Adoption and Polyamory
April 17, 2013 5:16 PM   Subscribe

What are the chances an openly polyamorous couple could adopt an older child from the foster system?

I posted this on /r/polyamory and got some good info, but I'm hoping I might get a few other perspectives.

Our daughter is 4 now, and like many moms do once their little ones are walking and talking, I've been thinking about having another one. Pregnancy is not an option for me for a couple of reasons, so if we did want to expand our family, we'd have to adopt.

I've always been open to the idea of adoption, and the idea of adopting an older child from the foster system is especially appealing. I had a pretty rough childhood myself, so I feel I'm especially qualified to deal with the unique challenges this sort of adoption can bring.

My question is, does anyone have experience with adoption or fostering while openly or semi-openly poly? I have been scouring the internet for information or encouragement, and turning up nothing. I've only been able to find people who either adopted before their relationship opened up, or who just didn't mention polyamory during the process. Just keeping my mouth shut isn't really a good idea for two reasons:

1) We're not exactly stealthy. Husband has a girlfriend, and I have a boyfriend. We don't hide things from our daughter (with age-appropriateness in mind--we only hold hands or cuddle in front of her) and we wouldn't do so with a second child, either. There has even been some talk of buying a two-family building with my boyfriend and his wife, with perhaps some amount of shared living space. The fact that we're poly is likely to come out sometime during the homestudy process.

2) More importantly, trust can be a HUGE issue for kids adopted from the foster system. They've often been abused, neglected, and have had very little permanency in their lives. If we wanted to stay "under the radar," we would either have to hide things from the child (leading to issues later when they inevitably found out or figured it out), or ask the child to lie and/or conceal things for us ("Oh, he's just a friend of the family."). Neither of these would be healthy for the child.

To be clear: we are interested in adoption only, NOT fostering. We would not be able to handle bonding with a child and then having to give it up, so we would only be considering children whose parents have already terminated parental rights.

So...has anyone tried to adopt while being open about being poly? I would love to hear about it, whether it was successful or not.
posted by tomatofruit to Law & Government (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Where do you live? (country and state/province)
posted by aroberge at 5:44 PM on April 17, 2013

Given consistency and trust is such a big deal for foster kids I would worry about having a rotating cast of intimately-involved adults in and out of the family sphere. It sounds like you guys are in committed relationships with other people now, but it also sounds like they aren't meant to be permanent.

I mean, it's recommended that single dating parents try to not bring boyfriends/girlfriends around their kids (foster or otherwise) unless it's clear there is long-term marriage-type potential there. So polyamory just adds to the number of partners and complications for the kid. Your daughter is raised in this environment and so is used to it. An older foster kid is decidedly not, and would already be inured to many of the social mores about two-parent families and whatnot. It is a big thing to put on a kid who very likely already has trouble viewing relationships as anything but transient and fraught with mistrust.

Anyway, this is definitely stuff the caseworker is going to bring up, even if they're incredibly open to this sort of thing. So you will have to think about how you're going to address this.
posted by schroedinger at 5:46 PM on April 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

I am not poly, but the best resource for you at this time might be a pro-poly couples therapist. First, to help you and your partner work through some pre-adoption stuff, and also to help you navigate the process, with each other, with "the system" and of course, with a potential child.

Bonus, also with your daughter, who may have some tough questions once she gets to school/interacts with other kids.

As others have mentioned above, your jurisdiction is going to impact the process a great deal, as far as laws, social support, open mindedness of workers, availability of various agencies, so generic, "we adopted, no problem," advice is not going to take you very far.
posted by bilabial at 5:52 PM on April 17, 2013

Are your partners on board? They're probably going to need to be vetted during the homestudy.
posted by desjardins at 5:57 PM on April 17, 2013

aroberge: We live in Missouri--not exactly a liberal bastion, but we are in one of the major urban areas, and there is a thriving poly community here.

schroedinger: Definitely important stuff to keep in mind, and we have the same opinions about dating--we absolutely do not bring home casual dates, nor talk about them with our daughter. My single mother brought home a lot of men she'd only dated a short time, and it caused a lot of confusion for me. I never knew who which ones were going to stick around. Boyfriend and I are definitely long-term, with marriage-level commitment. Husband and Girlfriend are less serious, but also definitely long-term.

