What is Open Adoption?
"Open Adoption" is a very broad term that simply means that the birth family and the adoptive family have some degree of contact with each other. They may know each other's name and perhaps their professions, interests or hobbies. The birthparents are given the ability to choose which adoptive family seems best to love and raise their child. The birthparents, the adopted child and his adoptive family are able to keep in touch through the years.
The amount of information they know about each other and the frequency and type of continued contact they maintain varies from adoption to adoption. There is a wide spectrum of variation in adoption relationships just as there are differences in relationships between acquaintances, friends, or extended family members.
Fully Disclosed Open Adoption
In a fully disclosed open adoption, all parties have full identifying information about one another. But a truly open adoption is more than just knowing each other's last names and addresses. Brenda Romanchik, a birthmother of more than 20 years puts it nicely in one of her pocket guides entitled "What Is Open Adoption?"
"The primary difference between a truly open adoption and a semi-open adoption is that open adoption is about inclusive relationships. It is not a contract, it is a covenant, a commitment that the birthfamily and the adoptive family make to each other and the child. It is not about the adoptive parents bestowing birthparents with the privilege of contact, nor is it about birthparents merely being available to provide information over the years. It is about birthfamily and adoptive family creating an extended family relationship. In practical terms it means that contact through letters and pictures, e-mail, phone calls and visits exist in the same way they do in any extended family relationship." 1
It might be more comfortable for some to write out a recipe for what an "average" open adoption looks like. But since all relationships are different, it is hard to say what should be "average" or "typical." We can fairly say that there is a range of contact that the adoption relationship falls within. At one end of the spectrum, the birthfamily might exchange letters and pictures with the adoptive family and the child once every few years. At the other end of the spectrum, they might speak on the phone frequently and have an activity every week with one another. Everything else falls somewhere in between.
Adoptive relationships, just like most other relationships in our lives, don't always stay the same. Changes in life circumstances often affect the type and amount of contact they have. A birthmother may live in the same town as the adoptive family for the first few years of the child's life, but she might get married or get a job that moves her across the country for the next five years. Sharon Kaplan-Roszia and Lois Melina state in their book, The Open Adoption Experience , "In practice, the relationship in open adoption is...comparable to that between in-laws." And as with in-law relationships, adoptive relationships can develop into close friendships while others may remain more distant.
The most important consideration in an open adoption relationship is placing importance on the needs of the adopted child. After all, it was seeing the needs of the child that prompted the move toward openness of adoption in the first place. When the child is an infant, the adult parties work through the discomfort and awkwardness that a new, uncharted relationship brings. But as the adopted child grows up, the adults must be sensitive and take their cues from the child. He may go through periods of not wanting to talk much about his adoption or have contact with his birthfamily. He may go through other periods of needing more contact. Sometimes the adult's needs may not always coincide with the child's needs.
For open adoption to work best, birthparents and adoptive parents need to see their involvement with each other as a sacred commitment, or a covenant they make to each other and the child for the sake of the child.
For more, click Who Benefits From Open Adoption?
1. Romanchik, Brenda, "What is Open Adoption?" R-Squared Press, Royal Oak, MI, July 2001, p.2. http://www.openadoptioninsight.org/