Roadmap to Reunion: 8 PACTS|National Adoption Conference

Roadmap to Reunion: 8 PACTS|National Adoption Conference

Disclaimer: This article provides a framework for setting boundaries in an adoptee and birthmother or birthfather reunion. So, both parties decide together how the relationship will be and have set goals and expectations entering into the reunion with empathy, understanding and compassion, have an open mind, and respect they will have different narratives entering the reunion. You can’t contract behavior but you can create respectful experiences.



Why do 70% of adoption reunions break down?

Because there’s no roadmap.

The 5 agreements:

Everyone has been victimized.

Everyone has experienced loss.

Each person’s loss incomparable.

Everyone will make mistakes.

Practice forgiveness over, and over and over again.


THE 8 PACTS

  1. GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER: Try to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes before thinking you know why something happened. Respect each other’s experience. We don’t assume we know the other person’s story. Get to know the person first, not focus only on the answers.

  2. ASK PERMISSION: Ask each other permission before sharing important adoption information, regarding photos, letters or birth documents to build trust and control. Respect each other’s emotional bandwidth and emotional vulnerabilities. Write questions down to provide to each other, only answer what you feel comfortable with. As you grow stronger, you can answer more in-depth questions. Ask each other permission first before inviting more people into the relationship.

  3. CREATE LEVEL OF CONTACT: Neither party has the right to control the contact. You get to negotiate the relationship together. It will be hard, but it’s worth it. Ask each other the following questions: How do we connect after reunion? What do we feel comfortable with phone, Facetime, text, email, letters? How about on birthdays and holidays? Gifts or no gifts?

  4. SHARE YOUR STORIES: Provide space for each other to share your individual stories. The retelling can feel re-traumatizing especially for mothers. Use I statements when sharing each other’s pain towards the other “I feel…. I want… because….” Refrain from blaming to lessen re-shaming. No one’s pain is worse than the other.    

  5. BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HEALING: You are not responsible for each other’s wounds. You are self-responsible for your own emotional and psychological pain. You can’t fill each other’s voids. You will regress to the age of relinquishment. It’s ok to attend therapy separately and together at times, and join support groups. You can’t rescue each other from their pain.

  6. RESPECT THE RELATIONSHIP: Commit to the relationship, do not abandon each other or threaten each other. Because both the birthmother and adoptee are fearful of losing each other again. Ghosting is another form of betrayal. Stay in communication, hold regard together that this relationship matters. Take your time.

  7. SHARING WITH OTHERS: Secrets don’t help people, they hurt. Plan together how or when to tell extended family members of your reunion. Come “out of the fog” to support each other if the fear is being “found out”. If you want to have relationships with extended family members- ask each other permission to do so.

  8. RECOGNITION OF YOUR TRUST TREE: Respect the loved ones closest to you, and the other relationships on your trust tree.



E =  What is your expectation?

M = What is your motivation?

B = Make room to Breathe

R =  Respect

A = Accept

C =  Choose to be present and available

E = Embrace the experience

Why Post Adoption Support Matters? By Jeanette Yoffe

Why Post Adoption Support Matters? By Jeanette Yoffe

Adoption is not the end of the process; it is, in fact, the beginning of one! Post-adoption care and services play an integral role in making any adoption successful.

Being personally acquainted with the situation, I had long recognized the importance of high-quality post-adoption and foster care services to ensure permanency, stability, and well-being for children. But that’s not all; certain other aspects demand our attention.

Post-adoption services help address sensitive aspects such as trauma (young children, adults, and even parents can suffer from it), loss, separation, sense of familiarity or belonging, etc. Such services can also help children and their families address their specific needs and help family members strengthen their bond and deepen their attachment to sustain the relationship.

Previously for many years, post-adoption services were only viewed as services provided after the legalization (finalized process) of the adoption – and in some cases, only for very short intervals.

However, now adoption professionals and families have recognized that a comprehensive continuum of multiple forms of support that vary in intensity levels is necessary to ensure well-being, long-term stability, and true permanency for adopted children and the families.

