Closed Adoption Divides Calif. Teen from Family

Every holiday season, 17-year-old Jordain Rodriguez sends a note to two families she barely knows with a simple wish: She’d like to see her nieces and nephews.

Around the holidays and on each of the children’s birthdays, she writes emails to the two families who adopted her family members, asking for pictures, any recent updates and a chance to talk to them.

But while the children grow up, Rodriguez remains shut out.

Nearly three years ago, Rodriguez’s five nieces and nephews were adopted by two families in San Jose, Calif. The four oldest—now aged 8, 7, 6 and 5—went to one family. The youngest, just 2 years old, went to live with another family.

Because both of the adoptions are considered “closed,” Rodriguez is largely cut off from her nieces and nephews. As she struggles to remain a part of their lives, Rodriguez is angling to change the rights of foster youth and their families in the adoption system in California.

In a closed adoption, the adoptive family and the birth family do not know each other. Contact between the birth family and the children does not take place after the adoption has been finalized, and information about the adopted child’s birth family is sealed until the child turns 18.

For Rodriguez, contact with the families has been sporadic, despite promises of regular updates from the family that adopted three nieces and one of her nephews. Initially, they sent her pictures, but now contact is intermittent.

After several months of no contact at all, Rodriguez recently received a couple pictures from the adoptive parents with just a terse reply: “Sorry for the delay.”

Rodriguez with California Assemblymember Evan Low
Rodriguez with California Assemblymember Evan Low

“I’ll never get enough pictures,” Rodriguez said. “It’s hard when you don’t get a response. I miss them like crazy. If I emailed them every time I thought of the kids, I would email them a thousand times a day.”

Despite her young age, Rodriguez feels especially connected to the children. She helped her older sister raise the kids and was a steady presence in their lives.

“Their dad was in and out of jail for a lot of their lives so I would be the one who would wake up to make bottles, change diapers or watch the other kids while [their mother] was away with one of the kids,” she said.

She describes being in the hospital room for the birth of her first nephew as “the biggest moment of my life.”

But at age 13, life abruptly changed for Rodriguez. She was taken from her parents by child protective services and placed in relative foster care with her grandmother. Not long afterward, her nieces and nephews entered the system as well.

She remains haunted by the experience, especially when social workers arrived to take away some of the children.

“It was the worst thing I have ever had to do,” Rodriguez said. “They didn’t want to go, and they were scared to go in the car with a stranger.”

About a year later, the children were placed with an adoptive family, and Rodriguez and other family members—including her parents, her brother, her boyfriend and both of her sisters—were allowed a final visit before the children disappeared into the adoptive system.

“We didn’t tell the kids it was the last visit, but you could tell they knew this was the last time,” she said. “They were all upset. You could just tell.

“After the visit, I was very mad that I couldn’t do anything to keep them with me and that I had no say so about what the parents decided. I started crying a lot. It just broke my heart to see them leave.”

During the process, she worked with the Real Family Project to create a video about her story and listened to the experiences of adults who had been adopted in childhood. Issues like grief, abandonment and identity development may often follow adoptees into adulthood, leading to unresolved trauma long after an adoption occurs.

“I didn’t think that the hurt would stay with them so long after the adoption,” Rodriguez said. “It opened my eyes. Without answers, kids are always going to wonder where their families are.”

Still, Rodriguez remains conflicted about what would happen if she ran into her older nieces and nephews in San Jose, where they all live.

“If was in a store and I saw them and they didn’t already see me, I’m not sure I would let them see me,” she said. “What is that going to do to the 8-year-old or the 5-year-old, to see their aunt and then never see her again because the parents aren’t even going to change their minds?

“That’s going to hurt them.”

But Rodriguez is not content to let fate handle matters or wait until her nieces and nephews reach 18, when they’ll be able to access information about their biological family if they wish. In February, along with other CYC members, Rodriguez will make a visit to the state capitol in Sacramento, where she’ll present some of her research to legislators in support of a bill to better protect the rights of family members in the adoption process.

“In closed adoptions, [adoptive parents] have all the power,” Rodriguez said. “The biggest thing is not making this just about siblings. It needs to be about all of the biological family. If they’re a good influence on the kids and if they have good intentions, [the law] shouldn’t just let adoptive parents rip them away.”

