The Skinny On Post Adoption Contact Agreements

Kathryn Russell
Kathryn Russell

LMSW, Director of Absolute Love Adoptions

It has been said that all Birth Moms, no matter how close the relationship with adoptive parents, fear that the relationship will end, or the adoptive parents will shut them out. 

Imagine choosing to place your child with another family based on the promise that you would never lose the opportunity to know your child. And then having that promise broken.

That is heartbreaking. 

This persistent fear Birth Parents have of having connection with their birth child revoked is the main reason we encourage parties entering into an adoption relationship to build and maintain a Post Adoption Contact Agreement.

This agreement, “PACA”, is a written agreement that outlines expectations for communication and contact between adoptive and birth families for the duration of childhood, or 18 years. 

There is no standard form or format, and it is typically created by either the agency social worker or the attorney coordinating the adoption. Your support professional should provide a worksheet to both adopting and birth parents which prompts both parties to consider their desires regarding contact. 

There should be substantial conversation prior to a match- and certainly prior to placement-about the hopes the birth and adoptive families have for contact. Two parties with vastly different or unrealistic expectations of contact with one another are not likely to sustain a balanced, fulfilling relationship over time. In those situations, the parties are likely a mismatch and should not move forward.

When the expectations are clearly expressed by both parties, and align, the parties are encouraged to capture those conversations in the Post Adoption Contact Agreement. Both parties must be aware that this contract is meant to establish minimums for contact and to allow the opportunity for organic relationships to build between all parties.

Knowing that adoptee’s at some point will want modifications made– either more, or less contact with their birth families -means that all parties must be aware that at some point the relationship becomes the childs to lead. This might mean modifications must be made to the contract at the adoptee’s request. 

Wants and needs for communication and contact WILL change over time, much like any other human relationship. During busier seasons of life, or during times of stress or conflict, you may see contact reduce. It may also increase during joyful times, or times of relative calm. This is normal and expected. This contract is designed to hold up the MINIMUMS established so that even during times of less engagement, the birth mom, adoptive mom and child know the very least they can expect or are obligated to for contact. 

The PACA is important for Adopting Families because it helps to establish boundaries. At placement, many adoptive parents fear a birth parent will be over involved, or not give them space to build a parent-child relationship with the adoptee. Knowing they have boundaries that are well established can relieve some of the pressure or the fear in the beginning stages. 

The PACA is important for Birth Parents because it helps to establish some confidence that the family who promised them they’d always know their child, must do so. The birth parent can feel some degree of relief that she won’t be kept away from her child. This agreement in many ways helps relieve her fear and anxiety, often reassuring her that she chose the right family. 

While in some states these contracts ARE legally enforceable, they remain just agreements in good faith in many states. As adopting parents, please remember the significance of this document for the birth family, and commit to honoring your agreement for your child for 18 years, minimum!

Rules of the PACA:  

  • Underpromise but over deliver. 
  • Be mindful of your absolute minimums you can agree to, as well as what would be “too much” to commit to for you. Assert your needs and don’t agree to more than you can do.
  • Consider your personality, communication style, desire and lifestyle when making these agreements. 
  • Each birth parent should have their own agreement with the adopting family. They can be identical to birth moms, or different. 
  • If it stops working over time, discuss that with the other family, and make changes. 
  • If you are unable to agree, contact your agency or lawyer for support in mediating any changes desired.

It is a gift to see this friendship grow between families over time. The PACA can help build a foundation to a healthy, balanced relationship in which the adoptee at the center of the agreement feels seen and centered, the adopting family feels respected and the birth family feels included.

Want to know which states have legally enforceable Post Adoption Contact Agreements?

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