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Open vs. Closed Adoption

Open vs. Closed Adoption

Adoption is a process that seems straightforward as long as you follow all the necessary procedures and file the required paperwork in order to make a relationship between a parent and a child legal. However, there are two primary categories of adoption – open and closed.

Closed adoption

A closed adoption is the type where there is totally no contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents as well as the child. There is also no classifying information shared between families about each other, thereby effectively cutting possible contact between the two. Before the child joins the family, the adoptive parents are provided with non-identifying data about the child and his or her birth family. Once the adoption is concluded, all records are sealed. These sealed records may or may not become accessible to the adopted child once he or she turns 18, but this is dependent on the signed paperwork and local law.

Before the 1980s, most adoptions were kept closed. This is because women who go through unexpected pregnancy simply relocate while pregnant, give birth and then return to their homes. The doctor or an agency then looks for an adoptive family for the child without the mother knowing. This kind of setup can bring about a lot of complications and confusion within the adoptive family, particularly on the adopted child.

Fortunately, closed are becoming less and less popular, with an estimated 1 out of 10 mothers requesting for it. Agencies, adoptive families and the birth mother are slowly starting to recognize the negative effects of closed adoption. Over time, this helped adoption as a whole evolve into a better system.

At present, most adoption agencies let the birth mother decide on most of the terms of the adoption, including how much interaction she wants to maintain with the child and adoptive parents. The agency then looks for the suitable adoptive family that will adhere to the birth mother’s wishes. Even so, there are still some birth parents who prefer closed adoptions and deny contact or exchange of identifying information.

Open adoption

Open adoption is the exact opposite of a closed adoption. In this situation, there is some kind of fellowship between the birth and adoptive parents and the adopted child. Generally, there is an exchange of identifying information (e.g. first and last names, home address, phone number, etc.) and contact is retained between the two parties. There are several examples of an open adoption, including:

  • Birth parents receive pictures and letters from the adoptive family
  • Birth parents engage in regular phone calls with the child
  • Contact between the birth family and adoptive family are conducted through an intermediary
  • Both families are allowed to make personal visits to each other.

These are just some of the possible scenarios that fall under an open adoption. For older children and teen adoptees, their adoptions are almost always open because they already have spent a good deal of their life with their birth parents. Therefore, they most likely will have some sort of identifying information about their birth parents or other members of their family, such as their siblings who might have been placed separately.

Now that you know the difference between open and closed adoption, you might be wondering about the adoption situations that fall somewhere between these two. Such cases are called semi-open adoptions.

Semi-open adoption

This is technically a kind of open adoption where there is less direct contact between the birth and adoptive families. Normally, the identifying information is safeguarded and contact between parties before and after child placement is facilitated by an adoption professional.

Similar to most open adoptions, a semi-open adoption differs from one case to another, and is usually tailor-made to birth parent’s preferences. Hence, as potential adoptive parents, you should be open to changes in communication throughout the process, since the predilections and comfort levels of the birth parent may change in the long run.


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