Adoption is complex, emotional, sometimes difficult, and can lead to the most amazing gift of your life. During the adoption process there are so many questions and uncertainties, including the decision of an open or closed adoption. At The Village Family Service Center, we are advocates of openness in adoption. Let’s talk about it.
What Exactly Is Open Adoption?
In an open adoption there is some type of communication between the birth family and the adoptive family. Open adoption recognizes the child's need to know his or her biological history and allows both the birth and adoptive parents healthy ways to show their love to the child. In a closed adoption the biological family and adoptive family have no direct contact with each other after the child is adopted.
Typically, birth families choose the adoptive parents for their child, the birth mother/family and adoptive family meet, and they work together toward the placement of a child. They plan for an ongoing, active relationship in which they will communicate with each other through letters, pictures, phone calls, texts, videos, emails, and/or meetings.
It is important that the roles of birth parents and adoptive families are clearly defined. Open adoption is not shared parenting. There is a difference between being a child’s birth parent and parenting the child day-to-day. Open adoption is intended to serve the best interests of the child, and those interests should always be held sacred.
Levels of Openness
Within open adoption, there are different levels of openness. The birth and adoptive families work together to decide what is best for their situation and work out the details of the adoption together. The two categories of openness in adoption are fully open and semi-open.
Fully Open Adoption
In a fully open adoption, families have direct contact with each other and the child, and they have identifying information about one another.
In a semi-open adoption, a social worker, like those at The Village, will pass letters, photos, etc., between the adoptive and biological families. Both parties retain their privacy but still have some type of contact. Semi-open adoption can also be referred to as mediated adoption.
Different levels of openness work best for different situations. It is up to the biological family, adoptive family, and social workers to decide what level of openness is right. Over 95% of adoptions involve some degree of openness. This benefits all involved by encouraging honest communication among all parties. As relationships change and grow, so does the openness.
History of Adoption
Not long ago, adoptions were closed and kept secret. This sense of secrecy can have negative effects on the child and families involved, implying that something bad happened. The first “modern” adoption law was passed in 1851 in Massachusetts. It recognized adoption as a social and legal process based on the welfare of the child rather than adult interests.
Starting in 1851, children were legally protected in the adoption process, but that doesn’t mean every adoption after that point has been a healthy one. Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, there were still social pressures and stigmas that caused unmarried mothers to release their children and have no contact with the adoptive family at all. Situations like this often result in post-adoption searches where adopted adults are looking for their biological mother or vice versa.
Although there have always been adoptions with some degree of openness, open adoption as we know it today did not become commonplace until the 1980s. That is when the power of open and honest communication was implemented into the adoption world. Research has shown that children do better in an open adoption. Today, almost all adoptions have some level of openness.
Benefits of Open Adoption
Open adoption is most often the healthiest option for everyone involved. Here are just some of the benefits offered by open adoption:
- The child of adoption has a better understanding of their background
- Openness allows the child to ask questions throughout their life and get honest and accurate answers
- Access to medical records and other biological information that is updated
- The birth mother/family has a sense of control in the situation and has a say in the decisions being made for the child’s welfare
- Ability to alter the level of openness over time based on what everyone needs and feels is right
- Personal relationships between the adoptive family and birth family, as well as between the adopted child and both parties
- Decreased fear of birth mother/family changing their mind
- Better understanding of the different roles that adoptive and birth parents play
- No feelings of secrecy or shame, especially later in life when questions may arise
- Child has a better understanding of reasons for placement
- Increased sense of identity and belonging for the child
- A feeling of connection to ethnic background, culture, and ancestry
- The child of adoption gets to grow up in a safe, healthy environment
Let’s reiterate that last benefit: the child of adoption gets to grow up in a safe, healthy environment, and that lifestyle was planned by the caring adults in his or her life. Openness in adoption is advantageous to everyone involved, including the birth family and adoptive family, but the focus should always be the child. Every child needs, and has a right to, a stable and loving environment.
The Village Family Service Center offers adoption services, as well as pregnancy counseling, to help women and families understand all their options. Our adoption team understands the importance of each individual being empowered in making the right decision for them, explaining the adoption process, and helping determine what level of openness will work best for those involved.
For more information, you can find answers to common questions about adoption, take a look at recommended readings by our adoption experts, or contact The Village’s Pregnancy and Adoption Social Workers.