September 18, 2019

Introduction to Open Adoption

An open adoption allows adoptive parents, and frequently the adopted child, to maintain contact with the birth parents. Electing to participate in an open adoption offers several benefits to the child and both families. These benefits include:

  • The child’s sense of loss is kept to a minimum;
  • The child is able to maintain a relationship with those who are significant in his or her life;
  • The child is able to maintain and understanding of the truth.
  • open adoption

There are varying degrees of open adoption and contact may include any of the following:

  • Letters;
  • Emails;
  • Telephone calls;
  • In-person visits.

The level of openness in an adoption should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Frequency of contact is decided by all of the parties involved and can range from a few times a month to every few years. Additionally, the need for communication may change over time. Older children may seek out more information regarding their birth families than would a younger child. It is in the best interest of all parties involved to remain flexible and open to changes.

What factors are often associates with a more open adoption?

  • Both the birth and adoptive parents’ have a deep concern for the child’s well being;
  • The birth and adoptive parents are able to establish a positive relationship;
  • There is regular communication between the birth and adoptive families.

What factors are often associated with decreased openness?

  • The families may live a great distance apart;
  • There are differences in the life situations or values of the families;
  • Contact is discouraged by relatives or friends;
  • There has been a change in the marital status or lifestyle of the birth mother;
  • The parties are unable to reach an understanding regarding the frequency or type of communication;
  • There is concern that contact has become stressful for the child;
  • Agency intermediaries are unable to satisfy the desires of all parties involved.

What is a semi-open adoption?

A semi-open adoption is one where information is relayed to both parties through a mediator rather than through direct contact.

When is open adoption not in the child’s best interest?

Sometimes, open adoption should not be a consideration as maintaining a relationship between the child and birth parents may not be in his or her best interest. This might be the case if:

  • The birth parents are unable to maintain the appropriate boundaries due to a mental or emotional illness;
  • The child experienced violence or trauma involving the birth parent.

In these cases, while adoptive parents may choose to cut ties with the birth parents, they may consider maintaining some sort of relationship with a member of the child’s extended family. The link may provide the child with a positive link to their heritage without causing trauma.

What are some of the common myths about open adoption?

While open adoption is still a fairly new concept, there is research to refute may of the common misconceptions.

  • Parties that participate in open adoptions do have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities;
  • Open adoption does not prompt birth mothers to “reclaim” their children;
  • Children in open adoptions do have a clear understanding of the roles of both birth parents and adoptive parents;
  • Open adoption does not negatively impact the child upon adolescence;
  • Open adoption does not negatively impact the child’s self-esteem;
  • Open adoption does not foster a sense of less control in the adoptive parents;
  • Open adoption does not impact the adoptive parents’ sense of parental entitlement;
  • Birth parents involved in open adoptions do not endure more grief than they would in a closed adoption.

How does agency staff play a role in open adoptions?

As more and more birth mothers are seeking open adoptions, agencies are now treating birth mothers as their primary clients. As such, the initial decision regarding the amount of contact often begins with them. Agencies can play an important role in advising birth mothers and adoptive parents as to how much openness will best suite the needs of the child involved.

What are the laws regarding open adoption?

In response to the requests of adopted children and birth parents, some states are changing adoption laws to allow more access to adoption records. Approximately 23 States have a mutual consent registry where parties can specify their willingness to share personal information.

Certain states also choose to acknowledge “cooperative adoption.” Cooperative adoption is a “good faith” agreement between the birth and adoptive parents. These often include some degree of openness. At this time, these contacts are generally not legally enforceable.

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