"...here in IL, there are no 'legal' open adoptions. Adoptive parents can SAY that they are willing to have contact - but are not legally bound to it. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this. Do you think having the visits laid out and legally bound is a good thing? I'm really undecided - on one hand, it seems that this would reassure bio-families and potentially allow them to feel more secure in voluntarily surrendering to adoption. I also happen to believe that children should have as much contact with their bio-family as is healthy. But then I wonder how long things like this can be dragged out in court? And, what are the legal consequences if you were to decide that someone was not appropriate to visit - such as Corazon's sister due to her mental health issues? Or in the future could her mother petition for more visitation? Like in a custody case, could you get brought back into court? I could see this possibility scaring some adoptive parents off as well..."
In my state open adoption agreements were encouraged whenever it seemed like a good compromise and there was little question TPR would happen but birth families wanted contact or it was deemed important for the children. Individual agencies/workers have their biases for and against them but I think they are a good idea. I think you are right that having the actual visits, cards, letters and other contact spelled out in the agreement can be reassuring to bio family and ensure that kids will definitely have some contact when it is safe and desirable to do so. I think sometimes having that spelled out leaves little up for speculation and/or misinterpretation and if there is tension or animosity between the different parties then it can help maintain some degree of contact and it is clearly delineated with less room for interpretation.
The reality is that in our case it wasn't necessary to have it spelled out but it was reassuring to have just in case problems arose. We have in fact maintained a great deal of contact with Corazon's bio family. We have seen her mom at least every 2 months or so (although we have now moved thousands of miles away and that is changing.) We invited her to significant events in Corazon's life (dance recitals, gymnastics exhibitions, birthday celebrations.) We have attended their birthday parties, graduations, and other events. We see them for major holidays (Christmas) and talk on the phone during minor ones (Valentine's Day, Halloween.) I compile a photo album each year that documents her life during that year and send/give it to her mom each New Year's. Corazon sends her cards (that I select and buy because she isn't especially attached to her bio family yet) for birthdays, mother's day, and other holidays. She has accepted our other children as well and genuinely seems to enjoy visiting with all of us. It has been an easy relationship on our part.We also have consistent contact with her bio sister and sporadic contact with her older brother. She has a niece and a nephew and we have attended their birthday celebrations. When her 16 year old sister was hospitalized near us after complications from surgery her mom called us and asked us to visit her because she was 10 minutes from us and 1 1/2 hours from her. They are a part of our extended family and we have an easy communication. We didn't choose each other but we are connected because of Corazon which I think will mean a lot more to her as she gets older. It is a very important connection FOR OUR FAMILY. This may not be the case for others.
I don't have the sense that open adoption agreements in my state usually went through as much scrutiny and court time as our whole situation did. In fact, they are presented as ways to avoid alot of court time. The social services attorney in charge of the case lists this as her single most dragged out case in over 16 years of experience. This one was also one for the record books according to any other social services personnel I have spoken with. While I have shared a bit trust me when I say there is a whole lot that went on that I wasn't able to share. When I think of it I still cringe and cry and cannot believe so much of what took place.
Our adoption agreement spells out EVERYTHING when it comes to visits and appropriateness. Our stipulated WHERE visits took place, WHEN and by whom they were to be supervised. All the responsibility was placed on the bio family members to notify me of interest and intent to schedule a visit and they were responsible for paying the fee at the assigned visitation center for the supervision if I/they were uncomfortable with me supervising. Cancelling of a visit was grounds for missing it altogether (for the whole year!) and inappropriateness (drug use, etc.) during a visit could nullify the whole visitation portion of the agreement FOREVER. There was also a stipulation that petitioning for more visits was not a real option (although I guess still possible to go to court for just about anything) and that any extra contact was at the discretion of adoptive family, wasn't setting a precedent and should be viewed as a "bonus". The only reason they could take me to court and have a case was if I didn't allow the required visits and they met all the requirements. (They would be required to pay the costs on top of that.) In terms of the sister, her psychological report was due in writing to me a month ahead of the visit and could be no more than 2 weeks old! It's all very skewed in favor of the adoptive family and I would guess the reason is so that prospective adoptive parents don't get scared off.
I should add that I didn't come up with any of that language. It was pretty standard in a case like ours. I only had to pick months for visits, months for letters and agree to the visitation "center."