Open adoption

Open adoption

Open adoption is an adoption in which the biological mother or parents and adoptive family know the identity of each other. In open adoption, the parental rights of biological parents are terminated, as they are in "closed adoptions" and the adoptive parents become the legal parents, yet the parties elect to remain in contact. Open adoption has become the norm in most states in the adoption of newborns. But “open” can mean different things to different people, as demonstrated below.


Pre-birth openness

The days are long past when a birth mother would go to an adoption agency to give up her child, then have that agency take full responsibility in selecting the adoptive family, with the birth mother playing no role. While it is true that decades ago, often only independent adoptions (usually adoptions initiated by an attorney) involved openness, now most adoption agencies have some, or complete, openness as well. Although practices vary state by state, most adoptions start with the birth mother reviewing dozens of photo-resume letters of prospective adoptive parents. Usually, these are adoptive families who have retained that agency or attorney to assist them in the adoption process. Most states permit full openness not just regarding identities, but also personal information about each other. Just as the adoptive parents want to learn about the birth mother’s life and health history, so does the birth mother want the same information about the people she is considering as the parents for her child.[1]

When the birth mother has narrowed down her prospective adoptive parents to one, or a few, families, normally they arrange to meet in person.[2] Good adoption agencies and attorneys do this in a pressure-free setting where no one is encouraged to make an immediate decision.) If they are geographically distant from each other (as some adoptions are interstate, with the birth mother living in a different state from the adoptive parents), the first meeting will normally be by phone, then advance to a face-to-face meeting if the meeting by phone went as well as hoped. The goal for both birth and adoptive parents at this stage is to make sure they are looking at the adoption in the same way. Adoption is a lifetime commitment, and just like marriage, both the birth and adoptive parents want to make sure the other is someone they can count on, both short and long term.[3]

Many birth mothers do more than just meet the adoptive parents once before the birth.[4] If they live close enough to each other, it is not uncommon for the birth mother to invite the adoptive mother (or adoptive father too if the birth mother wishes) to come to her doctor appointments. This lets the adoptive parent vicariously live through the birth mother regarding the pregnancy, and lets the birth mother see the adoptive parent's joy and anticipation of soon becoming a parent. The same is true at the hospital, where it is not unusual for the adoptive mother (and the adoptive father, if that is the birth mother’s wish) to be a labor coach, and be present for the delivery. Many birth mothers ask the hospital staff to hand the baby to the adoptive parents first, so they can be the first people to hold their child, before she has even done so.[5]

Post-birth openness

Although pre-birth openness is getting to be routine in newborn adoptions, there are more variations in the years following the birth, after the adoption has been completed.[6] Some birth mothers want to get to know the adoptive parents before the birth, but then wish to go “their own way” in life thereafter. Getting to know the adoptive family gives her confidence in the placement and the knowledge she can feel secure in the child’s future with the mom and dad (or single parent) she selected. The birth mother may feel that future contact with the adoptive parents, or the child, would be emotionally difficult for her.[7]

Likely the most common arrangement in open adoptions is for the adoptive parents to commit to sending the birth mother photos of the child (and themselves as a family) each year, and short written updates, until the child reaches the age of 18.[8] Often these photos and updates will be sent more than just once a year, such as the child's birthday or other significant events. Sometimes an intermediary is selected to receive and forward the updates, and sometimes it is done directly. This can be via mail, or more common recently, via email. Some adoptions are more open than just sending photos and updates. Some birth and adoptive parents agree they would like to stay in face-to-face contact. The amount of contact can vary greatly. It could be just a time or two in the first year. It could be once or multiple times annually throughout the child’s life.[9]

A few states permit the birth and adoptive parents to sign a contract of sorts, putting in writing any promises regarding contact after the adoption is finalized. Even in those states which do not expressly have laws in this area, these "open adoption agreements" can usually be prepared if the parties desire to formalize the agreement. Normally, courts will find these agreements enforceable, as long as they serve the best interests of the child. It is not unusual for these agreements to be more like "handshake" agreements, although they offer less protection to a birth parent if the adoptive parent's promises were not honored.[10]

Which type of open adoption is best?

