Friday, November 14, 2008

Need for Post Adoption Sibling Visitation

Adoption gives birth to a new family for children in foster care
Rulhmann, Dandrea. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Nov. 13, 2008.

As a Family Court judge, I have the privilege of co-chairing, with Judge Gail Donofrio, Monroe County's celebration of National Adoption Day on Friday. National Adoption Day represents a day of promise and hope for 1,300 New York children in foster care awaiting permanent homes.

The chaos created by substance abuse, unaddressed mental illness or physical violence has left these children without safe, permanent homes. By definition these children have lost much, not the least of which is their connection to their biological brothers and sisters.

For me, growing up with three sisters has created a lifelong safety net, providing constant friends, confidants and support. Indeed a person's relationship with his or her siblings typically lasts longer than many other relationships, including those with parents. Not surprisingly, a child in foster care often reveals in court that he desperately misses his biological siblings.

New York Family Court regulations encourage contact between biological siblings before adoption, recognizing the importance of the sibling bond in developing a child's identity and well-being. Many adoptive parents unselfishly chose to continue that contact after the child's adoption is finalized. Some by acts of unconditional love adopt more than one child from the same biological family, refusing to separate them.

Yet these are real families, with myriad problems. Unfortunately, risks to health and safety may prevent an ongoing relationship between a child and his biological siblings. In these cases, adoptive brothers and sisters fill the developmental and emotional void for the adopted child. Adoptive siblings become family. In this way, adoption can bring unfathomable promise for every child in foster care.

Ruhlmann is a Monroe County Family Court judge and guest essayist

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