ever take place NOT ONE. I hear stories of this still taking place today.
      I knew the people that had my son. I knew first names, I spent time with them during the last of my pregnancy, they were in the delivery room. I figured out after they had him they and the agency lied to me to get my son, so as the years went by my fear was if they lied to a mother to get a baby what kind of people are they really.

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    2. Open adoption agreements are only legally filed in five states, but I hate the word "enforceable" because my understanding is that even in those five (including my state of CA), they are not easily enforced by the birth parents.

      I HATE (not big enough capital letters in the world to convey my feelings here) that open adoption is touted by agencies as being oh, so wonderful, but it is not legally enforceable. The adoption aspect is legal and binding. The open aspect is at the whim of the parties involved. And I say "parties" because first parents are equally as capable of disappearing. One of my best friends adopted from foster care, and she put in place a very detailed contact agreement because she wanted the first parents in their son's life. They have disappeared, and she only hears about them third hand. They never even visited one time. The adoption was finalized two and a half years ago now. They have another daughter who was finalized for adoption with relatives at the same time, and they also never hear from the parents.

      Open adoption should be as binding a contract as child custody. I firmly believe that all parties should uphold agreements and changes should be made using mediation to determine the best interests of the child. For example, sometimes, contact could become too difficult for the child, so maybe all parties can come together and figure out, with a mediator, how to best handle that situation. Just like in a divorce.

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  7. Even in Texas agency adoptions, mothers certainly can (and should) negotiate the amount of post-adoption contact they desire, and refuse to place with any family unwilling to agree to the exchange of identifying information... thank you, Jane, for making this point!

    At Abrazo Adoption Associates, the agency for which I work, we caution birthparents (in person and in writing) about the non-enforceability of open adoption agreements in Texas, about the importance of full-disclosure of identifying information, and the need to make sure that any understandings about post-placement contact are documented in writing. We provide a "Voluntary Contact Agreement" to be filled out by placing and adopting parents, so that each party has a signed copy, in hopes that this may possibly give placing parents recourse if said agreements were arbitrarily ignored later. (As the child's managing conservator, Abrazo can enforce contact agreements until finalization, which occurs 6-18 months after placement, but thereafter, Texas laws give us no such authority.)

    I am not an attorney, but interestingly enough, the Texas Family Code (Section 161.2061, Provision for Limited Contact Between Biological Parent and Child) does acknowledge that there can be orders of termination that do allow biological parents limited access to the child, the opportunity to send letters to the child and to receive specified information about the child. Texas Family Code (Section 161.2062) goes on to say that termination orders cannot require that the agreement be included in the adoption order, and that inclusion of a requirement for post-termination contact does not affect the finality of a termination or adoption, nor grant standing to a parent whose rights have been terminated after the adoption.

    So while Texas does not enforce open adoption, its laws do seem to recognize the concept. These sections specify that they are applicable to agreements between biological parents and the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services, but from a layperson's reading, it raises questions as to whether/why Texas courts would prohibit private parties from voluntarily opting to have the agreed-upon terms of their post-termination contact included in the termination decree and/or subsequent adoption order, if both parties wish to do so...?

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    1. Elizabeth just a question, what does this mean "its laws do seem to recognize the concept"
      not trying to pick on words but the the papers singed in Texas only state that a child is relinquished by parent, never is Open Adoption used in the legal filed paperwork

      or maybe you know something more

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    2. I just mean that it seems like the legislators appear to recognize (by virtue of having including the sections quoted above) that parents and their children DO have reason to need to maintain contact after termination in some cases, so why not extend such protection in all cases?

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    3. Elizabeth no disrespect to you, but to me these are the kind of words used to promise openness. The mother tries to plan the best open adoption she can for her and her child..plans are made all parties involved. While in reality the mother figures out it was all was just a hope of what could be not a legal right (sorry to late).

      The reason I have such a hard time with this is, I continue to hear mothers say they said I would get letter, pictures, see my child. The mothers say this is not what I thought was going to happen.
      they said….they promised..I thought it was all legal..what happened

      Truth in adoption not fake promises of openness

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    4. I suspect the reason that the Texas legislature allowed contact in cases where the child was placed in the custody of the child welfare agency was at least in part because the welfare agency can get the mother to give up her parental right voluntarily if she is promised visits and that saves the agency the cost of terminating her rights through a contested court action.

      Perhaps if adoption practitioners got together and lobbied for laws allowing open adoption agreements in all adoptions it might happen.