But for now, Rodriguez is trying to focus on her own life. Living at her grandmother’s house, she is working hard to stay in school and thinking about her future—maybe she’ll become a social worker, a detective, or even join the Navy.

Rodriguez received some good news this holiday season. After sending an email to the family who adopted her 2-year-old nephew, she received an immediate response, and an opportunity to see him again.

The day after Christmas, Rodriguez met with the family at a park for about an hour. The visit went well, with the parents filling her in about the progress of her youngest nephew. The toddler has just taken his first steps, leaving Rodriguez delighted that she was able to witness an important milestone.

She is cautiously optimistic that she will have another opportunity to see her nephew again in the near future, but she is dependent on the family to allow further contact.

“I hope I can see him again soon—maybe in a few weeks—but adoption is a really complicated situation,” she said.

Rodriguez says she won’t stop her steady stream of emails to the family that adopted her other four nieces and nephews. She knows that a visit with them is not very likely at this point, but Rodriguez wants them to know that she’s out there and that she hasn’t stopped trying to see them, despite the lack of interest from their adoptive parents.

“They’re just waiting for me to give up and stop emailing, and that’s not going to happen,” she said.

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Jeremy Loudenback
About Jeremy Loudenback 315 Articles
Jeremy is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

11 Comments

  1. Decision-makers — in this case CPS and the adoptive parents of Jordain’s nieces and nephews — must be persuaded to honor all connections the child has. In the interest of safety, closed adoption uses a hatchet to sever ties when it would be more appropriate to use the discretion and precision of a scalpel. Surely having contact with Jordain would not harm the children — in fact maintaining this connection would likely help the children heal from their trauma.

    I wish these decision-makers would read Chapter 8 in my book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption. It’s dedicated to exactly this — openness in foster situations. Doing so could help guide the adoptive parents from an Either/Or mindset (to legitimize one family, we must negate the other) to a Both/And heartset (our child’s heart is big enough for him to love all his parts).

    Here’s a post by Addison Cooper, a social worker in foster care, on how to have openness in a foster situation ( http://lavenderluz.com/2015/09/open-foster-adoption.html ). I wish Jordain well in her quest to change the system and reunite with her family members — for all their sakes.

  2. Decision-makers — in this case CPS and the adoptive parents of Jordain’s nieces and nephews — must be persuaded to honor all connections the child has. Closed adoption uses a hatchet to sever ties in the interest of safety, when it would be more appropriate to use the precision of a scalpel. Surely having contact with Jordain would not harm the children — in fact it would likely help the children heal from their trauma to maintain this connection.

    I wish these decision-makers would read Chapter 8 in my book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption. It’s dedicated to exactly this. It could help guide the adoptive parents from an Either/Or mindset (to legitimize one family, we must negate the other) to a Both/And heartset (our child’s heart is big enough for him to love all his parts). http://www.amazon.com/Open-Hearted-Way-Open-Adoption-Helping/dp/1442217383/

    Here’s a post by Addison Cooper, a social worker in foster care, on how to have openness in a foster situation (http://lavenderluz.com/2015/09/open-foster-adoption.html). I wish Jordain well in her quest to change the system and reunite with her family members — for all their sakes.

  3. It’s disgusting what they do to families in this country. I wanted my grandchildren but the state of Michigan decided they needed to be adopted out. The foster parents were cited for spanking, putting hot sauce in their mouths, teaching them not to say what happens at their house and many other things yet it was determined by those in a position to make money from their adoption that this is in their best interests. The federal government funding promotes this destruction of children and families to the tune of billions that is paid for with our tax dollars. I am licensed for foster care, I am a registered nurse and I work in a pediatric ER but am allowed no contact with my 4 grandchildren. I miss them every day! The corruption through out this industry must be stopped. #PureMichigan #EndAdoptionWelfare #Taken

  4. I adopted my 4 nieces and nephews from CPS, but two others were placed elsewhere over my objections. The children were my sister’s children but I barely knew her prior to this. Over the years, my children knew they had two mothers and as they got older were allowed contact with their first mother as appropriate to their needs. I am deeply grateful to this arrangement as my sister died suddenly of a severe asthma attack. Yes, on occasion it caused me difficulty but so what. The adoptive parent of the other two, children who I had known well, refused all contact. Yet biology is so strong, one of my kids made contact with the siblings on social media and they chat happily. In fact we made contact with a former foster parent of theirs. All with good, positive results.
    Coincidentally, I was reunited with a wonderful son I was forced to adoption during the Baby Scoop Era. We have had visits back and forth that have included extended family on both sides. I and my children have delighted in the opportunity. To me, being an adoptive parent is an obligation to the child, a gift that in sharing only expands. Secrets and lies destroy relationships, and sharing strengths them.