bilabial: That's a really good idea. I'm a big proponent of couples therapy, and involving our daughter could definitely help with the transition.

desjardins: It's all very theoretical at this point, but yes, making sure other partners are on board would be a must before we got started. I have talked to Boyfriend about it, and he's got some concerns, but is not against it. Lots of discussions involving all of us and how it would change our lives would certainly take place.
posted by tomatofruit at 6:24 PM on April 17, 2013

> More importantly, trust can be a HUGE issue for kids adopted from the foster system. They've often been abused, neglected, and have had very little permanency in their lives. If we wanted to stay "under the radar," we would either have to hide things from the child (leading to issues later when they inevitably found out or figured it out), or ask the child to lie and/or conceal things for us ("Oh, he's just a friend of the family."). Neither of these would be healthy for the child.

I am all kinds of pro- on open/poly relationship models, but I also am close with children who have been adopted from foster care, and I have to say that your concerns are more than valid -- even if the child had no abuse or neglect and only had terrific foster parents. I'd suggest seeking out all the sessions/seminars you can find in your area for parents considering adopting out of foster care, and hearing more from parents about their experiences and where emotional development issues cropped up unexpectedly. Maybe you'll come away feeling more strongly that this is right for you, maybe you'll decide that it doesn't feel right for you.

Also, I think that you're going to have a tough time for a reason that sucks, but here it is: your little girl is aware that you have a boyfriend and your husband has a girlfriend. Irrespective of the boundaries on behavior in front of her, regardless of the way that she actually understands the situation, there's the risk of that all getting pushed aside by "ZOMG small child is not panicked and grossed out by awareness of her parents' sex lives. And with others?! SUSPICIOUS." One reason that some people are wary to consider adoption or talk about it is that they're afraid of someone calling child protective services and having their own kids taken away.

My first thought was asking if you would consider modifying your relationship labels/descriptions to imply something more normative and less "alternative lifestyle," but I am not suggesting that you do anything that, to you, feels like lying.
posted by desuetude at 9:14 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

schroedinger, there's nothing in the question about relationships that "aren't meant to be permanent."


1) Diana Adams is a brilliant poly-activist lawyer who focuses on family law; she can direct you to resources in Missouri and other poly families who've done this, if anyone can.

2) Consider asking on the polyfamilies, ExpansiveLoving, and Loving More lists.

3) The poly community around you is going to be your best resource for thinking about relating to local authorities. Anecdotes from them will be much, much more valuable than any from people who live elsewhere. I don't know your area. But there's a chance you might be pleasantly surprised at what a caseworker will find logical. (My family is an openly poly triad of two moms and one dad, with other long-term loves outside the triad. We live in the suburbs north of Philadelphia, an area not known for any special progressiveness. We've experienced complete support from all our son's teachers, pediatricians, acquaintances, etc. -- almost none of whom had ever heard of such a thing before meeting us.)
posted by kalapierson at 11:20 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It will ultimately come down what is reported in your Home Study (and how thorough the person is who does your Home Study) Most certainly, your will be required to answer questions about your current relationship(s), so it will be completely up to you as to how detailed you want to be in your answers.

Right now, you would be adopting as a single person who happens to have a committed boyfriend. A good home study would interview him, too. Honestly, I think if you have any desire to make the adoption happen, I'd keep all poly activity/mentions under-wraps for the time being. It may seem like lying, but that's also reality, unfortunately.

My wife works for an adoption agency (not in MO) and I can ask her what their Home Study recommendation would be if they discovered an adoption candidate was engaged in poly relationships. I'm not sure they've ever encountered such a situation.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:08 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

[Comment deleted. Reminder, the specific question is "does anyone have experience with adoption or fostering while openly or semi-openly poly?" Please stick to answers that help with this question; thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:04 AM on April 18, 2013

desuetude: Excellent point, that is definitely a thing to keep in mind. I'm less worried about this than I used to be, since the older my kid gets, the easier it is to tell from talking to her that she is happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. But it is important to remember that polyamory is not fully accepted, and though it's rare, people certainly have had their kids taken away for pretty ridiculous reasons.

kalapierson: Those are some great suggestions, thank you! There is a local poly discussion group that would be a great place to bring up some of these questions.

