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Helping adoptees reconnect with their birth parents: as more adopted children desire to learn about their biological parents, EAPs will need to learn how to minimize the impact on the workplace.

Employee assistance professionals address diverse problems and challenges that employees bring to the workplace. One issue that has been gaining attention in recent years--thanks partly to a new reality show on television that highlights emotional reunions between long-lost family members (mainly adult adoptees and their biological parents)--is the trend toward greater access to adoption information.

Several states have begun to relax their laws governing the privacy of adoption records. This means that information about biological parents that previously was off limits to an adult adoptee may now be accessible. As a result, EA professionals may begin to encounter more adult adoptees who are considering searching for their biological parents.

An employee struggling with this issue may expend considerable emotional energy, both at work and during his or her personal time, considering this major life decision. There is a very real danger that this person will rush into a reunion without adequate emotional preparation. If the employee lacks sufficient support, he or she may experience diminished productivity, conflicts with co-workers, erratic attendance, or other performance problems.

Early EAP intervention may help circumvent any workplace consequences of adoption searches. EA professionals are in a position to direct adoptees to appropriate resources that can help guide them toward a successful reunion outcome.


Most adult adoptees who decide to try to find their biological birth families want to complete their sense of identity-that is, they want to know who they are and where they came from. They want to know whether they look like their biological parents and whether they share similar traits and talents. Learning about who they are and where they came from can provide adoptees with a more complete sense of their personal identity

Adoptees may also want information about any genetic diseases that can affect not only their own health but that of their children. Knowing whether they are at risk of inheriting certain conditions may guide them in making lifestyle or other changes to avert these health problems.

Regardless of the reason(s) for undertaking the search, the process generally begins with locating the biological mother. But in order for a reunion with the mother (and/or father or siblings) to be successful, the adoptee must ensure that he or she is emotionally prepared. This entails examining the reasons for searching, the fantasies (if any) the adoptee entertains about his or her biological parents, the circumstances of the adoption, and any expectations the adoptee may have about developing a relationship with the mother.

It's also important for the adoptee to understand how the search might affect his or her current relationships, especially with adoptive parents, partners and children. It's helpful for adoptees to be open with their adoptive parents about their interest in searching for their birth parents. Sometimes, adoptive parents can be a good source of support during the search and reunion process. Some adoptive parents may feel threatened, however, especially if their relationship with their adopted child is strained.

It may be emotionally challenging for an adoptee to search without the approval of his or her adoptive parents. Pursuing a search without such approval may have a negative impact on the relationship between the adoptee and the adoptive parents as well as on the adoptee's work performance. It may also exacerbate any underlying mental health conditions, which can also have workplace consequences. Even if the adoptive parents give their approval, the introspection needed to emotionally prepare for a search can be psychologically demanding and may manifest itself in the workplace in the form of distractions and errors.

What should adoptees expect from a reunion? Some hope to build a relationship with their birth mother; others will be satisfied simply to obtain some answers to their questions. A few believe they will feel an instant connection, but most will encounter a stranger.

Relationships between adoptees and their biological parents are more successful when all parties involved set clear boundaries and seek to develop ties that are respectful of their limited history together. While they may be "adult child" and "mother," they will be more likely to form a relationship based upon friendship rather than the roles that these titles imply


In states that have overturned laws that originally sealed adoption records, adult adoptees will be able to access their original birth certificate and adoption file. These records may yield important clues that will enable an adoptee to find his or her biological parents--for example, the names of the parents, the city and state of birth, or the name of the hospital or maternity home.

The search process may yield results more quickly if the person for whom the adoptee is searching has put his or her name on an adoption contact registry.. A contact registry is a place for both adoptees and birth relatives to list identifying reformation about themselves if they are agreeable to a contact. If the registry finds a match, the biological mother is contacted and asked for her consent to arrange a reunion.

If the adoptee has the name of the adoption agency that was used, he or she could contact it and ask for information. If the adoptee has the financial means, hiring an outside investigative agency may be the best route to acquiring details about the location of the birth mother.

It's helpful for the adoptee to join an adoption support group. These groups not only provide much-needed support from peers in similar situations, they also may be able to share up-to-date information about state laws and search techniques. Such groups are usually listed on the Internet or in local publications, or their names may be available from care providers who specialize in adoption issues. Finding and joining an adoption support group may require the adoptee to either take time off from work or spend work time conducting telephone research.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that the adoptee will be able to find his or her birth mother--she may have died, given a false name at the time of adoption, or moved out of the country, or she may be impossible to trace for some reason. This may cause grief and loss issues for the adoptee, who must then come to terms with never being able to learn more information about his or her biological identity


If the search leads to the biological mother, the adoptee should carefully consider how the contact will take place. Most birth mothers will need some time to adjust to the idea that their child has contacted them. They may also need time to prepare other family members.

Some adoptees use an intermediary as a neutral party to initiate contact with the birth mother. This person can determine whether the birth mother is interested in a reunion and can serve as a buffer in case she rejects contact with her child. (If she does, support groups can be helpful.) Writing a letter is another option, one that allows the biological mother to digest the news and make a decision without any pressure. At this point in the process, the EA professional can be an important source of support and encouragement.

It's possible that the birth mother may not be receptive to a reunion, or she may be open to meeting once or twice to answer questions but not interested in cultivating a long-term relationship. The adoptee will need to be prepared for these and all other possibilities. Any scenario may cause stress and emotions that will likely become visible to co-workers.


EA professionals need to become familiar with the special issues facing adult adoptees who decide to search for their biological parents. It is likely, given the recent publicity that adult adoptee reunions have received, that EA professionals will encounter more employees bringing this issue into the workplace. An informed EA professional can be a valuable resource, directing the employee to appropriate resources, coaching the employee to develop realistic expectations, setting the stage for a desirable outcome, and minimizing the impact on the workplace.

For additional resources for adult adoptees, visit these Websites:

* (

* Adoption Registry Connect (

* International Soundex Reunion Registry (

* (

* Adoptees' Support Forum (www


Baden, Amanda, L. and Mary O'Leary Wiley. 2007. Counseling Adopted Persons in Adulthood: Integrating Practice and Research. The Counseling Psychologist.

Gladstone, James, and Anne Westhues. 1998. Adoption Reunions: A New Side to Intergenerational Family Relationships. Family Relations, 47(2): 868-900.

Rosenzweig-Smith, Janet. 1988. Factors Associated with Successful Reunions of Adult Adoptees and Biological Parents. Child Welfare, 67(5): 411-422.

Sachdev, Paul. 1992. Adoption Reunion and After: A Study of the Search Process and Experience of Adoptees. Child Welfare, 71(1): 53-68.

By Teresa J. Petersen, LCSW, CEAP, SAP

Terri Petersen is a licensed clinical social worker and substance abuse professional who has worked in the employee assistance field for more than 20 years. She is employed as a senior EAP consultant at Anthem EAP in Denver, Colorado.
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Title Annotation:employee assistance programs
Author:Petersen, Teresa J.
Publication:The Journal of Employee Assistance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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