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  8. Lorraine published an open adoption story in 2009 that detailed this very thing, actually, that she did not include in the links regarding open adoption.:

    http://www.firstmotherforum.com/2009/03/un-open-adoption-adoptive-parents-lie.html

    The adoptive parents claimed they stopped contact after the agency closed but this was not true, as another local agency had the records and all they had to do was call and find out how to forward correspondence.

    Do your homework. Don't be lured by the bogus lie that is "open adoption".

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    1. Vanessa <3
      wow I feel like you told just what happened to me and my son…but its you

      my heart hurts..my mind is full of flashbacks

      my son was placed in Midland Texas, Direct Adoption Center
      Barbara Messenger was the owner been closed since 1986

      wondered if its the same


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  9. Vanessa:

    Found and added to the website and for those getting the comments:
    An Un-Open Adoption: Adoptive Parents Lie and Break a Mother's Heart

    This is Vanessa's heart-breaking story, and yes, it is from Texas.

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    1. Yes, I truly believe in many cases the excuse of the "agency closing" is an easy out for adopters who never wanted continued contact in the first place. I happen to know for a fact this excuse was bogus in my case, because when I called Blessed Trinity the phones immediately rolled over to the local agency that had the records, where upon I was rudely and dismissively told the adoptive parents moved (across town, is all) and they had "nothing for me". This continued for 11 long years until I found my son when he was 18.

      The worst part of all is that my son believes this blatant lie.

      I got screwed all the way around, just they way his adopters wanted it all along. After all, someone had to pay for their "infertility".

      Thanks, Lorraine.

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  10. I began trying to educate myself on adoption issues for my son's sake (as well as my own) about eight years ago and what I have read time and time and TIME again is story after story after story of adoptive parents who NEVER upheld promises at all OR they upheld them until the adoption was final and then after that "poof" they were gone.

    My advice to expectant women who TRULY feel they cannot parent is to ask for driver's licenses, social security numbers AS WELL AS visiting the home of the prospective adoptive parents. You are entrusting your child to them - if they won't trust you with their identifying information then they aren't to be trusted.

    PERIOD. END. OF. STORY.

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  11. Oh my. As an AP, this breaks my heart. I have tears in my eyes for these families. It's so wrong. And it makes me so glad that I moved contact outside of the agency. We still have some contact through them. But I have contact with the extended family as well since the first parents are moving and changing numbers so often it's hard to keep up. The extended family is more geographically stable at the moment. I can't imagine making a promise I didn't keep. It really is supposed to be about what is best for the kids, not what's easiest for us. When my daughter's little brother was born and we were asked to adopt him as well, of course we said yes to keep them together. We agreed to contact. We didn't know that mom had added some additional problems to her life that most people would be upset about. But when he was born, and everything was in the open, we didn't change what we agreed to before. Because contact is still in both their best interest. They will at different times be exposed to behaviors or activities that we think are wrong. As parents, we need to have conversations about those things not lock them in a tower. So why would we cut off contact based on that. None of it is truly a safety issue.

    I'll stop because I think I'm rambling here, but I'm truly devastated for moms and children who were promised contact that they no longer get to have because someone else decided. And once again, I'm thankful to have this place to see and hear what else is happening outside of my little bubble.

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    1. DMDezigns
      Thank you so much for commenting. Hearts do get broken when adoptive parents cut off contact. As they also do when natural mothers disappear.

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    2. I am a father who lost his daughter through adoption, for 27 years. Even united, with a great deal of love for one another, for the past two years, their exist a permanent gulf between us that missing her childhood caused. How can I not take to task those that kept us separated. Cruel and unusual punishment is simply what adoption is, and like slavery should be abolished. The truth is that simple. The complexity for which babies and children need care need a better approach for providing stability without pretense, secrets, fraud, and the like. Its obvious it is wrong to include private enterprise, private interests in this kind of social work. It should be mandatory to have at the least supervised visits, an enforceable family plan, at the very least for children and families. Kin need to be notified and never be left out. Now to those that have an emotional investment in our children, need to suck it up as well in the best interest of the children. Ownership should not substitute for love. Reunification should be the goal not the contrary to ageing out. Children are more capable to make decisions when we frame those decisions responsibly. More choices are in real need.

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    3. Yes, absolutely, Scott. Adoption needs a lot of reforming. I encourage you to become involved with an adoption reform organization in your state. You might contact Concerned United Birthparents or Origins-USA to get started.

      Delete

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