In previous generations, adoptions were often stigmatized and kept secret. This practice reflected the cultural ideal at the time that adoption illegitimated the connection between parents and their adoptive children. Most children did not know their birthparents or information regarding their birth family. Many were not told they were adopted until they were older, or were never told at all. It was believed that lack of openness would make it easier for birthparents, children, and adoptive parents to adjust and move forward. However, the secrecy in previous closed adoptions left children and adoptive parents with many unanswered questions and unresolved feelings of loss, as well as the inability for adoptive children to access their medical history, familial medical history, or obtain information about their genetic background.
Today, society has become more accepting of adoption. Studies show that about one third of adoptive parents and adoptees have contact with their birth families. A newfound trend to openness is adoption can be attributed to prior negative effects that secrecy has played on adoption and the realization that openness can help to improve the adoption process for all parties involved.
Benefits of Having an Open Adoption
Open adoption benefits children, birth parents, and adoptive parents.
Benefits to children adopted through open adoption:
- Lessening a child’s need to fantasize about their parents and where they came from and instead giving them opportunity to view them as real people.
- Giving them the resources to ask questions directly to their birthparents as they grow
- Allowing them to have a knowledge of their history
- Allowing them to have a deeper understanding of their identity
- Allowing them to gain access to their genetic and medical history
- Helping them to understand the reasoning for their placement and decreasing their sense of abandonment
- Increasing the number of adults in their lives that can offer them a support system
- Contact with biological siblings in the future
Benefits to birthparents:
- Helping to gain peace of mind by knowing that their child is doing well by receiving updates and photos and even have visits
- Allowing them the opportunity to remain in their child’s life and develop personal relationships with their child and their child’s adoptive parents throughout the course of their child’s life
- Assists a little in easing the loss
Benefits to adoptive parents:
- Allowing them to build healthy relationships with their child’s birth families
- Obtaining important medical and background information about their child
- Giving them the opportunity to contact their child’s birth families in order to answer questions they may have regarding their child’s history
- Helping them to gain a shared respect for child’s birth family
- Increasing their sense of confidence and permanency in their parenting
Deciding On a Level of Openness
When deciding on a level of openness within an adoption, it is important to determine what will work best for you and your family, not just in your current situation but going into the future. An adoptive parent must take into consideration when they will share information regarding their child with their child’s birthparents and to what degree. This conversation should take places before you are matched with a birthmother, when the decision can be made based on logic and not emotion. Agencies will require prospective adoptive parents to decide on the level of openness as well as other decisions that will define the situations the family is open to prior to being presented with a match. Social workers will then use your key to dictate which expecting parents to show your profile to be considered. This ensures that both families desire a similar level of openness which helps to create a positive match. Be honest about the commitment you are willing to have and create limitations that you are comfortable with. For instance, if you believe that due to distance you are only able to really commit to one visit a year, don’t promise two visits.
Once you have decided on a level of communication, the agency will create a Future Contact Agreement which will be used to document the openness levels both parties have agreed upon. Agreements typically plan out the precise number of times per year and forms of contact that the adoptive parents will have with birthparents. For instance, the agreement may state “ Birthparents may visit no fewer than three times a year until the child reaches the age of six, and then afterwards no fewer than one time a year, on mutually agreed upon dates and times, with visits totaling no less than four hours per visit”.
Some parents choose to have all communication between the birthparent and the child be filtered through them until the child reaches the age of 18, and then allowing the child to determine the nature of their future communication.
There are no set requirements that an adoptive parent must put into place within the agreement, but instead the agreement should be used to be specific in details regarding open communication and to reach a level of agreement with the birthparents.
It is important to note that in most states, these agreements are not legally enforceable. They are set up to be a show of good faith in keeping the promises made to each other.
Levels of Open Communication
Fully Open Adoption – This means that the adoptive and birthparents exchange identifying information such as last names, phone numbers addresses, etc. The majority of adoptions do not begin full open however many do become more open over time.
Getting Over Initial Fears of Open Adoption In Order to Gain the Benefits
It is important to remember that although open adoption may seem like a scary concept at first, it’s important to dive into the fear and break apart the insecurities in order to really see how the benefits of open adoption typically outweigh the negatives. Most importantly, it is about the child and helping them to be able to securely establish a sense of identity as they grow and continue to ask questions.