Adoption is like marriage. There are countless ways that a marriage can work. What is right for one couple will not work for another. Adoptions are the same. What is important is that the birth mother and adoptive parents are honest with each other regarding the type of adoption each truly hopes for, and one person does not just say what they think the other wants to hear, then face a conflict later.[11]

Adoptive parents will want to talk about adoption to their child from a very early age.[12] (Even if the adoptive parents were so inclined, hiding adoption is really not possible, as everyone the adoptive parents know - neighbors, friends, relatives - all know the child joined their family via adoption, so to hide it from the child is nonsensical, hiding something the child should see as prideful and joyful.) Every adoptive parent wants their child to be proud of their adoption heritage and confident in themselves and their place in a family. With this thought in mind, more and more adoptive parents are opening their minds to a more open adoption than they might initially imagined if desired by the birth mother, thinking that the birth mother’s role is somewhat like that of a distant relative. In other words, the birth mother has no legal right to make parenting decisions, nor should she want to, but she still has love to offer. The saying "It takes a village to raise a child" comes to mind. And adoptive parents should remember, if their child ever has a medical emergency requiring a birth parent’s aid (bone marrow, kidney tissue, et cetera, which often only a direct blood relative can provide), that birth parent will be the first person they search for.[13]

A good analysis for adoptive parents to emply in determining what is the right degree of openness is to put themselves in the place of a birth mother and ask, "If I were pregnant, and giving up my child, what would make me feel confident, and feel good about the placement?" Most birth mothers are loving, caring young women, wanting the best for their baby, but which they can't provide. Many adoptive parents view her as someone they'd enjoy staying a part of their lives, not to mention she was the person who created their family for them. Likewise, birth mothers should be sensitive to the feelings of the adoptive parents, and put themselves in the role of an adoptive parent, asking themselves how they would feel regarding a particular planned role in the new family.[14]

As a practical matter, some states seem to have more open adoptions than others. The more progressive states may have a rough percentage accordingly:

Pre-birth contact, but no post-birth contact: 10% Pre-birth contact, and photos and updates only thereafter: 65% Pre-birth contact, photos and updates, and one or two annual face-to-face get-togethers: 25%

In more conservative states, the percentages may look more like this:

Pre-birth contact, but no post-birth contact: 30% Pre-birth contact, and photos and updates only thereafter: 65% Pre-birth contact, photos and updates, and one or two annual face-to-face get-togethers: 5% It is not unheard of for birth mothers to request an open adoption, then disappear from the child and adoptive family's life.[15]

Open adoption and birth fathers

No disrespect is intended toward birth fathers in only discussing openness with birth mothers above. The reality, however, is that few birth fathers elect to take a role in adoption, given the fact the pregnancies were usually unplanned, and often there was no long-term relationship with the birth mother. For those few birth fathers who volunteer to take a helpful and active role in creating the adoption situation for the adopting parents, the potential benefits to a continuing relationship with the birth father can be just as viable as with a birth mother.

There are sometimes problems concerning birth mothers and adoption agencies who neglect to make sure the proper paperwork is done on the birth father's part. It is crucial to remember that no child can be relinquished legally without the birth father's consent. He must be given the chance to take full custody. For this purpose, many states have important putative father registries, although some adoption activists see these as a hindrance rather than a help. [16]

Open adoption and older children

What about the placement of older children? These can take two widely divergent paths. Generally speaking, when a child has bonded to a birth parent (perhaps being raised by her or him for an extended time) then a need for an adoptive placement arises, it is usually critical for that child's emotional welfare to maintain ties with the birth parent. It's like uprooting a tree. If it is not transplanted in special manner, serious consequences can follow. Sometimes a parent raised a child, but a problem has arisen, and parenting is no longer possible, and there are no family members able to take over the parenting role, so adoption is the best option. [17]

Another way older children can be placed for adoption is where the birth parents' rights were terminated by a court due to improper parenting: abuse, et cetera. Although the child may still foster idealized feelings for that failing parent, it is not uncommon in these adoptions for there to be no contact between the child and adoptive parents, and the birth parent.

History of openness in adoption

A closed adoption is an adoption in which the parties involved do not know the identities of each other. Closed and secret records reassured adoptive parents from the fear of returning biological parents. The social stigma of unmarried mothers, particularly during the BSE (Baby Scoop Era) 1945-1975 rendered "unwed mothers" social outcasts. In a mother driven society after WWII infertile couples were also seen as deviant due to their inability to bear children. The social experiment of taking the children from "unmarried mothers" and "giving them" to adoptive parents became the norm during the BSE. These adoptions were predominantly closed. The records were sealed, biological mothers were told to keep their child a secret, and adoptive parents told to treat the child "as if born to".[18][19]

By the 1980's, as the social stigma slowly decreased with Abortion Laws and ready access to birth control, domestic adoption decreased dramatically. The adoption industry needed an incentive to entice mothers to surrender their children for adoption, and "Open Adoption" was created. The fact that 80% of Open Adoptions close early after the birth of a child, is not readily given to mothers of adoption separation before Consents are signed.

