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Deciding Adoption Preferences: Open Versus Closed Adoptions

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Having made the decision to adopt and determining how the adoption will be paid for, couples need to think carefully about the type of adoption they want to pursue and the sort of child they are open to adopting. Though all adoptions involve a transfer of parental rights from birth parents to adoptive parents, there are varieties of ways in which this process may occur. Various terms are applied to the adoption processes to differentiate between the types of arrangements that have been made in the course of the adoption proceedings.

3D Figure leaning on question markClosed vs. Open Adoptions

The first set of terms applied to the adoption process is closed, semi-open, and open. These terms describe the approximate level of contact between birth parents and adoptive parents both during the adoption process and afterwards.

Closed adoptions occur when adoptive parents and birth parents have no contact with one another, never meeting or gaining information about each other. The birth parents surrender the child to an adoption agency and never learn who adopts the child. All records identifying the birth parents are then sealed by the court and not disclosed to the adoptive parents or to the adopted child, so there is no way for them to learn the identity of the birth parents. Closed adoptions used to be the way that most adoptions occurred; however, they have declined in popularity in recent years because the majority of birth parents now choose to have some say in determining who will ultimately raise their child.

Semi-open adoptions occur when birth parents are given some say in determining which parents will have the opportunity to raise their child. In semi-open adoptions, birth parents are presented with multiple profiles of potential adoptive families and have the opportunity to read these profiles and choose the family they believe has the most to offer the child. Though profiles contain descriptive information about each potential adoptive family, identifying information (last names, addresses, etc.) is not provided or shared. Once an adoptive family has been selected, there may or may not be personal contact made between the birth parents and the adoptive parents during the adoptive process. Some families choose to have contact with one another during the period up to the birth of the child and some choose to remain more anonymous. Contact between the birth and adoptive parents stops following the final placement of the child with the adoptive parents.

Open adoption occurs when birth and adoptive parents' contact information is shared with one another and there are no barriers preventing contact between the parties, either before the adoption is finalized or afterwards. Open adoptions may start out as semi-open adoptions in which the birth parents review blind profiles of adoptive parents and then get to meet with the adoptive parents they are considering. Once a final choice of adoptive parents is made, both parties also mutually decide to share contact information and to remain in contact. In the context of an open adoption, if the birth mother has not yet given birth, the adoptive parents may be invited to participate in preparations for labor and delivery. Following the adoption, some form of regular contact is established between the birth parent and the adoptive family. For some families, contact may occur in the form of regular email or written letter updates with pictures only and no in-person contact occurring between the child and birth parents until the child is older. For other families, the birth parents become almost members of the new family and are invited to major gatherings and celebrations.