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What Is An Open Adoption?

What Is An Open Adoption?

Adoption is a process by which a child is born to one set of biological parents, and is then raised by different parents. The adoptive parents are the child’s legal parents. But just because the child is being loved and raised by his or her legal parents, should that mean that the biological parents, or birthparents, must forfeit all contact with them?

Many people say no, just because you don’t have the resources to raise a child should not mean that you have to cut that child out of your life completely. Children, too, have a right to know where they came from originally, and to establish relationships with their genetic parents, even if those people aren’t the primary parents.

The resulting custom is called “open adoption.” Open adoption can mean several different things.

The birthparents know who their child’s adoptive parents are, and vice versa. There was a time, not very long ago, when all adoption records were secret, and adoptive parents knew nothing about their child’s birthparents. Birthparents, too, let go of their babies and never saw them again. But adoptive parents need to know things like their child’s medical history, and birthparents need to know their child is well cared for and doing well. There can be contact between birth and adoptive families. Pictures may be exchanged, emails sent, letters written, and gifts given for birthdays and Christmas.

Adopted children may be encouraged to establish independent relationships with their birthparents. Rather than being cut off from their genetic roots, many adopted children are allowed and encouraged to get to know their birthparents. Birthparents may be treated like extended family. Some families invite their children’s birthparents to birthday parties or family dinners. The birthmother or birthfather is as much a part of the child’s life as an uncle or aunt, and is included in a similar fashion.

It avoids long searches for birthparents by adoptees. If an adopted child wants to know his or her birthparents, an open adoption makes that easier; the families already have some kind of contact. They do not have to spend years searching through old files and following rabbit trails. They can simply get their birthparents’ address from their parents or lawyers.

Different families will do open adoption differently. Many families, for example, are not comfortable including birthparents in the family, but are quite glad to send pictures and progress reports to birthparents several times a year. Others, however, feel that a child can never have too much love, and anyone who loves their child should be included in that child’s life. Open adoption often makes it easier for a birthmother to place her baby for adoption. Many know that they aren’t ready to raise a child, but still want to know the child is happy and loved. Open adoption provides them with a means to stay connected, to whatever degree, while still letting their child be raised by a loving family.

The Challenges of Open Adoption

Families who are looking to expand their family through adoption are bound to have many questions. In fact, it’s perfectly normal for any future parent to have questions about parenting, regardless of how they bring their new child into the family. Adoptive parents have even more questions to think about, because not only do they have to worry about raising a child, but also about the process of adoption itself. Often, one of the biggest questions is what the best arrangement with the child’s birth parent should be. Most parents know that they can choose either a private adoption, where the birth parents have no contact with the child, or an open adoption, where the birth parents do remain in contact. Choosing open adoption always leads to more questions as it’s not a black-and-white arrangement. Every family is different and has different needs when it comes to birth parent relationships, and sometimes these needs can change over time.

A Permanent Arrangement

One question that many adoptive parents have is whether an open adoption has to be a permanent arrangement. Most accept that that is the idea situation, but there can be circumstances that might lead adoptive parents to want to change the terms of an open adoption, or cancel contact with the child’s birth parents altogether. So what should adoptive parents do when encountering these situations? Will reducing or cutting off contact be harmful to their child.

In general, consistency is extremely important when it comes to raising children. Children need to know what to expect in order to feel comfortable and secure. Cutting off contact with the child’s birth parents unexpectedly, especially for reasons that are not understandable to the child, can lead to emotional challenges for your child. In an open adoption, when relationship problems arise between you and your child’s birth parents, it’s always best to try to work out your differences first before cutting off contact completely. However, there might be situations where maintaining frequent contact causes your child more harm. This is always a risk with an open adoption. Sometimes, for various reasons, a child is not able to handle a regular relationship with their birth parent. When this happens, you might have to make the decision to reduce contact, or end it altogether for a period of time (assuming you don’t have a legal arrangement that would prevent this).

Doing What Is Best for Your Family

When it comes to open adoption and the relationship your child has with his or her birth parents, there is no one size fits all solution. You have to choose the arrangement that works best for your family, and you might have to adjust that arrangement over time. If you are unsure of how successful your child’s relationship with his birth parents is, just sit down and have a conversation with him. An open adoption is never an easy thing. It’s bound to have its challenges, but with compassion, understanding, and open communication you will be able to successfully navigate through it as a family. Times have changed in the world of adoption. Years ago couples went to their local adoption agency, filled out the paperwork and waited for their newborn. Today’s adoptions are far more involved, expensive, and difficult to negotiate. The whole process can be a scary and daunting proposition. That’s why many couples now turn to an adoption consultant for help and guidance.