Although open adoptions are thought to be a relatively new phenomenon, in fact most adoptions in the United States were open until the twentieth century. Until the 1930's, most adoptive parents and biological parents had contact at least during the adoption process.[20] In many cases, adoption was seen as a social support: young children were adopted out not only to help their parents (by reducing the number of children they had to support) but also to help another family by providing an apprentice.

Adoptions became closed when social pressures mandated that families preserve the myth that they were formed biologically. One researcher has referred to these families, that made every attempt to match the child physically to their adoptive families, as 'as if' families.[21][22]

Access to birth records

In nearly all US states, adoption records are sealed and withheld from public inspection after the adoption is finalized. Most states have instituted procedures by which parties to an adoption may obtain non-identifying and identifying information from an adoption record while still protecting the interests of all parties. Non-identifying information includes the date and place of the adoptee's birth; age, race, ethnicity, religion, medical history, physical description, education, occupation of the biological parents; reason for placing the child for adoption; and the existence of biological siblings.

All states allow an adoptive parents access to nonidentifying information of an adoptee who is still a minor. Nearly all states allow the adoptee, upon reaching adulthood, access to non-identifying information about their relatives. Approximately 27 states allow biological parents access to non-identifying information. In addition, many states give such access to adult siblings. Identifying information is any data that may lead to the positive identification of an adoptee, biological parents, or other relatives. Nearly all states permit the release of identifying information when the person whose information is sought has consented to the release. Many states ask biological parents to specify at the time of consent or surrender whether they are willing to have their identity disclosed to the adoptee when he or she is age 18 or 21.5. If consent is not on file, the information may not be released without a court order documenting good cause to release the information. A person seeking a court order must be able to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that there is a compelling reason for disclosure that outweighs maintaining the confidentiality of a party to an adoption.[23] In Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, New Hampshire, and Oregon, there is no requirement to document good cause in order to access their birth certificates.[24][25][26][27] Some groups, such as Bastard Nation, One Voice,[28] and Origins USA,[29] campaign for adoptees' automatic access to birth certificates in other US states.

At age 18, people adopted in the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe and in several provinces in Canada are automatically entitled to their birth certificates and may access their adoption records.[24]

See also


  1. ^ RAISING ADOPTED CHILDREN, by Lois Melina, Harper Paperbacks, 1993
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ DEAR BIRTH MOTHER, by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin, Corona Publishing 1991
  5. ^ DEAR BIRTH MOTHER, by Silber and Speedlin
  6. ^
  7. ^ THE OPEN ADOPTION EXPERIENCE, by Lois Melina and Sharon Kaplan Roszia, Harper Paperbacks, 1993
  10. ^ THE OPEN ADOPTION EXPERIENCE, by Melina and Roszia
  12. ^
  13. ^ ADOPTION WITHOUT FEAR, by James Gritter, Corona Publishing, 1989
  14. ^ MAKING ROOM IN OUR HEARTS, by Micky Duxbury, Routledge Press, 2006
  16. ^ THE OPEN ADOPTION EXPERIENCE, by Melina and Roszia
  17. ^ MAKING ROOM IN OUR HEARTS, by Duxbury
  18. ^ History of Adoption: Closed Adoption, National Adoption Center,, retrieved 2008-05-02 
  19. ^ Closed Adoption, SharedJourney,, retrieved 2008-05-02 
  20. ^ Adamec & Pierce, 1991
  21. ^ Yngvesson, Barbara (Spring 2003), "Going 'Home': Adoption, Loss of Bearings, and the Mythology of Roots", Social Text - 74 (Duke University Press) 21 (1): 7–27 
  22. ^ Yngvesson, Barbara (Spring 2007), "Refiguring Kinship in the Space of Adoption", Anthropological Quarterly (George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research) 80 (2): 561–579, doi:10.1353/anq.2007.0036 
  23. ^ Access to Adoption Records, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, 2006, 
  24. ^ a b Retrieved 29th February 2008
  25. ^ Accessed: 2nd March 2008
  26. ^ Accessed: 2nd March 2008
  27. ^ Accessed: 2nd March 2008
  28. ^ One Voice, No Secrets Available: Accessed: 27th April 2008.
  29. ^ Origins USA position papers Available: Accessed: 27th April 2008.

External links

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