Monday, May 17, 2010

Openness Agreement: Part 5

And so with much help and input, and a special thank you to my friend Brenda Romanchik at Open Adoption Insight we came up with an agreement that met both the girls' needs for stability, the parents desires for visitation, and our need for safe boundaries.   There was a reason for every point, for every section.  Although we fully believe that when things are going well we will have more than one visit every two months, we needed to address the reality that when things AREN'T going well the parents are still guaranteed a visit every two months.  In the end this agreement, our honesty, made it possible for the parents to make a decision they could be happy about.

Communication Agreement

We, __________________, and ______________ mutually agree to enter into this good faith communication agreement. We understand that the basis of this agreement is a belief that it is in the best interest of the children, Taya and Jayde, to have continued contact with their biological parents, siblings and any appropriate extended family while still maintaining the stability and permanence of their placement in the family of ___________________. The best interests of the children, including their emotional, physical and spiritual health will take precedence during all interactions between all parties.

We hereby agree that the basic standard for communication between Shel & Jen  (hereafter referred to as Permanent Guardians) and Mom / Dad  (hereafter referred to as Biological Parent) regarding Taya and Jayde  (hereafter referred to as The Children) will be as follows:

#1) One goal of the Permanent Guardians will be to maintain openness in the relationship based on the appropriateness of the Biological Parent. Each relationship with the individual Biological Parent will be considered separately. The private life and activities of the Biological Parent will only be considered if it affects The Children.

#2) The Permanent Guardians agree to make a phone number, an email address and home address available to each Biological Parent so long as they are appropriate and it is safe to do so. In turn, the Biological Parent agrees to maintain this information in confidence and not provide it to anyone without the express permission of a Permanent Guardian. Biological Parent agrees to provide a contact phone number and email address to the Permanent Guardians. All parties agree to keep the other informed of future changes in contact information.

#3) The Permanent Guardians agree to facilitate a minimum of six (6) supervised visits per calendar year between The Children and Biological Parent for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012. One visit will be made available during each two month period (Dec/Jan, Feb/Mar, April/May, June/July, Aug/Sept, Oct/Nov) but will not accumulate. Effective 2013 and forward, a minimum of four (4) supervised visits each calendar year will be facilitated. One visit will be made available during each three month period (Jan-Mar, April – June, July – Sept, Oct – Dec) but will not accumulate. The Permanent Guardians and Biological Parent consent to the visits being held in a home or an appropriate public venue based on a mutual agreement. Visits will normally be scheduled to be 2 to 4 hours in length. This visit schedule will be renegotiated in good faith should either party move out of the greater *local city* area.

#4a) It is understood that the Permanent Guardians may choose to invite the Biological Parent to attend additional family events such as special occasions, outings or holidays with prior arrangements. All stipulations regarding visits apply in these circumstances and these additional visits are at the sole discretion of the Permanent Guardians. It is understood that there may be extra people in attendance at these visits (extended family members and/or friends of the Permanent Guardians and/or The Children) and the purpose of these visits will be the event in attendance rather than the primary objective of visits. (an example of this would be birthday parties, beach days, sports events, school plays etc)

#4b) Regularly scheduled visits and / or additional visit requests will be initiated by the Biological Parent and will be scheduled for a time, location and length that is convenient for all parties, with the best interests of The Children taking precedence. There will be a minimum of 48 hours from requested visitation to a scheduled visit to allow Permanent Guardians to prepare The Children for the visit. It is understood that the Permanent Guardians will attempt to accommodate visit requests and the Biological Parent will be understanding of scheduling conflicts. The goal of visitation will be to be flexible and respectful of the children’s activities, family life and relationships.

#5) The Biological Parent agrees that there shall be no illegal drugs or alcohol consumed by the Biological Parent prior to the visit or during the visit or the visit will be terminated at the discretion of the Permanent Guardians and all future visits suspended until Biological Parent has completed treatment. Visits will not occur at Correctional Facilities or Treatment Centres.

#6) The primary objective of these scheduled visits is to facilitate and maintain a relationship between the Biological Parents and The Children, but it is mutually understood that the Biological Parent may request that extended family members participate in a visit. The Biological Parent agrees to inform the Permanent Guardians a minimum of 48 hours prior to a scheduled visit of any extended family members/and or friends that will be in attendance at visits. The Biological Parent agrees to ensure that any extended family members and/or friends requested to be in attendance will comply with the following criteria: must not be a registered sex offender, must not have any recent history of violence or criminal activity (3 years), must not be suspected of being intoxicated or under the influence of an illegal substance, must not have any prior convictions of domestic violence, weapons charges, or child abuse charges, must be willing to be respectful and appropriate to all parties in attendance at visits. Failure to do so will mean that future visits will be restricted to the Biological Parent only.

#7) A Permanent Guardian will supervise all visits and it is understood that the Permanent Guardians will terminate any visit should they deem the actions of attending parties to be inappropriate or continuing the visit to not be in the best interest of The Children. This would include but is not exclusively limited to threats or actual violence, drug use, criminal activity or the children displaying extreme distress during the visit. Further visits would be suspended pending mediation.

