What exactly is an open adoption? If you ask three sets of adoptive or birth parents to define open adoption, you may get three very different responses. The most basic feature of an open adoption is that identifying information is exchanged between birth and adoptive parents. However, in closed or open adoptions, the records are sealed after an adoption is finalized.
Some people feel that to call an adoption “open” when there is no contact is misleading. However, technically an adoption is open as long as the adoptive and birth parents know each others’ names and other identifying information. The birth and adoptive parents may have meet, either before or after the child’s birth. In some instances, there is no direct contact and sometimes this type of adoption is called semi-adoption.. However, there are many varying degrees of openness. Open adoptions may include letters, telephone calls, the exchange of photographs, emails and visits.
Open adoptions that involve contact might include one or more visits per year, and phone or email contact in between visits. The most open adoptions include more frequent visits, sometimes as often monthly or week. Probably the majority of open adoptions include visits in between the two extremes of annual or weekly visits. Some holidays may be celebrated together in open adoptions with more frequent contact.
A truly open adoption, however, features regular visits and often the birth family becomes much like extended family members. However, open adoptions are not co-parenting and the adoptive parents retain control over all decisions affecting the child. Many adoption experts are convinced that openness alleviates many of the troubling issues that some adoptees experience. Some of the benefits of open adoptions include:
Adopted children are able to have questions answered about their adoption throughout their lives by their birth parents, instead of wondering or relying on other for information and possibly thinking the worst.
There is an opportunity for adopted children to develop an enriching and rewarding relationship with their birth parents, and sometimes siblings.
In open adoptions, important medical information is generally readily available to adopted children and their adoptive parents.
For birth parents, knowing how and where their children may provide some sense of comfort.
Many people who are uneducated about open adoptions have many fears, most of which are probably groundless. Adoptive parents may fear that:
Having birth parents in the picture will interfere with their bonding with the child;
Children are confused in open adoptions;
If the birth parents have contact with their child, they might try to take the child back;
The child might like the birthparents better than the adoptive parents;
A birth mother will not heal if she continues to see her child; and
The birth parents will want more contact than they do.
An open adoption is primarily for the benefit of the child. However, for it to work, both the birth and adoptive parents need to be flexible and willing to compromise for the sake of the child. Discussing expectations, developing a plan and educating yourself about open adoptions can help in making them work. If you are aware of the potential issues that may arise, you will be better able to find good workable solutions.