    • Social media is why adoptions have to be honest and separated siblings should not be told their sibling has died or have their existence covered up.

      I think with social media, the era of closed adoption is over. I have heard stories of teenagers making contact with birth parents of a closed adoption (perhaps the child remembered their names all along) or their siblings before they are 18! Sometimes this has lead to phone numbers and addresses being exchanged or visits not authorized by CPS! Before the social worker finds out, the identifying contact info is now in each others long term memory!

      Children have to know the accurate version of their life story using age appropriate vocabulary and the real reasons they could not stay with their parents. You cannot safely say in the social media age that someone was a nice person when in fact they were a criminal and a sex offender, for example. The children have to understand the truth now.

      Social workers should instead focus on if a child wants more contact at a younger age than letters in the mail, to find a safe way to make it happen rather than ignore the child’s opinion. For example, it might be safer to set up an occasional dinner or talk in a public place with a higher risk relative with supervision, at a time when it is busy than going into their house, for example.

  5. I just found out yesterday that the age is 21 not 18. My granddaughter was taken by CPS and adopted through Catholic charities and only her mother (drug addict) can register to try to make contact at 21. Only then if her daughter seeks the info will that be passed along. Grandparents have no rights. My granddaughter is a senior (hopefully) in high school. I am concerned about her college plans. Does she need help? We all miss her and are crushed that another 3 years will go by without any knowledge of her!

    • Sometimes people make contact unofficially other ways via Facebook or Google. Sometimes searching for a known friend of hers and looking in their friends list and regonizing her picture can find her new name. Send a friend request. Have it accepted, and then you can exchange phone numbers or addresses. This can happen long before she is 21.

  6. This is so sad and strange, Where we live in Canada, all adoptions from foster care are open adoptions. We are adopting a boy and will be maintaining weekly visits with his grandma, monthly visits with his aunt and cousins, periodic visits with his birth mom when she is up to it but also regular email updates, and visits with his sister who was adopted by a different family and lives 3 hours away – she was adopted at a time he was not available for adoption. Those visits will happen a couple times a year. We strongly believe that birth family contact is the best way to support a growing child and makes for a healthier adoption experience. The stories of closed adoptions in the US is bizarre. I know some birth families can be toxic but even in that case they get updates. If the child is aboriginal, there is also a culture plan to maintain contact with their Nation and visit their Elders and extended family and take part in their cultural practices. I hope this girl gets contact with the nieces and nephews – it sounds like it would just add to their life, not complicate it.

  7. I personally believe when children are adopted out via CPS, if siblings have to be separated, the adoptive families should be legally mandated to maintain regular contact and visits between the children and the same can be said for any family that was involved in the childrens’ lives. I don’t want to hear about the adoptive parents’ parental rights…..they’re adopting children who know full well they have other family. Adopters don’t get to say “well, legally they’re nothing to you now, so too bad so sad”.

    I hope this young woman is able to force the adopters to maintain contact with her nieces and nephews. The families that took them have an obligation to maintain family connections for these children.

    Next time she sees them while out and about, she needs to make sure the kids see her. Let the selfish adopters explain why they won’t allow contact.

    • Any time there is an adoption the child should know their biological family. There are things the adoptive family just cannot provide like biological mirroring (people who look like the child), medical history, genealogical history, etc. Adoption is NOT the same thing as having your own child and the sooner adopters figure this out the better it will be for everyone. No more power games. If you want your own child, HAVE your own child. If you can’t have your own child, don’t take it out on total strangers as you take their kids. The vast majority of relinquished parents, even the drug addicts, would raise their own kids if they could. This is NOT an issue of “unwanted children” for the most part.

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