Never heard of one? You’re likely familiar with a wedding planner who coordinates all the details involved in putting together a wedding. In a similar way, an adoption consultant serves as an advocate for adoptive parents. Consultants help the pre-adoptive parents navigate the maze, create a profile, and connect with the best agencies and attorneys for them. With a consultant, your adoption will most likely go quicker and be safer. Chances are you’ll also save money, have less stress, and probably sleep better at night.

Just starting to consider adoption? This may be the best time to get involved with a consultant. The first step in approaching an adoption is a thorough and honest look at what’s involved and an assessment of whether adoption is a good decision for your family. Before you start the process, you need to know what you’re getting into, and have realistic expectations.

If you decide adoption is right for your family, there are a lot of decisions you need to make. Would you prefer a domestic or international adoption? Will it be an open adoption, closed, or somewhere in between? Do you want a newborn, or would you consider adopting an older child? There are pros and cons to each type of adoption and while some families are very comfortable with a fully open adoption or an older child, others prefer raising a newborn with less of a connection with the birth family.

Once you’ve narrowed the type of adoption you want, the journey truly begins. An adoption consultant can help you get started and work with you to put together a customized plan to help you through the process. You’ll learn about procedures, home studies, legal issues and the various levels of openness. A consultant can help you prepare for your interaction with birth parents and various adoption professionals and will work with you to put together a prospective parent profile. A great profile can make all the difference in how fast you’re selected by a birth mother.

Many couples pursue adoption after years of grueling infertility treatments that can leave them feeling frustrated and powerless. Those same feelings are often carried over into the adoption journey. Adoption is a whole new area that can seem overwhelming and even more uncontrollable than infertility treatments. A good adoption consultant can help prospective parents exert significant control over the domestic adoption process, especially the amount of time the entire process takes. Throughout the journey, a consultant will be looking out for your best interests. Unfortunately, some couples are so desperate for a child they’re seduced by less-than reputable people or are pressured into accepting a situation that’s not right for their family. An adoption consultant will be supportive and will remind you that you’re not looking for any birth mother, you’re looking for the right birth mother. She and your future child are out there and a consultant can help you find each other.

Closed Adoption – Another Option

Adoption is an old tradition in the United States, and like many old traditions, it has undergone serious changes throughout its existence. Public opinion about adoption has changed over time, as has cultural acceptance and its overall popularity. Not only have that, but the terms of adoption changed as well. In this day of technology and advanced communications, adoptions which allow the children to know who their parents were are more common. However, closed adoptions, in which the children never learn the identity of their biological parents, are still available.
Such adoptions were quite common in the past, reaching the height of their popularity just after World War 2. The idea is that when a young child is put up for adoption, the record of the birth parents is sealed, and the birth father is often not recorded at all. This effectively removes any chance for the adopted child to find his or her biological parents later in life. Naturally, because the closed adoption relies on the child having no idea who his or her parents are, it is only practical in very young children. The perceived advantages of this type of confidential process are that children grow up feeling an actual connection to their adoptive parents, and know no other life. Some parents feel that this is a more nurturing, more caring relationship to have with their adopted children, and that it allows them to have the same relationship with these children that they have with any biological children they might have.

However, this style of adoption also poses a fair number of concerns in the light of our modern society. Beyond the problem that older children cannot be adopted in this manner, adoptive parents with no knowledge of their children’s parental background are not able to make predictions about illnesses or other medical issues the children may have inherited from their biological parents. Additionally, many children who were adopted in closed adoptions find that they want to find their biological parents later in life, and have to go through a long search process to find them. Many see open adoptions as a more practical method in today’s world, and some critics of the confidential system even go so far as to say that making a child’s birth parents literally a state secret is a violation of human rights.

Here Is How Open Adoption Works:
1. Finding an Open Adoption Opportunity
A birth mother begins thinking about her “adoption plan,” usually with the assistance of an adoption professional and sometimes a friend or family member, and decides she wants to pursue an open adoption with the adoptive family she ultimately chooses. An adoptive family decides they too want to pursue an open adoption with the birth parents because of the many benefits of open adoption. The two parties then find each other either independently or through an adoption professional and decide to pursue the same open adoption plan together, including the types and amount of contact they are interested in sharing.

2. Sharing Pre-Placement Contact in an Open Adoption
If the birth mother and adoptive family were matched through an adoption professional, a social worker will likely introduce both parties to one another and set up a conference call or meeting, depending on how quickly both parties want the openness in their relationship to occur. If they find each other independently, they will likely begin meetings or phone calls with each other immediately. Emails, phone calls and even pre-placement visits are all common during this stage of the open adoption process. As the birth mother’s due date draws closer, contact may increase or decrease – it all depends on how much contact she wants to engage in during this time.

3. Interacting at the Hospital in an Open Adoption
The birth mother will likely have formed an “adoption hospital plan” with the help of her social worker that tells the family and the hospital staff her wishes during labor and delivery. In an open adoption, it is likely the birth mother will want the adoptive family to be a part of most of the events at the hospital. This may include being in the delivery room, being the first person to hold the baby, and more. Again, it all depends on what the birth mother feels is right in her situation.