Post-adoption services are a vital support to the families raising the children in cases where they suffer from severe emotional, behavioral, or psychological challenges. With the help of support groups and sessions offered at the Celia Center, families can remain committed and effective. Our services help parents nurture children while catering to their special needs. As well as providing adoption competent therapy to children, teens and parents offered at Yoffe Therapy.

“There is evidence of a strong relationship between providing support to adoptive families as a matter of course or in the form of preventive services and positive outcomes in terms of the health, well-being, and stability of the family (Groze 1996a; Smith & Howard 1994)”

At Celia Center, we work to serve the goal of:

  • Support understanding of adoption by removing confusions surrounding the adoption process.
  • Improve parenting skills so they are able to deal with their new family dynamics.
  • Help parents and children cope with their traumas associated with adoption or foster care.
  • Improve child functioning.
  • Bridging gaps between the relational bands.
  • Prevention of adoption disruptions.

The importance of post-adoption services and support groups can be viewed in a survey of parents receiving post-adoption services. 80% of the respondents reported betterment in their households. Some excerpts from the survey are as followed:

“Research has shown that adoptive families’ needs are multidimensional and may arise at each developmental stage for the family and the adopted person. From a program development perspective, the research makes clear the need for flexible programming that permits families to return for services when needed and does not limit the extent to which they may receive services.”[1]

“Adoptive families have a need for an array of education, support and therapeutic community services. And they need to be able to access this array episodically. This mix of services must be provided by service providers and therapists with an adoption-competent knowledge base and core values, who can see child and family strength amidst complex circumstances and concerning diagnoses.”[2]

 “For moral, social, and economic reasons, it is in the public interest to assure that families remain intact and strong. The pendulum has swung and society again recognizes the importance of strong family systems in combating society’s ills. Adoption support and preservation services help build strong foundations for families created by adoption. By developing and implementing these services, families involved in adoption, service providers and policy makers are assuring adopted children of every opportunity to become useful, productive citizens.”[3]

Some concepts behind the support groups of Celia Center are:

  • Parental education
  • Counseling
  • Respite care and child care
  • Services for children and parents, including groups of people from every age group
  • Adoption assistance
  • Support services including support groups and informal contact with other similar families

Celia Center was not my goal as I started, but it eventually became one. As I kept progressing, it became the highlight of my life as I could see my efforts bringing positive results.

 Being a foster child myself who also went through adoption, I was aware of the miseries one can experience in this process. These were not the miseries that life caused me but the miseries which developed from my detachment from the world.

We need to realize that there is a ‘need to heal.’ There is a need to break the ice for the people who never get the chance to speak about how they feel. Even when they do speak, they are either shut down or not understood. They are received in a way that pushes them deeper into their shells, where they develop several traumas and social dilemmas.

To heal is to recover, to be at peace. It means to overcome the inner demons holding you back from moving forward. To heal is to set one’s soul and mind at peace. Healing cannot be achieved overnight. You have to go through a process, or sometimes a series of processes, to reach that state of mind where you are no longer bothered by what used to haunt you.

In order to heal, you need to stand tall in front of your fears and deal with them. You need to be reminded that you are loved, cared for, valued, and that you cannot be suppressed any longer. In order to heal, we need to break the chains of quietness, desolation, and life of fears. We need to come out clean to the greener side of life. The journey to healing could be challenging, but it’s not impossible.

People who have been through traumatizing events tend to experience heavy emotional burdens. It’s as if, over the years, the time has chipped away a significant part of them. This fear and struggle, if nurtured over a longer period, breed physical and mental disorders. These diseases devour the person slowly and gradually, leaving behind nothing but a hollow shell.

I can understand that after going through severe trauma in your life, it is difficult to grow from it. But for how long? For how long are you going to sit in that dark room? For how long are you going to absorb the pain? We have all experienced one of those dreaded days where you don’t want to get out of your bed. You just lie down, contemplating life and past events – it’s relatable.

Speak up! Talk about the things that are bothering you. Don’t just sit there taking it all in. Don’t empathize with your misery. Be the master of your senses; don’t let anyone else control it or take hold of it. Healing is the process that will lead you toward recovery. Eventually, you will be able to break through the chains of depression, fear, and anxiety, and breathe freely once again!

