Openness in Adoption

When it comes to adoption, a lot of questions center around openness as both those creating an adoption plan and those seeking to adopt navigate the process. There are three types of adoptions: open, closed, and semi-open. As we collectively continue to learn more about the adoption process and the emotional well-being of both adopted children and birth parents, open adoption has become a more common option for everyone involved. In the past, all adoptions were closed, while currently, a very small percentage of adoptions fall into that category. There are many reasons and factors that lead to choosing the openness of adoption and various things to consider before making this important decision.

Open Adoption

Open adoption means that birth parents have some sort of communication with the child after the adoption. This varies so much. I know many birth parents who get to visit the families that have adopted their children numerous times a year and holidays, while some have an annual visit. Some open adoptions mean that communication is frequent between families through social media, phone calls, email, etc. Each situation is different based on the comfort level of the adults and children involved as well as various situations. Sometimes families live very far apart making visits not as easy. 

Though in the past, open adoptions weren’t common, and in fact, for a long time, didn’t exist. However, today, thanks to articles like this, we know that only 5% of adoptions are closed, meaning 95% of adoptions have some level of openness. 

If you’re not sure where to start or how to make plans for your open adoption, it’s best to contact an adoption professional to have these conversations. Birth parents often have already discussed what they would like to do moving forward with their social workers and counselors, so as an adoptive parent, it’s important to listen to make a sustainable plan. 

Openness has benefits for birth parents and children alike, and by setting up a plan of visitation and/or communication, it can help everyone involved establish a routine.

Semi-Open Adoption

Semi-open adoption is a choice that allows non-identifying information to be shared so that birth parents can have updates about their child. There are many reasons why a birth parent may feel more strongly about semi-open than full openness. 

When we adopted our daughter, her birth mother had already asked to have a semi-open adoption and with the adoption agency, had worked out how this would look. For us, it is sending correspondence to the agency that is available when my daughter’s birth mother wishes to access it. She also can send correspondence to our family through the agency.

Semi-open adoption, like other levels of openness, looks different in various situations. Sometimes it is a more open line of communication. When we started the process, I was eager for an open adoption, but understood the needs of my daughter’s birth mother. I’m grateful that there is some openness in a way that is comfortable for her. In our case, we send pictures and an update every six months. 

I have also spoken to others in the adoption community who have a semi-open adoption that has morphed into a more open adoption scenario as their child has gotten older, etc. Comparison is tricky in the adoption community though because there isn’t one scenario that is the same when it comes to adoption. 

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, every family’s situation will look different. I know when we began the process, I had an idea in my head about how this would look based on other people’s stories and beautiful news stories about children being bridesmaids for their birth parents. But everyone has different lived experiences. Every child and every birth parent has different needs. There is no “one size fits all” scenario for adoption and openness.

For more information on semi-open adoption, click here

Closed Adoption

As I mentioned, closed adoptions are very uncommon in the United States today. In a closed adoption, records are sealed and neither birth families nor adopted children can obtain information about one another. Though sometimes these records could be accessed at age 18, there was often little record other than the birth of the infant as other records could easily be lost or destroyed depending on the time period of the adoption.

This was very common in the Baby Scoop Era, a time between World War II and the 1970s when unwed mothers were often coerced to place their children for adoption and sign away their parental rights, only to often never see their children again. At the time, some felt that young mothers were ill equipped to make such decisions and their parents were unfortunately allowed to make such choices on their behalf. We know the psychological and emotional ramifications this had on not only birth mothers, but children as well. In fact, there are many adults who were adopted during this time period who are still suffering from this time period. It was also a time where many children didn’t know they were adopted as there was still a stigma behind it.

With this knowledge, many people wonder why closed adoption still exists. Past experiences show us that it doesn’t benefit anyone in the long run. However, in the small percentages of closed adoptions that do take place, it’s usually a safety precaution for a child in severe situations, like when violence or abuse is involved. Other than instances like this, it has been proven that closed adoptions have very few benefits.

Overall, openness is a discussion to have with both families and adoption professionals to work out what will be the best fit for all of you, and most importantly, your child. 

For more frequently asked questions about adoptions (and the answers!) click here