Building and Maintaining Relationships With Your Child’s Birth Family

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

Making an open adoption work requires commitment to ongoing relationships, despite their ups and downs. While adoptive family and birth family relationships may seem awkward at first, over time the involved individuals typically become more comfortable. Some people compare the experience to working out other extended family relationships, such as relationships with new in-laws or with a child’s stepfamily following a divorce and remarriage. While some adoptive and birth families arrange openness informally, others will develop more formal agreements. When challenges arise, some families use mediation or other support for help.

Setting Common Expectations With Postadoption Contact Agreements

Postadoption contact agreements, sometimes called open adoption agreements, are formal arrangements between a child’s adoptive family and members of the child’s birth family (or other persons with whom the child has an established relationship, such as a foster parent). These agreements, typically signed prior to finalization of an adoption, describe how (letters, emails, visits, etc.) and how often communication will take place following an adoption. Postadoption agreements can help make sure that everyone has a shared understanding of the expectations for openness. It is important to know, however, that these agreements are not always enforceable. About 26 States have laws that allow for written and enforceable contact agreements. The conditions and rules related to establishing and enforcing contracts vary across these States.7 In no State can disputes over the postadoption agreements be used as grounds for terminating an adoption or changing adoptive parentsparental rights.

Strengthening Relationships

To build healthy relationships between adoptive and birth families, adoption professionals emphasize the following:

  • Stay focused on what is in the best interests of the child, which may not always be the same as the preferences of the birth and adoptive parents.
  • Show respect for and acceptance of the other family members.
  • Set clear boundaries of what is and what is not acceptable in terms of contact and communication, and respect the limits requested by the other parties.
  • Maintain open communication that reflects a genuine commitment to maintaining connection.
  • Be flexible and recognize that needs may change over time.

Addressing Challenges With Mediation

Sometimes families need help with establishing relationships, overcoming differences on how and when contact should occur, or navigating changes in the relationships. Mediation—which refers to meeting with a neutral third party such as an agency or adoption professional—can sometimes be helpful. Mediators can help develop written agreements before an adoption or aid in sorting out changing needs and roles later in the adoption.

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Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Openness in adoption: Building relationships between adoptive and birth families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.


7 For more information, see Postadoption Contact Agreements between Birth and Adoptive Families, available online at