How two brave mums and a dad made an open adoption work for everyone

Ten-year-old Damien Lee Fletcher Gibbs has two mothers, two sisters, three brothers and one dad.

“I have Mummy Dianne and Mum,” he said. 

A few years ago, Mummy Dianne Fletcher signed a piece of paper that gave away her parenting rights for her son Damien.  

“I cried my eyes out...[but] I thought, it’s not about me. It’s about Damien. I just wanted what was best for him,” Ms Fletcher said. 

In 2007, Ms Fletcher was fleeing an abusive partner, and moving between women’s refuges with baby Damien. 

Unable to provide her son with a secure home,  authorities took 14-month-old Damien and placed him with Jane and Jamie Gibbs, foster carers who had looked after dozens of children. 

When Damien was three, and it was clear he wouldn’t be able to return home, adoption  – a permanent transfer of parental rights from Ms Fletcher – was raised by the child protection department.  

Ms Fletcher was overwhelmed at this at first, but over time gradually formed a bond with the Gibbs. They met and talked regularly at contact visits. After a seven year process, Damien was adopted. He kept Mummy Dianne’s surname, as well as taking on the Gibbs name.

Damien cried when Mummy Dianne told us about what she went through. Both mums comforted him. He said he's proud to talk about his adoption and the fact he has two mums and a dad.  

“This is what we now call open adoption. We’re one big happy family. Mummy Dianne, Jamie and I are on the same team – Team Damien. This will be the best thing for him in the future,” Ms Gibbs said. 

The Area News asked the family some questions about their experience. 

How did you react when adoption was first mentioned as an option for Damien?

Dianne Fletcher:

It was very overwhelming.  I went home and I cried my eyes out. To sign parental rights away is huge for any parent. It’s not something you can take lightly.

But at that stage, I knew he wouldn’t be able to come back into my care. That had been established in the courts, they had decided that. 

At the end of the day, I thought, it’s not about me. It’s about Damien. I just wanted what was best for him and his well-being. 

I couldn’t have asked for a better family for Damien to live with. The brothers, the sisters, they’re all wonderful, we all get along. 

Jane Gibbs: 

When they raised adoption with us, I was hesitant, I didn’t want to break down what we already built.

It’s something we thought about for a long time. 

It was really long process. Eventually, we sat down in a room with Dianne and had a long chat about the adoptions and emotions around that. 

The department said it was such an unusual thing, for two families to sit down together and talk so openly about adoption.

I couldn’t imagine how Dianne would’ve felt. I couldn’t imagine having to sign over one of my children.

What are the benefits of adoption for you?

Dianne Fletcher: 

When it happened, I thought, it’s finally over. No more DoCS. No more contact workers. 

It eliminates a lot of the hassle. 

[Before the adoption]  I always felt they were watching me when I had visitation with Damien. I couldn’t even take him to the toilet without the contact worker following me.

Jane Gibbs:

It’s just so much more relaxed. To be able to invite Dianne to our home, to do family things that others take for granted. 

Are there any negatives to adoption for you?

Jane Gibbs:

There’s one thing I haven’t been able to bring myself to do, and that is to order his new birth certificate. On the new certificate, they mention Jamie and I as the parents, and our children as Damien’s siblings, but there’s no mention of his siblings, his birth mother and his identity. I find that reprehensible. It’s an archaic way of doing things.

Damien is proud of the fact he has two mums. Why can’t the fact he has two mums appear on the birth certificate?

What do you think about the NSW Government’s recent decision to provide payments for foster carers who adopt?

Dianne Fletcher:

I think it’s about time.You need some sort of funding. A child might have medical issues, and costs can skyrocket. I agree with this payment, it’s the best thing the government has done. 

Jane Gibbs:

When we adopted, Damien lost access to a health card, so we lost benefits. The payment ensures we can continue to care for Damien and our other other children into their future.  

How often do you all get together?

Jamie Gibbs:

We try and get together as often as we can. We go out to the club for dinners. we try and get together for Christmas and those sort of things. it doesn’t always work out, but we try. 

Do you think Damien might get curious about his past as he grows older?

Dianne Fletcher:

We know when he’s older he might want to seek out Mummy Dianne. That’s something we’ve talked about. It’s a natural thing. 

Jane Gibbs:

It’s not something he’d have to hide. It’s natural to want to do that. We’d prefer to have it out in the open, and for him to know he can always come back home. Mummy Dianne and her family are a part of our family. It’s the best thing for him. Two families to love and care for Damien.