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The new normal in adoption: Birth parent no longer secret

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The challenges, according to Mr. Pertman and other adoption experts, often involve mismatched expectations as to the degree of post-adoption contact. The Donaldson report recommends counseling and training for all the adults involved, as well as post-adoption services to help them and their children work through any problems that arise.

The president of one of the largest US adoption agencies, Bill Blacquiere of Bethany Christian Services, said his staff encourages expectant birth mothers to meet with the prospective adoptive family to discuss the array of options for an open adoption.

"As much as possible, we allow the parties to design that themselves," Mr. Blacquiere said. "We mediate to make sure both parties are getting what they need."

The post-adoption relationship may start out warily, then become more comfortable as time passes, but Blacquiere said each party should keep the other's expectations in mind even as circumstances change.

"For adoptive families, they need to make sure they live up to their commitments, and not try to go back on their initial agreement," he said. "On the birthparent side, they need to remember that this isn't co-parenting – part of their role has to be blessing the new home that their child has."

One common pattern, according to adoption agency officials, is that the birth parent initially wants more frequent contact with the child than the adoptive family prefers, followed by a gradual shift.

"When the children get older, it's often the adoptive families wanting more contact, and the birthparents may have moved on in their lives and at that point are interested in less," said David Nish, director of adoption programs for New York-based Spence-Chapin Adoption Services.

Mr. Nish said Spence-Chapin espouses the principle of self-determination in working with birth mothers on their hopes for post-adoption arrangements. But he said the agency won't work with adoptive parents who insist on having no contact with the birth mother.

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