#8) The Permanent Guardians agree to provide an email update with a minimum of three (3) pictures of The Children on a monthly basis to the Biological Parent for the next 36 months, and quarterly thereafter. These pictures may include other members of the Permanent Guardian’s family. Digital copies of pictures will be provided annually.

#9) The Biological Parent will be invited to phone the Permanent Guardian weekly at anytime that would be considered appropriate (during day time hours) for an update on The Children, or to email as desired.

#10) It is understood that the Permanent Guardians do believe that contact with Biological Parent(s) is currently in The Children’s best interest and do hold dear to the values of Open Communication. The Children’s preferences will be considered in regards to visitation once she / they have reached the age to make an informed decision (approx. age 10) at the discretion of her/their Permanent Guardians. Her/their preferences will not alter the previous agreement of email or phone contact between the Permanent Guardians and Biological Parent(s) until The Children reach the age of 19. The Biological Parent agrees that until The Children are of the age of majority (19) that all direct contact (including phone, text, email etc.) between The Children and the Biological Parent will only be arranged with the informed consent of the Permanent Guardians.

#11) The Permanent Guardians agree to encourage and be supportive of a relationship between The Children and their Biological Parents. The Biological Parent agrees to be supportive in conversations to The Children of all parenting decisions made by the Permanent Guardians (including but not limited to health care, education, discipline, place of residence) and understands it is the sole responsibility of the Permanent Guardians to make such decisions. The Permanent Guardians will be referred to as The Parents of the children using terms such as Mom/Dad/Parents. The Biological Parent will be referred to as the Mother/Father of The Children using such terms as Mama /Inkwol or another term of endearment of the Biological Parent’s choosing. It is mutually agreed that at all times this parenting agreement will be referred to as permanent and at no time will The Children be made to feel that either their place of residency with the Permanent Guardians or their contact with their Biological Parent is temporary.

#12) All parties agree that maintaining The Children’s connection to their Chilcotin heritage is very important. The Permanent Guardians commit to making reasonable efforts to provide opportunities for The Children to be exposed to and learn about their traditional heritage and language. The Biological Parent agrees to be supportive of this process and provide reasonable support in this endeavour.

#13 ) We understand that this is a working agreement based on the development of our relationships over time and it may require modification due to time and circumstance. We realize that this agreement is not legally binding, but is to be upheld in good faith and with mutual respect. We agree to review and rewrite this agreement if necessary on a yearly basis, to be reviewed on or around the beginning of February of each year based on the request of either party. If no review is necessary, the current agreement will carry forward. If we encounter difficulties in the interpretation, application or modification of the agreement, we all agree to ask for the assistance of a mutually agreed upon mediator in resolving any such difficulties.

Signed on ___________________________________________


Unknown said...

I'm curious to find out why the number of visits decrease over time. I'm not asking this to be ugly in any sense so PLEASE don't take it that way. I'm truly interested in know the rationale behind it if you can share it with us. We recently adopted our three kids from foster care. While it won't be possible to have visits with the parents, I have been pondering it with some extended family members. However, there is so little information to be found on openness in foster adoptions. They are not pushing for it because I think they are waiting to follow our lead and don't want to over step boundaries, etc. So right now, I'm trying to get a good grasps on the situation. I'm glad I foundy your blog (can't believe I am just now finding it) and I appreciate your recent threads on openness.


Anonymous said...

GREAT, GREAT guidelines! Good for you for doing that ... for everyone's sake. Thanks for sharing!
Maria (TDKOL)

Unknown said...

Glitter ... we based the agreement on a "worst case scenario" to a certain degree. We wanted to guarantee her that no matter how bad things were (and I am leaving some stuff out here) that she was guaranteed at least a visit every two months, which so far is what she has wanted before we wrote this agreement and she was working towards reunification.

If things are going GOOD then we will probably do far more than one visit every two months (quite literally we are in the same neighbourhood, at least part of the time).

HOWEVER -- if things stay "bad" or "difficult" situationally for mom or dad, I wanted the option of reducing the number of visits by the times the girls entered school age. #1 - because it will be more difficult emotionally for them if their parents are still in a not great place by that age, and #2 - alot less free time for all of us. Right now visits often take place during the day while the boys are in school etc. Once the girls are in school, our time will be alot less (school, after school activities, sports etc).

Our HOPE is that we will have far more than 4 visits a year, but we wanted her to know that even if things stayed difficult she was at least guaranteed that. Dad so far is choosing to not visit.

Katrina said...

Jen, Thanks again for the post. I really enjoy reading them. I just erased my half-page description of what is going on with our visits because I realized I voluntarily come to your blog to read your story and that your don't necessarily want to read mine. So I will keep this short and let you know that in my heart we are friends and you give me great advise and we have so much in common. You understand me like no one else close to me does. I have been searching for so long for a blog that deals with foster care open adoption and there is not much on it. So God bless you for being my blog friend even if it is just in my own head and keep giving me great advice in your blogs.