"Open" and "Closed" Adoptions?

An "open" adoption is one where there is mutual disclosure of personal information about the birth parents and adoptive parents. Such personal information may include names, occupations, family background, medical histories, photographs and in-person meetings. A "closed" adoption is one where no personal or identifying information is exchanged and an agency handles all details.

The vast majority, about 70%, of adoptions today are open to some extent. The increase in popularity of open adoption has come about because birth mothers want the ability to choose the family they feel will best raise the child, and because adoptive parents want to know something about their child's birth parents. The degree of openness is determined by the desires of the parties.

A minimal exchange of information would be a letter and photographs that are sent to birth parents by prospective adoptive parents ("Birth parent Letter" - more on this later). Many families choose to have some form of ongoing contact both before and after the adoption.

Many birth parents request an in-person visit before choosing a family. It is common to send update letters and photographs to birth parents at least once a year after the adoption is finalized. An agency can act as an intermediary in these cases and nothing more than first names need be disclosed. In a completely open adoption, there is ongoing contact and visits with the arrangements made by the parties themselves.

Prospective adoptive parents often find the idea of open adoption to be frightening. These feelings are based on fears of loss of privacy and the potential for unwanted contact from birth parents in the future. In my experience, those fears are rarely realized. Early in the pre-adoption process, the adoptive parents should be counseled about the options and decide how much openness they are willing to have.

Once a birth mother has been located, both parties should receive counseling and assistance in developing a mutually agreeable adoption plan. Adoptive parents must always remember that birth parents are afraid too!