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CT family’s open adoption: One example of a growing movement

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CT family’s open adoption: One example of a growing movement

Feb 15, 2024 | 5:00 am ET
By Ginny Monk
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Raeyn's parents guide her to the playground they have set up for her in their backyard. SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR
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Raeyn's parents guide her to the playground they have set up for her in their backyard. SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR

Everything shifted after Raeyn Bailey Perri’s birth — at least it did in the lives of the adults who love her.

Richard Perri knew his life would change the moment he saw Nicole Bailey, his wife, in the hospital holding their foster child, Raeyn. The baby was born premature and was so small that the buckle of her car seat looked bigger than her torso.

“I saw the connection,” Perri said. “I got these tingles. I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ I kind of felt it right there. I was like ‘This is it. We’re meant to do this.'”

Bailey had recently learned that she can’t have biological children. Initially they weren’t sure whether adopting the infant would be possible and had been told in foster care training not to expect it.

Joe Delgado, Raeyn’s biological father, said he went into a drug rehabilitation program right after Raeyn was born in the hopes he could keep her. The infant’s mother stopped coming to visitations after a couple of months.

Delgado developed a relationship with Perri and Bailey during visitations with Raeyn while she was in their care. They started talking more regularly, which helped him make his decision about whether he wanted the couple to adopt the baby.

If he hadn’t been convinced that they were a good fit for Raeyn, he said, he would have fought in court for custody. Instead, the three entered into an open adoption agreement, which means Perri and Bailey are legally Raeyn’s parents but she’ll have a relationship with her biological family as she grows up.

“This is one of those things that as a man, as a father, you do what you have to do for your kid,” Delgado said.

“I’m just in a spot that I can’t give her what she deserves and needs,” Delgado added. “And so basically, they’re co-parenting with me. And that’s how they look at it and how I look at it. We’re extended family. They have Raeyn. They’re the mother and the father. I’m her father as well.”

An open adoption allows the biological parents continued rights to visit or get information about the child.

Encouraging these types of adoptions is a growing movement both in Connecticut and nationally to help maintain relationships between adoptive or foster parents and biological parents. The goal is to help children form strong relationships with adults, which has been shown to help with development and improve long-term outcomes.

Open adoptions

In Raeyn’s case, an open adoption means she and her adoptive parents visit with her biological father and sometimes her half siblings at least once per quarter, although it’s typically more often. Perri sends photos and updates about Raeyn, and they’re open to seeing how the relationship progresses as she gets older.

CT family’s open adoption: One example of a growing movement
Raeyn’s parents collect the art she makes in daycare, proudly displaying it in frames that they constantly update. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

“People should know the reality of their existence,” Perri said. “This is what happened. This is who we are. This is who you are.”

Delgado, Perri and Bailey said their agreement has worked out well so far. They want what’s best for Raeyn.

Raeyn’s adoptive parents kept the first name her birth parents chose. Her father had picked “Rain,” to commemorate the weather the day she was born, and her mother settled on the spelling.

“It’s not going to really put any stress on her,” Bailey said, of the open adoption. “When she sees her dad, she knows who he is and I think is happy to see him because it’s never been a stressful situation seeing him.”

CT family’s open adoption: One example of a growing movement
Nicole Bailey embraces her daughter Raeyn as her husband Richard and their dog Henre watch. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

“I don’t mind having her knowing who he is, and if he wants to be dad No. 2 or even maybe he’s a better man than me, he could be dad No. 1,” Perri said. “I’m not the guy that I need to be the front man.”

Nationally, about a third of adoptive families have some contact with the birth family after adoption, although that doesn’t necessarily mean there is an open adoption agreement. It’s more common for that contact to occur in private domestic adoptions than from foster care or international adoptions, according to research.

Private domestic adoptions sometimes facilitate a relationship between the biological parents and adoptive parents, allowing the biological parents to have a hand in choosing the baby’s adoptive parents. Distance in international adoptions can make it more difficult to form those relationships.

It’s also more common for open adoptions to occur with infant adoptions within the U.S., research shows.

The Department of Children and Families in Connecticut has contracted attorneys that help people through the process of open adoption. In 2022, just over half of the 169 families who asked to go through that mediation process entered an open adoption agreement.

From June 2022 to July 2023, 47 families had asked for mediation services and just under half had entered into an open adoption.

But maintaining a relationship is often difficult for both parties, biological parents and foster parents say. And encouragement to pursue that relationship is sometimes up to individual case workers.

“It’s the best thing for a child,” said Natalia Liriano, foster care director at the Department of Children and Families. “So one of the things that we do know is that children always go back to look for their family. And there’s always the need to know ‘Where did I come from?’ for those that know that they were adopted.”