When we don’t talk about these things, they grow bigger inside us. If they are not dealt with at the right time and with the right guidance, they explode in the form of anger, violence, traumas, and other such issues. To understand this better, consider a human being like a spring.

You keep pressing and pressing the spring so it will absorb all the pressure and reduce in size (getting oppressed), but when you reach the contraction limit, it will pop up. The spring will jump up even higher using the energy that compressed it, directed in the opposite direction. The same is with human feelings and emotions.

Don’t let your stored emotions burst into some kind of retaliation or anger. Don’t let it corrode your body and soul from inside. Don’t live with your fears. Value the life that you have been granted, and make the most of it by making it better every day. Believe in the power of healing, and believe that in observing your struggle you will surely be rewarded with something great.

For a free mental health consultation please visit Yoffe Therapy an adoption competent mental health center in the state of California.


[1]  “Research on Postadoption Services: Implications for Practice, Program Development, and Policy” in The Postadoption Experience p. 295.

[2] “Perspectives on the Need for Adoption-Competent Mental Health Services,” Casey Family Services, October 2003, p. 72.

[3] “Adoption Support and Preservation Services: A Public Interest,” Spaulding for Children, revised May 2005

Making the Most of Adoption Reunion: Affirmations & Videos by Marlou Russell Ph.D. Author and Adoptee

Making the Most of Adoption Reunion: Affirmations & Videos by Marlou Russell Ph.D. Author and Adoptee

  • Adoption reunions bring family members together.
  • An adoption reunion is the continuation of a previous relationship.
  • Triad members are connected forever, regardless of whether they actually meet.
  • Adoption reunions can happen at any time – in open and closed adoptions.
  • Searching for one’s birth family or children is a natural extension of genetic curiosity.
  • Reunions can bring up many emotions – loss, grief, regret, hope, fears, gratitude.
  • Each person will process reunion feelings at their own pace and in their own way.
  • Being with groups of people who understand reunion and adoption can be helpful.
  • Respect your stage of loss, mourning, and healing. Respect the other person’s too.
  • Allow reunion relationships to unfold. Force and fear push people away.
  • Letting go of expectations frees the other person to come forward.
  • Maybe it’s not about you. Ask, observe, clarify.
  • Holding on to hurt, blame, and regret binds you to the past.
  • You may be creating the opposite action you desire.
  • Fear leads to grasping – leads to backing off – leads to feeling rejected.
  • “I’m sorry for anything I have said or done that may have hurt you.”
  • You can release others without losing them or approving of their actions.
  • Forgiveness releases the forgiver.
  • You can always be gracious. Sometimes you need to strive for superficiality.
  • It is what it is – birth, step, grand, adoptive.
  • Boxes, letters, poems and art. Groups, politics, rallys, and blogs. Kickboxing and knitting.
  • You can play the adoption card – or not.
  • Who are you without the adoption piece?
  • What lessons have you learned from your experience with adoption?
  • What are you holding on to? What would happen if you let go?
  • Old habits die hard. New habits often bring freedom.
  • How can you make your life whole, peaceful, loving, kind, and meaningful?

    Marlou Russell, Ph.D. is a psychologist specializing in adoption issues, an adoptee in reunion, and the author of Adoption Wisdom: A Guide to the Issues and Feelings of Adoption. Visit Dr. Russell’s website www.marlourussellphd.com for more information.

ADOPTION WISDOM offers insight and understanding of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Includes chapters on Adoption Awareness, Basic Truths of Adoption, Search and Reunion, and an Ideal Adoption. ADOPTION WISDOM is a book for anyone who wants to kinow more about the lifelong impact of adoption.

Because I Know You’ll Understand by Adoptee and Art Therapist Nicole Rademacher

Because I Know You’ll Understand by Adoptee and Art Therapist Nicole Rademacher

This is for my fellow adoptees,

for my community, for my tribe.

Because you get me.

You do.

We don’t know each other, but it’s like we’ve known each other our whole lives

even if my life is 3 times as long as yours.

The pain we feel, we don’t have words for,

those were taken away when society decided that our stories didn’t matter.

When we were taught to be grateful,

to ignore what we cannot remember–hoping we’d forget

that there are people, and papers, who can corroborate our dreams. 

