Methods: The Vermont Permanency Survey was developed and sent to all families with children in the state of Vermont whose parents or guardians received an adoption or guardianship assistance agreement subsidy. Using a descriptive cross-sectional design, all families with children who met those qualifications were invited to participate in the study. Parents and guardians were asked to answer questions about one child in their home, referred to as the “identified child.” The identified child was randomly selected by the evaluators when parents or guardians were receiving a subsidy for more than one child. The survey was completed online or on paper depending on the needs of the family. Assertive outreach methods included mailings, phone calls and emails along with compensation. A total of 809 caregivers completed the survey resulting in a 55% response rate. Descriptive statistics were analyzed.
Results: The majority of caregivers indicated they were very comfortable (67%) or somewhat comfortable (25%) answering questions about their child’s birth family history. Most caregivers (75%) indicated they either never or less than monthly initiated conversations about adoption or guardianship with their child. Similarly, most caregivers (74%) indicated their child brought up adoption or guardianship never or less than monthly. In the past six months, when contact with a birth parent or sibling was possible, 48% of caregivers reported their child had no contact with their birth mother, 66% reported their child had no contact with their birth father, and 45% reported their child had no contact with their birth siblings living outside the home. When asked about the importance of birth family contact, 42% of caregivers indicated that it was not at all important for their child to have contact with their birth mother, 54% indicated it was not at all important for their child to have contact with their birth father, and 19% indicated that it was not at all important for their child to have contact with their birth siblings living outside the home. Less than half (43%) of caregivers indicated their child’s contact with a birth sibling was either “very” or “extremely” important.
Conclusion: Findings suggest that despite the movement to more openness in adoption, families are not openly addressing adoption nor are they having contact with birth family members. The lack of value caregivers place on birth parents suggests unresolved issues that may impact family dynamics. Because adoption and guardianship are complicated life-long journeys, families formed by adoption and guardianship need support to communicate and support healthy contact with birth families.