Thorzdad: To be clear (I realize now it was only incidentally mentioned in my question), I am married to the father of my daughter. We have a stable marriage of 11 years, so the situation is "married couple with an alternative lifestyle," rather than "single woman with a long-term boyfriend." I would be very interested in hearing what your wife has to say on this. A perspective from someone inside the system would be very helpful!
posted by tomatofruit at 6:31 AM on April 18, 2013

tomatofruit...I've been messaging with my wife this morning about this. She says that, unless there was some definite law against adopting into a home with a poly relationship, it would come down to the comfort level of the agency facilitating the adoption and/or the people performing the home study.

It's good that you are married. That gives you a "traditional" public face to present in the interviews. That you already have a happy, well-adjusted child is also a big positive point in your favor.

However...In the home studies they perform (again, not in MO) they have a section in the interview where they are required to ask about any other people who might overnight often in the home. This would be the point where the poly relationship would most likely be revealed and explained. I suppose, at that point, you'd have to decide whether to be up-front and let the chips fall as they may, or to not be open about your relationship, and risk being discovered as having lied in a subsequent follow-up visit, which would probably lead to your losing the child. And, if you are caught lying and depending on how pissed-off the state wants to be, it could steamroll into having CPS called to investigate your daughter's welfare, too (that's admittedly a far-fetched worst-case scenario...but crazy crap does happen.)

Ultimately, it really does come down to how up-front you are, and how "cool" the interviewers are with it.

Though they have never (knowingly) encountered a poly relationship in their 25 years in business, she said her gut feeling is that they would have reservations approving an adoption. The reasons come down to 1. Having to explain to the State why they approved it, which could jeopardize their licensing, and 2. Protecting the agency's public image. We're also in a very conservative state (more so than MO) and, like it or not, the majority of couples are pretty conservative and religious. If would got around that the agency did adoptions for "alternative" lifestyles, they could experience a huge backlash. As it is, they already get a lot of pressure from religious groups to not work with some pretty obvious groups (like Planned Parenthood).

In our state, foster adoptions are handled entirely by the state, including home studies. I don't know about MO. It could be that a completely state-run process might actually be more flexible about your lifestyle. I think the suggestions that you start asking questions of the more established poly boards is a good first step. You also should thoroughly investigate what the procedures are for foster adoption in MO, so you get a feel for the process and who will be involved.

Good luck!
posted by Thorzdad at 7:02 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just to be clear, I am not personally trying to issue any warnings to you about the security of your own child, I was just referring to how people do a lot of sexualized projecting about so-called alternative lifestyles. I am bisexual, and it's pretty common for me to have to explain that this is not actually fundamentally incompatible with monogamy. (I am not polyamorous but have some sympathetically untraditional views about relationships.)

Anyway, I agree with Thorzdad that it's a point on your side that you're married. If you decide to go through with an adoption, this will help keep your ordinary day-to-day life from being judged as more exotic than the observable reality. Given the rate of both adultery and divorce in this country, I personally always have found it puzzling that so many people react to poly/open relationships as such an incomprehensible concept. I don't mean that I think that everyone should want to do it, just that having multiple serious romantic relationships isn't exactly uncommon, albeit usually as a negative experience because of the deception.
posted by desuetude at 10:45 PM on April 18, 2013

Coming a little late to the party, but I speak as someone who is in a committed and permanent poly relationship with a married partner (not married to me), whose spouse's boyfriend has a child. I also have worked in family services and have performed home visits and reports for adoption agencies.

You're going to have trouble with this. I'm sorry. Adoption agencies really aren't ready to be positive about families like ours. But it's not impossible.

Really scope out and research the available adoption agencies (obviously ones that are religiously based can be much stricter on non traditional homes. Foreign adoption agencies, such as those from China and Russia also tend to look for normative homes). Make sure the social worker who does your homestudy is well regarded and experienced.

Absolutely get an adoption counsellor or couples counsellor with adoption experience who you and your partners can talk to.

Most importantly, have a plan for presenting and implementing a home for your potential adoptees that will place great importance on consistency and predictability. This obviously doesn't involve giving up the poly life, but you'll have to justify a lot here and talk about how your lives will look, and possibly change, for the child.

And, I'm certain this isn't necessary, but be totally up front and honest about everything, because if it looks like you're holding anything back on the homestudy, that's a huge red flag for agencies.
posted by robot-hugs at 12:35 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

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