Adoptee, the ache in my heart reaches yours, and yours to mine.

Together they create a looking glass and through that looking glass, our land exists.

The 11-year-old version of me naively sees butterflies and rainbows,

but the me on the other side of that looking glass…

I see slivers of trepidation and prisms shrouded in old car smog.

I see unstable arcs headed for bounds of turbulence.

As I breathe, the smog enters my lungs

inducing an awkward, melancholic tickle in my throat.

As I look up, the arcs sway to and fro.

I get dizzy.

It’s the fog I am emerging from.

Adoptee, I got you.

Just like you got me.

We equate even though we’ve had to assimilate.

Our voices count.

1 by 2, 2 by 3, 3 by 4 … side by side.

A Daughter’s Bill of Rights by Adoptee, Janice Stevenor Dale

A Daughter’s Bill of Rights by Adoptee, Janice Stevenor Dale

Excerpt From “Portrait of an American Daughter”

By Janice Stevenor Dale copyright 2021

There is no societal, cultural standard for the treatment of adoptees. There’s no Dr. Spock’s handbook for adopted parents, nor one for children. How could there be a way to communicate with newborn babies to teach them what is about to happen to them? Teach them coping mechanisms for being abandoned without explanation, often for a decade and many times longer. It is left to chance and we all just shoulder it to the best of our abilities. So, often people just ignore the adopted person as if you don’t exist. I can honestly say that because I am adopted, I have personally experienced being denied these rights, suffering repeated traumas and rejections from my adopted family and extended adopted family, and my birth families and extended families as well as my husband’s family.

This is a declaration of the daughter’s bill of rights. It is a list that few people discuss and many people take for granted; if you live within a normal, blood- related family you will rarely encounter these barriers. But, if you are adopted, your rights, continuing into adulthood, remain compromised. It is quite easy for a male dominated court to determine that a human child who cannot speak nor write, nor hire an attorney to represent their own rights should have their rights removed and maligned for the sake of other adults, those who did conceive you, or cannot conceive. The practice is inhuman and wholly unfair to the children. Scientific research is opposed to the practice, as it is proven to invoke long term psychological damage to the child. Family members from the adopted side as well as the birth side don’t know what to do. I am a member of an adoptive family in which there were two adopted children both products of church accessed closed adoption in the 1960s. My adopted mother had several siblings that could

not conceive, so we had three adopted cousins. All quite hush-hush. I always aspired to be a good daughter; but it was an unachieveable goal. I worked extremely hard to be a good daughter and failed miserably. I wish I had known at 20 what I know now. It took society almost my entire life to begin the groundswell of truth surrounding adoption.

Thus, I courageously add to the movement. I’ve created the Daughter’s of Bill of Rights for my own declaration of independence, to elevate the reality of adoption for every adoptee and prospective adopted parent, in the hopes that the suffering will be understood and lessened for those following me until adoption can be eradicated and honor returned to families.

The Daughter’s Bill of Rights

Right to the TRUTH about what happened and why this child was given up for adoption
Right to be part of an ever-lasting family
Right to receive unconditional love by all family members

Right to know that I’m adopted
Right to counseling throughout my life with a counselor who understands adoption from my adult point of view, from the adoptees viewpoint
Right to my own real birth certificate
Right to reject a falsified birth certificate
Right to know my own real name
Right to change my name and use my own real name, or name I choose

Right to use that name as my identity, fragile as it is may be, and for others to refer to me as the name I choose
Right to know my birth families when its right for me
Right to know which family you’re a permanent part of

Right to a forever home
Right to know your family histories and to be a part of that history
Right to know your ancestry, your ancestral locations, to know where you’re from,
A right to choose which family and history feels most right to me, should I feel I have to or need to choose;
Right to be treated equally with other children in each family or extended family
Right to be treated equally by all adults of those families, to be held in esteem openly and outrightly, not quietly in secret, in shame.
Right to be invited to thanksgiving and Christmas dinners where family is celebrated;
Right to receive invitations to weddings of family members;
Right to attend weddings of family members;
Right to be in family pictures at those weddings;
Right to receive birth announcements;
Right to receive graduation announcements;
Right to attend graduations;