CT family’s open adoption: One example of a growing movement
Nicole Bailey helps her daughter Raeyn into a coat before heading outside to play in their backyard. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

Encouraging relationships

The Department of Children and Families has undertaken a couple of initiatives in the past few years to help encourage open adoptions between adoptive and biological families. Besides contracting with attorneys who help mediate open adoption agreements, the agency also has a unit within the Division of Foster Care called the Permanency Resource Exchange Unit that keeps information about adoptive children and their birth families so they can find one another if they want to down the line.

In some cases, adoptive children can only get non-identifying medical information.

“Children need to know,” Liriano said. “And if we as an agency can facilitate that, then why not do it? Because it’s about the health of the child and not necessarily what the adults want, or feel is good for the adult. It’s what is going to be best for the child. What relationships will matter for the child.”

This work to strengthen relationships between biological and adoptive families fits in with the ideas in a model known as the Quality Parenting Initiative. Connecticut joined the national movement in 2020. 

Several states and jurisdictions are a part of the initiative, which aims to refocus the child welfare system on quality parenting and helping kids form strong relationships with adults. It’s centered on the idea that “every child deserves excellent parenting every day,” according to its website.

It also encourages foster or adoptive families and biological parents to take a team approach to parenting the child.

“We have to start with the narrative, the narrative that we have about mothers and fathers who happen to come to the attention of the department,” Liriano said. “Parents don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to abuse my child,’ or ‘Oh, I’m going to take drugs.’ That’s not the starting point. And regardless of what brought them to the attention of the department, they love their children.”

Tina Jefferson, bureau chief of child welfare at DCF, said safety is the first consideration in all relationships for children. Workers do assessments to determine safety, she said.

“That means that maybe for some families, it’s only phone contact. Maybe for some families, you don’t know the address where your children live, and for other families, it might be a lot more open,” she said.

Many children are also in the care of relatives or family friends — people they know, she added.

“That makes it a lot easier to encourage ongoing relationships when they are beneficial for children,” Jefferson said. “Because we know not just from national research, but also from the youth themselves that it’s helpful for them to know who they are, where they come from.”

Sarah Eagan, Connecticut’s child advocate, said she is supportive of open adoptions and relationships like the one Raeyn’s parents have been able to develop, provided it’s safe.

“We have a very binary system where you rehabilitate and take on a parenting role or you may have your rights terminated,” Eagan said. “And there are certainly cases where a parent may not be able to be the primary caregiver for their child but it would be beneficial to the child to have that person in their life. And we want to make sure we have avenues for that where that is the best option.”

CT family’s open adoption: One example of a growing movement
Vicki Bailey plays with her granddaughter Raeyn during a weekday visit. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

She added that some children may be older when they’re adopted and want to maintain the relationships they’ve already developed, not just with parents, but with siblings or grandparents.

“Every situation is different,” Eagan said. “You want to maximize the opportunities that children have for relationships that are valuable and important to them.”

At almost two years old, Raeyn is now thriving.

After she was discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit, where she stayed after her birth, Raeyn had to wear a helmet for a while to help shape her head. She also had at-home services early on, but they stopped recently as Raeyn’s development progressed.

She now loves the Wiggles and toddling after the family dogs, Henre and Minnie. When the adoption was finalized, the family hosted an adoption party. The party doubled as a dog wedding, at the insistence of the children Bailey babysits.

“Everyone that meets her says she’s the happiest kid on the planet,” Bailey said, of her daughter. “She’s just so happy. She just loves life.”

Perri has also reconnected with his family since Raeyn came into their lives, he said. It’s shifted their priorities as a couple. “Just things that you used to think were important kind of fall aside,” he said.

Delgado, meanwhile, now keeps a box for Raeyn, a tradition he has for his other children as well, who also don’t live with him.

When he sees a pretty rock she might like, he tucks it into his pocket to save for the box. He does the same with seashells, notes from her older sister, even a couple of white roses. He’s building a collection to give her in the hopes of building family tradition.

“I keep a box for each of them,” said Delgado, who works as a plumbing and heating technician. “If I’m on a job, and I see an amethyst rock in the gravel next to a meter, I’ll take that.”

On his birthday, his oldest daughter lent him a porcelain dragon figurine he gave her previously for her box. She asked him to hold onto it and return it on her 16th birthday, a promise that even though they don’t live together, they’ll be in touch years down the line.

He hopes the same for Raeyn — that they’ll have a relationship. She’ll grow up with the parents she lives with and the knowledge that her first family loves her, too.

“As time goes on, as she gets a little older, I’ll be her father,” Delgado said. “Richard and Nicole will be her father and mother. And we’re all going to be family and just raise her.”