Why Open Adoption?


There are many questions that birth parents and adoptive parents have to consider as they are preparing for their adoption journey. Some of the questions are easier than others to answer and some are very personal and don’t need the approval of the other family. One of the most important questions, and one where the birth family and adoptive family need to be in agreement is whether the adoption will be open or closed. There has been a major shift in adoption over the years, leading most families who are doing a private, newborn adoption to have some level of openness in their adoption.

Closed Adoption

Prior to the 1980’s the majority of adoptions in the United States were closed, meaning there was no contact at all between the birthparents and the adoptive parents and child after the adoption. In most cases there was no contact prior to the adoption. Women who were placing their babies for adoption oftentimes had no idea who would be raising their child.After delivery the baby would be handed over to an agency representative who would match the baby with an adoptive family signed up with their agency.Some birth mothers were even sent away from home during their pregnancy so it would remain secret, and often children weren’t told they were adopted until they were 18 years old.The overall premise of adoption was that it was a viable solution for everyone, everybody’s needs would be met, and all could move on with their lives.However, as time went on people were beginning to discover there were many flaws in this thinking.Birthparents were not able to forget about the child they had placed for adoption and move on, adopted children had a lot of questions and wanted information about their biological connections, and adoptive parents were confronted with parenting issues that no one had ever talked to them about.These are some of the issues that led to the shift in adoption practice from closed to open adoption.Today only about 5% of private adoptions are fully closed.

Open Adoption

The trend in adoption today is open adoption.This is when there is some type of relationship between the birthparents and adoptive parents pre birth and in many cases an agreed upon arrangement for contact between the birthparents, adoptive parents and child after the adoption.In the majority of open adoption situations the birthparents are instrumental in choosing the family they want to adopt their baby.Once they pick whom they want and the two families meet and decide to move forward, the relationship has begun.During the pregnancy the two families may be in frequent phone contact, visiting, the adoptive parents may attend doctor visits with the birthmother, and in many cases they are in the delivery room when the baby is born.More thought goes into the type of relationship everyone wants after the adoption takes place.The beauty of an open adoption is that there are no set rules.The families involved set the guidelines and expectations, and the adoption can be as open or semi-open as everyone feels comfortable with. For some families a relationship is established from the start between the birth and adoptive parents, and later on with child, as she/he gets older. For others, the child is involved from the beginning.Some birthparents only want letters and photos, others want visits.Relationships can be with one or both birthparents, or other birth family members as well.As long as all the adults involved are able and willing to have open communication an agreement can usually be reached.

Benefits of Open Adoption

Openness has removed the secrecy from the practice of adoption.It has allowed for numerous benefits for each member of the adoption triad. For the birthparents open adoption allows them to have a sense of comfort and peace knowing that their child is doing well and they made the right choice.It can reduce their guilt about placing their child for adoption and lessen their shame.Open adoption gives adoptive parents the opportunity to answer their child’s questions about their history. They have more information to help ease any fears or doubts their child may have.It gives them access to medical records and family history to better care for their child, and it helps eliminate the fear they may have of a future reunion when their child is older.As the adoptee, having an open adoption could mean so much.First, it helps an adoptee develop a better sense of their identity, increases self-esteem, and reduces any blame they may feel toward being the cause of their birthparents not raising them. It gives them a chance to ask questions about their adoption and receive an explanation as to why they were placed for adoption.It diminishes their worry about their birthparents’ wellbeing and it gives an adoptee access to their genetics, medical history, and family of origin. Open adoption allows an adoptee to witness that they are loved by their birth family and avoids having to do a search for birthparents at a later date, preventing the possibility of rejection.

Fears about Open Adoption

Birthparents and adoptive parents have fears about an open adoption.Adoptive parents may think that their child will love their birthparents more, have a sense of loyalty to them, and that a relationship with the birth family will weaken the child’s sense of belonging in their adoptive family. They also worry that their child may be confused by a relationship with their birthparents and are concerned that if the birthparent terminates contact, their child will be hurt, sad, and maybe even blame themselves.Birthparents often fear that their child will hate them for not raising them and feel they have no right to be a part of their life.They may fear contact will be too painful for them and that the adoptive parents don’t want them involved.Although these fears may seem valid, research shows “… like any relationships, which vary greatly and may involve discomforts and challenges, most people in open adoptions thrive and react well to their arrangements, particularly when they are built upon mutual respect, empathy and a child-centered motivation (Gross, 1993; Grotevant, 2000; Wolfgram, 2008). The overall consensus is that open adoption promotes the healthy development of children.

Robyn Harrod is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 20 years of experience working with individuals and couples needing assistance forming their family. Her expertise is in helping all people create their families through foster care, adoption, and third party reproduction. She specializes in working within the LGBTQ+ community, helping her clients navigate the family building process. She has been registered with the state of California for over 15 years as an Adoption Service Provider (ASP) where she works closely with birthparents supporting them through their adoption journey.

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