Right to receive notice of deaths in family; Right to receive invitations to funerals; Right to attend family celebrations;
Right to attend funerals;

Right to be seated with the family at those events
Right to inheritances in every one of my families, adopted and birth families;
Right to be accepted as a family member to those family members in hospitals and nursing homes;
Right to interact as a normal family member would and from time to time; to ask for emotional support, maybe even financial support;
Right to be informed when a family member is in the hospital;
Right to visit them as a family member in the hospital;
Right to be with a family member when they pass away;
Right to be treated like a family member at my death;
Right to be buried with my family;
Right to have society know the burden that is cast carelessly on adopted children;
Right to affect legislation to remove the burden from the child;
Right to have my birth family redeem the past, to break the cycle and include the adoptee and their other children equally
Right to be included by all

Right to be loved Right to be

For without all of these rights, society continues to degrade the child given up for adoption throughout their life with mistreatment and abandon, despite the intentions of love by the adopted family. While the birth parents ‘go on’ with their lives, and face their own demons, they often believe in forgetting the past. The child has no opportunity to forget, the issue is front and center every day. The child carries the burden their entire life, passing the pain into future generations, making that child pay dearly for the transgressions of their birth parents. I am a good daughter who was robbed, at birth, of my full potential. I was thoughtlessly tossed away like a piece of trash, unwanted. I was pre-meditatively sacrificed by at my birth by my birth family to save the reputation of my teenage mother. In doing so, I was cast into a world where my rights were forever changed. I was robbed of the opportunity that every other daughter has, to have emotional familial fulfillment, to fulfill the simplest of human needs to, in the end, be a good daughter to my parents.

What Every Adoptive Parent Should Know About Search & Reunion by Michael Grand Ph.D. and Monica Byrne

What Every Adoptive Parent Should Know About Search & Reunion by Michael Grand Ph.D. and Monica Byrne

Michael Grand, PhD, C.Psych
Professor Emeritus, Dept of Psychology, University of Guelph
mgrand@uoguelph.ca

And

Monica Byrne
National Director, Parent Finders Canada
monicabyrne@magma.ca

For more than 30 years, the two of us have helped to facilitate a myriad of reunions and reconnections between adoptees and their birth families. During this time, we have learned many things that adoptive parents must consider when their adult child begins the journey to discover the first chapter of life that took the adoptee from one family and led to the formation of a second family. We offer these lessons in the spirit of fostering closer ties between adoptees, and their birth and adoptive families.

For most adoptees, search is experienced as an expansion of a sense of self and not as a rejection of the adoptive family.

The first rule of search and reunion is that search is rarely about dissatisfaction with the adoptive family. The need to know about oneself and one’s roots is primal. In order to have a place in the world, we need to know, first of all, who we are. And if we are ‘shadowed’ by an unknown history, by a set of truths that we know little if anything about, then we may not develop to our full potential. If the adoptive family understands the importance of search for an adoptee’s sense of self, they will not fall victim to the myth that the adoptee is substituting one family for another. In most cases, search draws adoptees closer to the family that raised them and with whom they have had many years of shared experience.

Adoptive parents should support but not direct a search.

There is always a huge temptation for adoptive parents to move from showing support to taking control of a search. Searching can be challenging and will certainly bring out the detective in members of the family, but the fact remains, this is the adoptee’s search and must follow the adoptee’s pace. Adoptive parents may assist by providing information such as the Adoption Order, the social history of the birth family, papers from the agency, and communications from social workers, lawyers and doctors involved in the placement. In addition to sharing facts, adoptive parents are encouraged to support the adoptee through the emotional highs and lows of this process. We also strongly recommend the use of search and reunion support groups whose leaders are well versed in the dynamics of this process. Their skills and experience are invaluable.

When adoptive parents withhold information from an adoptee, this is rarely a sign of love and protection. Rather, it is a sign of two things: the adoptive parents’ lack of trust that the adoptee can make adult decisions; and their own fear that reunion will lead to loss of the adoptee to the birth family. Openness, on the other hand, is the foundation of a secure and loving adoptive relationship that will endure across reunion and reconnection.

