What is an Open Adoption?
Whether you’re a birth parent considering placing your child for adoption or a family looking to adopt, you’ve probably come across the term “open adoption” in your research but do you know what an open adoption really is? Or whether or not it will work for you and your family? Have you explored the different types of adoption to determine what would work best for your family? Understanding the basic types of adoption is an incredibly important step towards determining what you want and need from an adoption and starting to understand how your adoption story will unfold immediately as well as long-term. Let’s take a look at the different types of adoptions and then talk a little bit about how to determine whether an open adoption is right for you.
Types of Adoptions
While every birth parent and adoptive parent relationship differs, there are three basic types of openness in adoption: semi-open, open, and closed adoption. Each type of adoption can be facilitated by an attorney and agency, but they differ in the amount of identifying information each individual party is given as well as the ongoing relationship between the birth parent(s) and the adoptive family throughout the child’s life. Before we talk about what open adoptions look like for all involved parties, let’s take a look at each type of adoption:
In an open adoption, the birth parent(s) and adoptive family build an ongoing, face-to-face relationship. In this type of adoption, not only are the party’s first and last names (as well as other identifying information) exchanged with each other but the birth parent(s) will also have an ongoing relationship with the family and with the child. The form that the ongoing relationship takes will differ from case to case but often includes exchange of photos, exchange of letters, phone calls on holidays or birthdays and even personal visits between the birth parent(s) and child after placement and adoption finalization.
In a semi-open adoption, adoptive families provide their agency with a profile that will often include the adoptive family’s first names, profession, state in which they live, and various other identifying information. Then, in most cases, the agency provides the birth parent(s) with a selection of adoptive family profiles from which they can select the family they would like the baby to be placed with. In this scenario, the birth parent(s) know the first names of the adoptive family (and vice versa) and they have a hand in selecting the family who will ultimately adopt the child. Although the two parties might never meet or build a face-to-face relationship, each party does have some basic information about the other party and, more often than not, both parties will meet with the agency caseworker present. The relationship between a birth parent(s) and adoptive family in a semi-open adoption extends past the delivery room. Although identifying information is never given to the birth parents, many agencies will require adoptive families to send periodic updates including pictures, letters, etc. that the birth parent(s) can have access to should they choose. In this case, the agency acts as a middle-man for contact between birth parents and adoptive families throughout the years.
The opposite of an open adoption is a closed adoption. A closed adoption is an adoption in which there is no communication or contact between the birth mother and her birth child during his or her upbringing. The birth child may decide at age 18 to open adoption records in Texas and contact his or her birth mother. However, the child will not have access to his or her birth mother’s information until then.
Closed adoptions were very popular for a long time in history, as society believed that contact between a birth mother and her child could be harmful to both parties, especially the child. However, recent research is evolving to change the desired post-placement agreement to be at least semi-open. The benefits to continued contact for both the birth mother and the child outweigh the previous fears that society had regarding open adoption.
Is an open adoption the right choice for you?
Ultimately, regardless of whether you’re a birth parent considering placing your child for adoption or an adoptive family, determining whether or not an open adoption will work for you is a matter of first determining what makes most sense for you and your needs and second, and more importantly, determining what is in the best interest of the child. There are lots of items to consider when selecting the type of adoption.
As a birth parent, you’ll want to consider some of the following:
- Whether you want to have a say in who will raise the child
- Whether you want to watch the child grow through photos, phone calls, letters, visits, etc.
- Whether you will be able to mentally and emotionally handle prolonged contact with the child
As an adoptive family, you’ll want to consider:
- Whether you are willing and able to provide photos, phone calls, letters, etc. either through your adoption agency or directly to your birth parent
- Whether you will be mentally and emotionally able to provide the birth parent(s) with the types of contact that they request. Think about whether you will be willing to have the child call the birth mother on her birthday or whether you’ll be able to meet with the birth parent(s) once per year. We always say that if you don’t think that you’ll be willing or able to commit to a fully open adoption, you should probably opt for a semi-open adoption instead. You can always give the birth parent(s) more later, but you should never suddenly decide that you’re willing to give less than you originally promised. It’s important to remember that an adoption could always start as a semi-open adoption and grow into an open adoption if it makes sense for all the involved parties.
- Determining whether you would prefer an open adoption or a semi-open adoption is best made prior to matching. That way you already know what your “yeses” are vs. your “nos” vs. your “maybes” and you are able to be more logical throughout the process.
Although it’s important to consider what you as a birth parent or adoptive parent want and need from an adoption, it’s even more important to consider what is in the best interest of the child. Is an ongoing relationship going to be healthy for the child? How will you talk to the child about their relationship with their birth parent(s)? How do you plan to manage the relationship between the birth parent(s) and the child? Whether you’re a birth parent or an adoptive parent, the child’s best interests should be at the center of this decision and ensuring that their well-being is at the forefront of the openness in your adoption is an important step in building their story and identity.
Please keep in mind, that the terms “open”, “semi-open”, nor “closed” are never in reference to the way you talk to your child about adoption. It’s very important to be transparent with your child about their adoption story and how you came to become a family, the terms “open” and “semi-open” therefore are never in reference to your communication with your child, instead they’re in reference to the relationship between the birth parent(s) and adoptive family.
It’s incredibly important to remember that every adoption differs regardless of which type of adoption both the birth parent(s) and adoptive families select. The level of openness between the birth parent(s) and adoptive family will always differ based on the needs of both parties and, most importantly, on what makes the most sense for the child. Understanding the different types of adoptions and the basics of each type will bring you one step closer to selecting the correct type of adoption for you but you should always discuss the different types with your caseworker to determine what makes the most sense for you and your family and understand that the type of adoption might change with each case depending on your potential match.