Chapter 7: Open Adoption

Part of the process is your adoption will be deciding how “open” you and your birth families want it to be.


What is an 'open' adoption?

In an "open" adoption, the birth and adoptive families will maintain some degree of contact — just how much contact is maintained with vary greatly, from family to family. An open adoption does not mean you will co-parent with the birth parents. As the adoptive parent, you will hold all legal parenting rights, while birth parents will have their legal rights severed. During the open adoption process, however, your adoption professionals will help draw up an agreement between birth and adoptive parents that includes specific details on how much, and what kind, of contact will exist. 

What is a 'closed' adoption?

Previously, most adoptions in the United States were “closed,” or “anonymous,” meaning little to no contact between birth and adoptive parents. Today, there is typically some degree of contact between birth and adoptive families, thanks in part to ongoing research that has found benefits for all involved. DNA testing and social media have also accelerated the trend toward more openness — it’s simply harder to maintain anonymity. Even in the few remaining cases of a “closed” adoption in the United States, children will still be able to access some identifying information about their birth parents when they turn 18.

What are the benefits of an 'open' adoption? 

Part of the reason for the trend towards open adoption is thanks to recent research into the subject. "We looked at the research," said Trey Rabun of Amara. "And the research has shown us that kids who have open adoptions have increased sense of a positive adoption identity." Other benefits include an increased attachment to adoptive parents, and a decreased sense of abandonment by their birth or first families. The Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project, a longitudinal study into 720 adoptive families that started in the mid 1980s, provides some helpful insights:

Benefits for adopted children

Research has shown that open adoption benefits children in many ways. It provides children with a link to their family stories and histories. It can also help protect against a sense of abandonment, and removes the difficult decision many adoptees in closed adoptions face in deciding whether or not to search for birth parents as adults. Every adoption is unique, and meaningful involvement is not always possible, but in many open adoptions birth families can become part of an active support system for the adopted child — and can feel like part of an extended family.   

Benefits for birth parents

Open adoption allows birth parents the ability to have an ongoing relationship with a child they've decided they are unable to parent. This can help in a birth parent's sense of loss and during the mourning process. Open adoptions are a birth-parent led process — with only one infant available to be matched for every 36 waiting families. Birth parents are able to thoroughly examine each profile and find an adoptive household that works best for them and their unique set of needs.

Benefits for adoptive families

One of the main benefits of open adoption for adoptive families is having access to medical and family history information throughout the course of your child's life. Every adoption is unique, but open adoption allows an opportunity for adoptive and birth parents to develop a meaningful relationship with one another, which ultimately benefits the adopted child. In open adoption, birth parents choose the adoptive parents. When you are chosen — with only one infant available to be matched for every 36 waiting families — birth parents can feel a sense of assurance that the match is well suited. 

What does an open adoption look like?

Just how “open” your arrangement is will be the result of a negotiated process between you and your child’s birth family — often facilitated by your adoption agency or professionals.

Fully open adoptions

In a completely open adoption, you will be able to have direct and ongoing contact with the birth family. During an open adoption process, you will likely have several video or in person meetings with the birth family so that you can better get to no one another and make sure the match is right.

Following the finalization of the adoption, you may opt to continue this relationship by exchanging  each other's home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. You may  agree upon a regular interval of contact between you, your child and the birth family — via home visits, video sessions, or simply email exchanges.

The frequency of this contact will vary from family to family. Your needs, and those of the birth family and adopted child, may also change over time — it will be important to adjust your fully open adoption accordingly. A successful fully open adoption, then, will require regular, ongoing communication and trust building between the adoptive and birth families.

Semi-open adoptions

You and you birth parents may instead decide to opt for a "semi" open adoption, in which your adoption agency or professional will serve as an intermediary. This means any form of contact — such as letters, photographs, emails, birthday presents — will first go through your mediary. Families that chose semi-open adoptions often do so to maintain some form of privacy, for whatever reason. Some semi-open adoptions may still include anonymous, in-person meetings or video sessions in which identifying information — like names and contact info — are kept confidential.  

What does openness look like in a foster care adoption?

In the foster care system, openness will look a bit different than in private infant adoption. When serving as a foster parent, family reunification is the number one goal. "So that openness will start on day one," said Trey Rabun. "We shouldn't have a kid in your home for a year and a half who become legally freed for adoption, and then turn the conversation towards open adoption."

When adopting through foster care, adoptive parents are encouraged to form a relationship with the birth parents early on whenever possible. It can be as simple as sending some emails or text messages back and forth to start.  

When adopting through foster care, the adoptive parents will be involved in a negotiation with the birth parents, and your adoption professionals, about the best form an open adoption can take in your instance. "Fostering provides a really great opportunity for families to build a relationship naturally and organically throughout the adoption process," said Jill of Extraordinary Families. "Once you get to the place where you're ready to legally adopt, you can make the decision as to how open you want that relationship to continue to be."

CONGRATULATIONS!  You've completed Chapter 7: Open Adoption.  

NEXT UP: Chapter 8: How Much Does Adoption Cost?

Or, contact one of the experts interviewed for this article:

Trey Rabun of Amara

Jill Rosenberg of Extraordinary Families

Olivia Pope of Friends in Adoption

Molly Rampe Thomas of Choice Network Adoption

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