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Published Thursday June 25th, 2009 at 9:38am

Original Article by Christian Schiavone

KarenCheyney, of Acton, is a Co-Founder of Robert F. Kennedy Children'sAction Corps Bright Futures Adoption Center. She and her son Ryan, age12, are looking at her daughter Hannah's (his sister's) Life Book.
Acton, Mass. - Not that long ago, adoption was a topic usually avoided in polite conversation.

Couples who did choose to adopt an infant often kept it quiet, tried to pass the child off as their own and rarely kept ties with the biological parents.

But since the early 1980s, more parents, both adoptive and biological, have turned to so-called open adoptions offered through organizations like the Bright Futures Adoption Center, located in Acton. Open adoptions allow the birth parents to remain involved in the child's life to varying degrees, ranging from the occasional letter or e-mail to regular visits.

Karen Cheyney, an Acton resident and co-founder of Bright Futures, said the open adoption process allows children to help answer important questions about their own identities -- everything from their ancestry to why they're good at soccer or have a great singing voice.

"Open adoption is about allowing birth parents and adoptive parents to get to know and respect each other," said Cheyney, during a recent interview in her South Acton home. "It allows them to plan for some form of ongoing contact throughout the child's lifetime so that the child has access to the information they're going to need to be a whole person."

Karen Cheyney, of Acton, is a Co-Founder ofRobert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps Bright Futures AdoptionCenter.
Cheyney founded Bright Futures with her college roommate Tamara Cadet in 1999. Their twin goals were to encourage more families of color to participate in the adoption process and to promote open adoption.

Cheyney uses her own experience as an example of the benefits of open adoption. She and her husband Roland adopted two children, Ryan, 12, and Hannah, 10, through the process and have stayed in touch with both children's biological parents through e-mails, phone calls and visits.

Cadet, now a member of the agency's advisory council, has her own experience with adoption, as well. Twelve years ago, she was diagnosed with a chronic eye condition her doctors said had to be hereditary though neither of her parents had it. Eventually, she was able to trace it back to her biological grandmother who put Cadet's mother up for adoption. But Cadet hasn't forgotten the confusion the situation caused.

"You can't have secrets from children," said Cadet, who knew growing up that her mother was adopted. "It's hard on parents, but if you're really putting the child's needs first, you have to give them all the information you can."

Bright Futures merged with the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps, a broader children's services agency, last year. While Cheyney's agency has historically dealt with domestic infant voluntary placement, she said she is looking to expand the program to include older children, including some who have been removed from their homes by the state.

Most of Bright Futures' clients have come from Massachusetts, but some have come from as far away as Virginia and Tennessee.

Expecting mothers come to the agency for a wide range of reasons, including everything from socio-economic barriers to health reasons to not feeling ready to raise a child.

On the other side, perspective adoptive parents look to the agency because they are unable to have children of their own, because they themselves were adopted or just because they want to provide a home to a child who needs one.

Bright Futures' five-person staff help match up biological and adoptive parents, but the expecting mothers are able to make the final decision about who will raise their children. Many adoptive parents, after going through an extensive screening process and chosen by an expecting mother, are involved in naming the child and some are even present for the birth.

Once matched, the birth parents and adoptive parents also decide on the level of contact the birth parents will have with their children.

Some, like Ellen Hurley and her adopted daughter Megan, 6, have a high degree of contact. Megan's birth mother is a regular guest at Megan's birthday parties and attended one of her recent dance recitals.

"It's like more extended family, to be honest," said Hurley, an Acton resident. "It's been very beneficial, I think, to all parties."

For an adopted child, having a way to contact their biological parents, either directly or through the agency, can solve many problems from needing an original birth certificate for a driver's license application to important medical information.

Open adoptions can create a somewhat complicated family network, but in cases like Megan's, it facilitates a lasting relationship between biological parents, adoptive parents with the children at the center, said Cheyney.

"If feels great because the goal is to create for that child a stable environment, a secure environment, a loving environment for them so they're going to be able to have access to everything they need to be a whole person," she said.