What Does an Open Adoption Really Look Like?

Before you get too far into the adoption process, you will need to start considering what level of openness you want for your family. An open adoption allows your child to get to know their birth parents and hear more of their own story. You may even find it helpful to have a medical history and family background to help you make major decisions for your child’s future. There will always be some information that adoptive parents may never know without a relationship with the birth parents.

Some adoptive families choose to maintain contact with the birth parents even after the child gets older. Others prefer a more closed-off relationship where the child rarely, if ever, has contact with the birth mother. The unique circumstances surrounding each adoption plan can sometimes dictate what degree of openness is appropriate. With so many different options, how do you know what an open adoption really looks like?

Here are a few methods that you might want to consider when thinking about your own open adoption.

Communication through a Third-Party

Keeping contact with birth parents through a third-party is the lowest degree of openness. Your adoption agency may handle the contact or you could set up a P.O. box specifically for this purpose. All contact will consist of letters, pictures, and other small items that you might be able to send back and forth in the mail. There will be few face-to-face visits with the birth parents, and your child may never meet them on their own.

If you do allow visits with the birth parents, they tend to take place in a public location with a neutral observer. This person might be a caseworker or agency representative. You might even find it necessary to hire a guardian-ad-litem to watch over the interactions and give feedback regarding what is healthy for the child. This contact is extremely limited and highly structured, preventing the birth parents from becoming overly involved in the child’s life.

Some adoptive parents may begin with this form of openness to test the waters before deciding on a more informal method. At this stage, you might not give birth parents any identifying information such as last names, phone numbers, or a home address.

Open Adoption Contract

If you want to have a greater degree of involvement with a birth parent without a third-party agency, you might consider setting up an open adoption contract. This document outlines exactly what both the birth parents and adoptive parents can expect over the coming years. It may detail major milestones like a six-month visit or an annual trip to visit birth parents. With the information firmly in writing, everyone knows what to expect and when.

In order to facilitate this, you may have to give the birth parents some or all of your identifying information.

With these expectations in place, an open adoption becomes a little more familiar. You may decide to abandon or modify the open adoption contract in the future if you feel the child could benefit from more frequent or less frequent contact. Consider setting a date in the future where you might review the information, such as the child’s fifth birthday. By this time, they may have developed feelings and opinions regarding these visits that could be helpful in making decisions related to openness.

Informal Open Adoption

If a birth mother desires to be extremely involved in the child’s life, adoptive parents may opt to create a completely open-door policy. You might find it appropriate to share all of your identifiable information and facilitate contact on your own outside of the adoption agency. The frequency of the visits, phone calls, and letters might be determined in advance or it may develop organically. Sometimes, contact will occur frequently in the beginning and become more infrequent as the child grows up.

In other cases, adoptive families and birth families take on a much more active role in the child’s life. Some adoptive families will facilitate regular visits, even allowing the birth mother to babysit the child on occasion. In many ways, she becomes a member of the extended family and can experience all of the major milestones in the child’s life.

How do you decide?

Adoptions don’t always have a clear way to identify what is perfect for your family, the child, or the birth family. There are no right and wrong ways to go about handling an open adoption. Trial and error may be required as the years pass. Most children will want some information and express curiosity about their birth parents at some point. Openness is one way to ensure that they can get answers to their most pressing questions.

If you choose to have a completely closed adoption, you should consider putting together a scrapbook for the child. Include pictures of their adoptive parents and extended family. Even a few personal details about the birth mom’s likes and dislikes might be treasured information. Children tend to crave clarity about their origin and may seek out answers on their own without help from their adoptive parents.

Keep in mind that not all birth parents will desire to have an open relationship with the child. Some mothers may find it too painful to continue to interact with a child they placed with another family. Respect her decision not to be a continued part of the child’s life if this is what she expresses.

No matter what level of openness you decide on, remember that you are ultimately trying to act in your new child’s best interest. Keep their relationship and emotional health at the forefront of your mind instead of reacting based on your own emotions. Deciding what degree of openness you desire in advance of being placed with a child can help you to think clearly about what you believe is best. These arrangements can give you a starting point to discuss the options with your partner and make an informed decision. However, you can come up with whatever creative solution suits your families the best.

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