Moving beyond the idea of “open” or “closed,” ACI advocates for a new approach, where two families become one and create an Extended Family Network.

Adoption an Extended Family Network

When adoptive parents welcome a child into their lives, it also means embracing the child’s heritage, background, and connections with their child’s birth family. At Adoption Center of Illinois we like to call this the extended family network. But what does it mean to be part of the adoptive extended family network?  In this post we’ll discuss what that means from the adoptive parent’s perspective.  First let’s explore some important points for prospective adoptive parents to share with their immediate family (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles)  when starting their adoption journey.

  1. Open and Honest Communication: It is crucial to establish open and honest communication with your immediate family from the beginning. Share your adoption plans, hopes, and expectations with them, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. Discuss any concerns or fears they might have and address them with empathy and understanding.
  2. Educate and Inform: Help your immediate family understand the complexities of adoption by providing them with educational resources and information. Explain the different types of adoption, the legal process involved, and the emotional journey that adoptive parents and the adopted child may go through. This will enable them to have a better understanding of adoption and be supportive in the process.
  3. Boundaries and Privacy: Establish clear boundaries and expectations regarding privacy and disclosure. Adoption is a personal and sensitive topic, and it is up to the adoptive parents to decide how much information they want to share with extended family members and others. Ensure that everyone understands and respects these boundaries to protect the child’s privacy and emotional well-being.
  4. Inclusion and Acceptance: Foster an environment of inclusion and acceptance within the extended family network. Encourage family members to treat the adopted child no differently from biological children and to include them in family activities, traditions, and celebrations. This will help create a sense of belonging and support the child’s integration into the family.
  5. Support and Resources: Offer support and resources to your extended family network to help them navigate the unique challenges and joys of adoption. This could include recommending books, support groups, or counseling services that specialize in adoption-related issues. Providing a support system for your extended family members will enable them to better understand and support you and the adopted child.
  6. Celebrate the Child’s Heritage: Encourage your immediate family members to celebrate and embrace the child’s cultural heritage, traditions, and background. This may involve learning about the child’s birth culture, participating in cultural events, or incorporating traditions into family gatherings. By doing so, you create an inclusive and diverse environment that supports the child’s identity formation and helps nourish the newly formed extended family network.

What Does Creating an Extended Family Network Look Like?

The concept of an extended family network in adoption refers to maintaining connections between the adopted child and their birth family or other relatives beyond the immediate adoptive family. It recognizes the importance of preserving and nurturing the child’s relationships with their biological families, allowing them to maintain a sense of identity, belonging, and cultural heritage.

When you are adopting you are creating a new extended family network with the child’s biological family.  Let’s explore that

How Does the Extended Family Network Fit Into a Closed Adoption Process?

In traditional closed adoptions, where identifying information about the birth family is limited, the extended family network may not be directly accessible to the adopted child.  However, there can still be limited medical and social background information from the biological family.  When open adoption is not (is “not available”, “not an option at that time”), the adoptive child’s birth parents’ identities and personal information are kept confidential at the request of the birth parent. This can make it challenging to maintain an extended family network in the traditional sense.

However, there are still ways to create and maintain connections with extended family members, depending on the circumstances and the willingness of all parties involved. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Communication through adoption agency: If the adoption was facilitated through an adoption agency, you can reach out to them to inquire about any available channels of communication with extended family members. Some agencies may offer intermediary services or maintain contact information on behalf of birth parents and extended family members.
  2. Support groups and communities: Seek out support groups or communities specifically tailored for individuals involved in closed adoptions. These groups often provide resources, advice, and a supportive environment where you can connect with others who have similar experiences. They may also have suggestions on how to maintain connections with extended family members.

It’s important to remember that maintaining an extended family network in a closed adoption can be a complex and sensitive process. The preferences and comfort levels of all parties involved should be respected, and it’s crucial to approach any contact with empathy and understanding. Consulting with professionals, such as adoption counselors or therapists, can also be beneficial in navigating these situations.

What Does the Extended Family Network Look Like in an Open Adoption?

In an open adoption, there is typically some level of ongoing contact and communication between the adoptive family, the birth parents, and potentially other members of the birth family. This can provide opportunities for maintaining an extended family network and relationships. With any new relationship it’s important to establish clear healthy boundaries to help navigate these connections in a way that respects everyone’s needs and comfort levels.  Here are some considerations:

In open adoption, the adoptive family and birth family may choose to establish and maintain relationships that extend beyond the child’s immediate biological parents.  The extended family network can then play a more active role. This can involve regular visits, phone calls, exchange of letters or emails, and participation in family events and milestones. The extended family network may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even siblings of the birth family.

Maintaining the extended family network can provide adopted children with a broader support system and a deeper understanding of their heritage and genetic background. It allows them to form connections with their biological relatives and provides opportunities for the exchange of important information, such as ongoing medical history and cultural traditions. Moreover, it can help adopted children develop a sense of belonging and an expanded sense of family.

It’s important to note that the level of openness and involvement of the extended family network may vary depending on the specific circumstances and preferences of all parties involved. Adoption arrangements are unique and can be tailored to meet the needs and comfort levels of everyone involved, with the best interests of the child being a primary consideration.

  1. Communication agreements: As part of the open adoption process, it’s crucial to establish communication agreements between the adoptive and birth families. These agreements outline the frequency, method, and content of communication, and they help set boundaries that all parties can agree upon. Respect these agreements and be open to renegotiating them over time as circumstances change.
  2. Mutual consent and privacy: Respect the privacy and confidentiality of all family members involved. Any sharing of personal information or updates should be done with the consent of the parties involved. Discuss and agree on what kind of information can be shared and with whom.
  3. Extended family involvement: Determine the level of involvement of extended family members from both sides. This could include visits, letters, phone calls, or even attending important events together. However, it’s essential to ensure that all parties are comfortable with such involvement and that it aligns with the best interests of the child.
  4. Flexibility and adaptability: Understand that relationships and circumstances can change over time. Be open to adjusting the level of contact and involvement based on the needs and preferences of all involved parties. Regularly assess and communicate about what is working well and what might need adjustment.
  5. Respect and empathy: Approach all interactions with respect, empathy, and open-mindedness. Recognize that different family members may have varying levels of comfort and desire for contact. Be mindful of individual boundaries, emotions, and the overall well-being of the child.
  6. Seek professional guidance: If you find it challenging to navigate the complexities of an open adoption and extended family network, consider seeking support from adoption professionals, therapists, or support groups. These resources can provide guidance, insights, and a safe space to discuss any concerns or challenges.

Every adoption journey is unique, and the dynamics of each extended family network will vary.

Maintaining and nurturing an extended family network requires ongoing communication, understanding, and mutual respect. By establishing clear boundaries and nurturing positive relationships, you can create a healthy and supportive environment for everyone involved, especially the child. It is essential to approach the adoption process with patience, empathy, and understanding, ensuring that the best interests and well-being of the adopted child remain the central focus.

05.28.23 by Molly Berger, ACI Adoption Social Worker

Molly has been with Adoption Center of Illinois since October 2013 as a expectant parent counselor after graduating from the University of Iowa in 2013 with a BA in Social Work. After four years at ACI, Molly returned to her studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned her MSW. After graduating in 2018, she returned to ACI as an expectant parent counselor as well as assisting in the domestic home study services program.