There are too many examples of adoptees who learn late in life that they were adopted. Perhaps their parents withheld the truth out of kindness, perhaps out of fear of rejection, perhaps out of fear of public scrutiny. Whatever the reason, this is a very difficult thing for an adult adoptee to discover and to come to terms with. Sometimes they find out at the death of their parents and are completely devastated, believing that their whole life has been a lie. All their medical history is incorrect, all their family history has been fabricated. They truly feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under them. Remember, in the end, openness trumps secrecy every time, no matter what the adoption story.

Speaking ill of the birth family does not discourage adoptees from searching. In fact, the more an adoptive parent disparages the character or actions of the birth parent, the more adoptees desire to make contact with birth parents.

Some adoptive parents speak of birth family in negative terms in an attempt to bring the adoptee closer to the adoptive family. However, adoptees hear a different message: “the source of your DNA is bad and thus, so are you.” If adoptive parents wish to keep their children close, respectful conversation about origins is absolutely necessary.

In search and reunion, “no” often means “not yet” or “I can’t tell you.”

The dynamics of search and reunion are very complex. Sometimes adoptees publicly reject a search for fear of hurting their parents. For some, this means searching out of view of the adoptive parents. For others, it means delaying the search, even though the adoptee has a pressing need to discover more about origins. In neither case does this serve the best interests of either the adoptee or adoptive parents. To delay search or to engage in a clandestine search denies the adoptee the opportunity to receive the emotional support from adoptive parents that will help to mediate the stress of coming to terms with one’s history. Search is a normal developmental part of the adoption. Adoptive parents abrogate their responsibilities as parents if they are not available to assist their adult adopted children in this task.

Immediately following reunion, adoptees may become emotionally over-involved with the birth family, to the exclusion of the adoptive family. They may just as quickly retreat to the adoptive family for support and reassurance. They may have major changes in mood, particularly depression or anger which may be directed to anyone in the inner rings of the constellation. In response to these possibilities, adoptive parents may play many important roles.

This is where the adoptive family can really be helpful and supportive, not by being directive or analytical, but by being comforting and present. Sometimes the adoptee just needs time to assimilate new information or deal with a birth family far different than the one they fantasized about. There may be feelings of being let down. Alternatively, they may wish to spend every waking moment with their newly found relatives. If adoptive parents recognize these responses as an attempt to normalize what is so unique, and they can be emotionally available for their children, they will do much to cement their relationship.

If adoptees desire, adoptive parents may join adoptees in reconnecting with the
birth family. Successful integration of the two families requires stepping carefully
through several minefields.

Adoptive and birth families may differ in social class, ethnicity and life experiences, resulting in awkwardness in reading social cues. In some cases, adoptive and birth mothers make a quick and strong connection, leaving the adoptee to the side as the two mothers pursue their relationship. In the end, successful integration of the two families requires that each family recognize that search and reunion is about the adoptee feeling connected to the two families. Cognizance of this will help lead all to find a way to live together at an agreed upon pace.

All parties to the adoption must face and respond to loss across time. For birth parents, there is loss of the child they did not get to raise. For adoptive parents, there is the loss of the child that they never had. For adoptees, there is the loss of the self they might have been if circumstances had been different. Without search and reunion, adoptees also lose a full social, medical and genetic history that links them to their origins.

All participants in an adoption must face issues of loss that are accompanied by disenfranchised grief, the grief that is neither socially recognized nor whose amelioration is socially supported. For reunion and reconnection to work, there must be mutual recognition of such losses and support for each other while grieving. At this pivotal point of transition in the two families, competition over who has experienced the greatest loss will not serve anyone well. However, expressions of empathy will go a long way to achieving improved relationships.

A vast majority of adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents, rate search and reconnection as successful.

One of the most common questions asked of search and reunion specialists is “How many reunions are successful?” And the answer is “All of them”. That is, they are all successful because the initial effort was to find and know the missing family of origin. Whether the reunion develops into a reconnection that is marked by positive relationships is another matter and depends on many things: the willingness of the participants to work at it; their patience; and their willingness to accept difference and change. How could an adoptive parent, with the best interests of their child at heart, not wish for such potential riches?