Using Technology to Connect with Birth Family and Culture

When I became an adoptive parent, I heard a lot about the importance of understanding and celebrating your child’s culture, heritage and birth family. Ideally, children will be connected to their past and current family members through open adoption, but sometimes this isn’t possible and children have semi-open or closed adoptions.

In open adoption adoptive families have direct contact with their child’s birth family through in-person visits, phone calls or letters — thus allowing relationships to develop and allow for the direct transmission of family culture, larger cultural and racial understanding.

In semi-open adoptions, letters and photos are sent back and forth through an intermediary, generally by the agency that helped facilitate the adoption. But, we know that agencies close, change offices (and thus addresses) and have staff turnover that can cause messages, updates and photos to be missed. Technology can be a better, more predictable way to connect, no matter if your adoption is open or semi-open.

In closed adoptions, there is very little or no contact between adoptive parents and birth parents. This is often the case in international adoption, and more rarely in domestic infant adoptions. The adoption might be closed because of the birth parents lack of access to technology (in some international adoptions), or due to the birth parents decision (in more recent domestic adoptions), due to birth parents not knowing ongoing contact is an option (in coressive adoption placements), or due to safety concerns (most often in foster care adoptions).

No matter the adoptive family constellation, contact agreement or how it was formed — international, domestic, foster care — voluntary or involuntary, technology can be our greatest tool in facilitating ongoing connection.

I am a PRO open adoption and as much birth family contact as is possible, there are many ways to make it possible. However, for some, in-person cultural experiences as well as tangible contact with birth family is limited, either because of safety issues or distance.

Direct Contact – Open or Semi-Open Adoption

To connect with birth family members (including birth parents grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.), there are many contact options using technology: email, private blog, Shutterfly share site or Facebook. Each of these can be used as a venue for sharing photos, funny stories and updates along the way.

If safety is a barrier, you can STILL use all these options, but I do recommend creating a separate, non-identifying Facebook and email account for yourself that you use ONLY to communicate with birth family.

If your child’s adoption is currently semi-open or closed, I encourage you to keep the idea of openness available. We know that technology has also made truly closed adoptions rare. From DNA testing, search angels, to your child searching their birth parents names on Google, adoptions rarely stay closed, even if they start that way. The Twilight of Closed Adoptions

Knowing this and the importance of openness, I did a search for my daughters birth parents and reached out via Facebook and ended up opening an adoption that was initially closed. It has helped answer so many questions my daughter has had along the way and lead to many in-person connections as well as online.

Shutterfly

Our Shutterfly site was a main source of communication with relatives living farther away. It enabled me to share photos and videos and see if they had been seen by the family members. It was nice to know they had gotten the update even if they didn’t respond. Make a private Shutterfly share site, with Shutterfly Share sites, you can create a free photo-sharing website in minutes. Use your Share site to privately (or publicly) share photos, videos, updates and messages with friends and family.

Facebook

Facebook is another powerful tool for connection. You can have more than one Facebook account, and its very possible to have a non-identifying, private account. Create a new Facebook Account and how to Make Your Facebook Private.

One adoptive family I spoke with did just this. “I have a separate Facebook account that is connected to my children’s birth families. Right now the birth families are still hurting, so my posts are only frequent enough to let them know the kids are well cared for and happy. I have found that communicating too much pushes them away.”

On birthdays, I usually check in. Sometimes I get a response and sometimes I don’t. I’m respectful of where they are in their journey.  Using this open, yet confidential method, adoptive parents can choose how much to share, while still leaving the door open for future communication, such as in person visits or phone calls, if birth families’ circumstances change.

No Direct Contact – Closed Adoptions

For all families, including those whose child’s birth family is unknown or for whom direct contact is not possible, in circumstances of international adoption or transracial adoption, you can always connect with your child’s culture or country of origin online.

Google

Starting with the simple search line, type in your child’s country, city or state of origin, language or cultural background and start exploring. If my child was from India, I could type, “India” “History of India,” “Current events India,” and so on and so on. From there you will be connected to current news events, videos, images and links to various websites that you can visit to learn more. As I did this for my situation, I was amazed at the wealth of information that poured from my screen.

Documentaries

Another tool is watching documentaries about your child’s birth country, city, state or racial background, many of which provide a window into history and provide your entire family with a framework in which to place birth family connections. 

Steven Spielberg said, “I think documentaries are the greatest way to educate an entire generation that doesn’t often look back to learn anything about the history that provided a safe haven for so many of us today.” 

Starting with google, search for documentaries on your child’s birth country, city or state — “Documentary about India,” for example.  Be intentional about watching these together as a family after you have previewed them, then setting aside a time to discuss what you’ve seen.

Local newspapers

And while the history of your child’s country, city, state and culture is significant, remember to keep up with current events as well. These can be found through online newspapers by searching “newspapers in India” and/or setting Google alerts. Either option offers a wonderful window into the day-to-day happenings in the country,country, city, state or culture that you designate.

Culture / Heritage Camps

Okay, this one isn’t technology based, but another way to connect to your child’s birth culture is to attend a heritage camp. There are camps that are open to only the adoptee, and some that are open to the whole family (with educational training for the adoptive parents and siblings).

“Heritage camp is a wonderful way to support healthy identity development in international and domestic adoptees.  If you’re raising an adopted child please consider heritage camp. It is a unique experience that allows adoptees to spend 4 days a year with families just like theirs and kids, counselors and adults who mirror their racial, ethnic and adopted identities.” (source)


As an adoptive family, we have regular visits with local birth family and are involved in a diverse church, attend culture camps and cultural events whenever possible. However, I still rely on technology to make sure those connections remain strong and that both my daughter and I continue to grow in our knowledge of her birth family and culture.

I challenge you to explore these options and how they apply to your own situation. Then decide which ones fit best for your family and the dynamics of your relationship, so your daily world can be one step closer to that of your child’s birth family and culture through the thoughtful use of technology in your everyday life.

Resources:

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*Portions originally posted as “Birth Family Connections Through Technology” in AdoptionToday, March 2016

Published by Alisa Matheson, Attempting Agape

I’m Alisa Matheson. Previously a foster parent, an educator, recruiter for teens aging out of the foster care system. I became a full-time contractor and photographer in 2019. I love coffee, deep conversations, snuggles with my kid and justice on the street. I welcome you to share in my journey.

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