Interpreting a Foster or Adopted Child’s Disclosed Background Tips & Resources to Help You Read Between the Lines

462459_PR_096___SI___15_08_13_049-mAdopting a child is one of the most emotional experiences a person can undergo.  There’s almost nothing as happy or as scary as finding your child.

The adoption process is an arduous one for good reason – the seemingly endless paperwork and checks are there to ensure that the right child is placed with the right family and that all parties involved are absolutely sure about what they want.

That’s why it’s so important for prospective parents to have access to all of the relevant information available about a child, and that they know how to interpret that information.  Only a full understanding of medical and familial background can lead to an informed and successful adoption decision.

Your Information Rights

As an adoptive parent, you have legal rights to certain information about any child you’re considering adopting.  There is some variation between states when it comes to who has access and the disclosure timeline, but there’s some information about birth parents that is required to be shared in all states:

  • Medical and genetic background
  • Family and social history
  • Mental health history
  • Religious background
  • Racial and ethnic background
  • Educational history
  • In some states, the above information about extended family (grandparents, aunts and uncles) is also disclosed.
  • Some states also disclose the appearance, interests, occupation and pregnancy health history of birth parents.
  • Most states do not disclose information that could lead you to identify birth parents.

The material you’re given is often clinical and doesn’t include any observations or anecdotal information from those who have been caring for the child.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions to learn more.

You can and should be persistent about your pursuit of as much information as you can get whenever you deal with anyone who may have knowledge about that specific child or other children with similar backgrounds.

Here are some examples of good questions to ask:

  • What kinds of behaviors can I expect from him/her based on family and medical history?
  • Will any special skills or resources be needed to care for the child?
  • Is he/she currently receiving any special care?
  • Is there any info missing from the medical history?
  • Is there any alcohol or drug abuse in the family?
  • Do any family members have genetic conditions?
  • Have the child’s developmental milestones been achieved at normal times?
  • Are there any life events that could impact his/her development or behavior?
  • What has happened with past placements or caregivers?
  • Are there any people with whom the child currently maintains relationships?

Understanding the Information

It can feel quite overwhelming to wade through a thick file of forms and documents full of tiny print and technical language.  It’s normal to be a bit daunted by the task in front of you.  Just understand that this is one of the most important parts of the process.  Of course there are no guarantees and you can never know everything, but you should come away feeling that you understand where this child comes from and how he or she will fit into your family.

Here are 4 tips that will help you make sense of it all:

  1. When in Doubt, Ask – If, at any moment, you’re confused or doubtful, speak your mind and ask questions that will help quiet the alarm bells going off in your head.  Never hold back in order to be polite or avoid appearing judgmental – it’s your duty to be thorough.
  2. Research – There will likely be terms or words you aren’t familiar with – look them up and educate yourself fully on each and every detail.  The world of childcare is full of acronyms that the laymen has never heard, so take the time to find out what they mean.
  3. Keep a Record – Keep a notebook with you whenever you’re doing research or speaking to anyone about the child.  Use it to jot down questions that pop into your head, a record of who you speak to and what they tell you, thoughts or observations, and next steps.
  4. Multiple Pairs of Eyes – More than one person should read over the information you get. Whether it’s your partner, a friend or an attorney, it’s helpful to have someone else see everything you see.  They may think of questions or concerns that didn’t occur to you, and they’ll be a good sounding board as you process what you’ve learned.

Expert Advice

You are not the first, nor will you be the last, to go through this process.  Many before you have experienced the exact same feelings of fear, doubt and excitement as they find their child or help others to do so.  Use their experience, knowledge and wisdom to help guide you.

4 people who can offer valuable advice:

  1. Medical Doctors – Find a pediatrician or specialist who you trust and bring all of your medical questions about the child to him or her.  The doctor will be able to give you both medical and anecdotal information about raising children who have certain medical conditions.
  2. Other Adoptive Parents – Websites and online forums can be great ways to get advice from other people in your position. You can find articles and discussions around various topics, or you can post your own question to elicit advice from others.
  3. Social Workers – If possible, try to contact a social worker who deals with fostering and adopting, but is not involved in your case.  They can offer an unbiased, fresh perspective based on the information
  4. Attorneys – Lawyers who specialize in adoption and foster care can help you interpret any documents that are written in complex legal language.  They may also be able to offer you advice based on their experience with other clients.

When trying to determine whether a child is right for your family, there is no such thing as too many questions or too much information.  You have a legal right to what to expect when you welcome a new person into your home.

It really comes down to this:  It’s better to be exceedingly thorough before an adoption takes place than to be faced with unexpected consequences that may cause you to question your decision later.

attorneyAuthor Bio:  Jay Deratany is the founding member of The Deratany Firm, a Chicago personal injury firm that passionately advocates for justice and human rights.  His passion for helping people extends beyond the firm and into his extensive pro bono work and personal philanthropy.  For more information, visit The Deratany Firm

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