4. Sharing Post-Placement Contact in an Open Adoption
Once placement of the baby occurs, it is common for the first couple of weeks or months to be limited on contact. It is an emotional time for everyone involved, and sometimes both parties need a little time before they reengage. This is one reason why emails are so popular, as they are a simple and convenient way of checking in with one another. Over the following months, contact will begin to increase, including more emails, pictures and perhaps even phone calls. Then at some point their first post-placement visit will occur, perhaps around a holiday or the child’s first birthday. The open adoption process is never truly complete, just as relationships also grow and change over time. While fully open adoptions like this one are not usually the norm, the ones who do participate in these relationships receive many invaluable benefits, as well as more family members! However, open adoptions are not for everyone. Both prospective birth parents and adoptive families should understand how open adoption works before committing to one.

Pros of Open Adoption

Birth Mothers

For some birth mothers, they are only able to pursue an adoption plan if they can maintain a relationship with their child. Open adoption allows them this opportunity. However they envision their future relationship with their child can become a reality simply by selecting a family open to that amount of contact. By choosing a fully open adoption, a birth mother can have a relationship with her child, without the mediation of an adoption professional, but still under the guidelines agreed to before the match with the family was made. Her relationship with the adoptive family can also grow naturally, and can increase or decrease in contact over the years, based on her comfort level.
Adoptive Families

Some adoptive families believe that open adoption is much more of an advantage for the birth parents and wonder, “What benefits do we get out of open adoption?” Well, a lot actually! Families accepting of open adoption usually will have an easier time finding an adoption situation because they will be eligible for women seeking an open adoption. Conversely, families only interested in a closed adoption will only be matched with birth mothers who are also seeking a closed adoption.

Many adoption professionals have seen a trend that open adoption relationships have a better chance of ending in a successful adoption than those in a closed adoption. The reason for this could be because a birth mother who chooses a closed adoption never truly gets to know the adoptive family, cannot envision what life would be like being raised in their family, and then decides not to go through with it. Instead, a birth mother that gets to know the adoptive family, can see her child growing up in their home, and can maintain a relationship with them, has a greater chance of committing to her adoption plan. Finally, something that is commonly overlooked is the fact that open adoption allows the adoptive family to stay current on the birth mother’s and her family’s medical histories. For example, after the adoption the birth mother finds out she has a heart condition – the same heart condition her mother has. This is valuable information for the family to know about their daughter, who may also be susceptible to the same heart condition, and they can prepare accordingly.

Adopted Child

In the past, adopted children who didn’t know their birth parents felt a huge piece of themselves missing, especially when they got older. They would often wonder what their birth parents looked like, what their laughs sounded like, what things they were good at, and more. As open adoption has become more prevalent over the years, more and more children either have some sort of relationship with their birth parents or know enough about them to fill that missing void in their lives. However, in closed adoptions, these voids remain. So this is one of the biggest benefits of all of open adoption, as it gives adopted children answers to some of the tough questions they otherwise would never have known, such as “Why was I placed for adoption?” and “Do my birth parents love me?” Open adoption allows a child to understand his or her adoption story, birth parents’ reasons for choosing adoption, cultural background, and much more than only an adopted child can truly explain.

Cons of Open Adoption

Birth Mothers

Some women decide to pursue an open adoption because they believe having this amount of contact will make dealing with the grief and loss easier. Sometimes, this isn’t always the case, as having contact with the child can actually make moving on more difficult. Furthermore, in most states, post-adoption contact is not legally guaranteed, as most states have not passed post-adoption agreement laws for newborn adoptions. It is up to the birth mother to pursue an adoption with a family she feels will uphold their end of the contact promised to her, and it is up to the adoption professional to ensure the family keeps agreement.

Adoptive Families

Most adoptive families are aware at how an open adoption can improve their wait times, their likelihood of the adoption being successful, and more. However, at the end of the day, some adoptive families are just not comfortable with any feeling of “co-parenting.” While open adoption is never co-parenting, those feelings can still occur during the periodic phone calls or visits while watching their child interact with his or her birth parents. Also, while rare, some birth mothers may request more contact than what was originally agreed upon. If the adoptive parents are not ready to participate in more contact, they may be put in the uncomfortable position of denying her request.

Adopted Child

Without properly explaining adoption to the child at an early age, and making sure he or she understands the situation, the appearance of his or her birth mother could result in confusion of who his or her “real” parents are. For an open adoption to work, the adoptive family must educate themselves on how best to teach their child about his or her adoption.

Furthermore, at some age, a child may decide he isn’t interested in seeing his birth parents any more, again putting the adoptive family in an uncomfortable position. In these scenarios, moving their relationship toward a semi-open adoption would be recommended.

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Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506
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