After a birthmother has chosen an adoption agency, she must ask herself, “What kind of relationship do I want to have with this child’s adoptive family?” The best way to answer that question is to learn as much as you can about the three options for adoption plans: open, semi-open, or confidential.
Historically, adoptions were completely confidential. Throughout the 1980’s, there was a move toward openness in adoptions. Although most adoptions have some degree of openness with very positive results, no single plan is right for each circumstance.
Common elements of open adoption:
- The birthparents meet potential adoptive parents to confirm their selection.
- The birth and adoptive families fully disclose identifying information.
- There is usually ongoing contact surrounding the pregnancy and birth as families build their relationship and develop trust.
- After placement, there is direct contact between families, either by telephone, e-mail, or letter.
- There are face-to-face visits between birth and adoptive families as the child grows up.
Parents and children involved in an open adoption communicate directly, without a third party. This plan allows both families to nurture their relationship as it naturally develops. Information is shared easily, questions are answered fully, and there is a greater understanding of the child’s biological history.
Healthy and clearly understood boundaries are essential, and there is work involved in developing open and trusting relationships. Misunderstandings can occur and need to be cleared up in a spirit of understanding and trust.
Common elements of semi-open adoption:
- The birthparents choose a family from written, non-identifying information and generally choose to meet.
- An agency or third party mediates the contact between the parties before and after the birth.
- Birthparents and adoptive parents may know each other by their first names only, or they may exchange full names.
- Correspondence is sent through the agency or third party.
- Post-placement meetings are arranged and may be supervised by a third party.
- Adoptive parents share the child’s pictures and letters with the birthparents and may include gifts, videotapes, ect.
- Birthparents share family pictures and letters with the adoptive parents and may send gifts.
The advantage of this arrangement is that both families have the opportunity to develop a relationship over time. A semi-open adoption gives everyone the freedom to communicate with the assistance of a trained mediator. Levels of contact vary and are determined by birth and adoptive families.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of this plan lies in the area of sharing information. In a semi-open adoption, current information can be passed on with ease over time. A child’s adoption story continues beyond birth and, like an open adoption, his or her questions can be answered as they arise. This can be very appropriate for birthparents who feel unable to have a more involved relationship.
Communication is not direct and may be delayed because it passes through additional hands. There is a chance for misunderstanding when questions cannot be asked or answered directly. While the relationship has the opportunity to develop, it is slower than it would be in an open adoption relationship.
Common elements of confidential adoption:
- Birthparents may request that the agency choose the adoptive family.
- Birth and adoptive parents do not disclose identifying information.
- The adoptive family receives non-identifying information, including medical history, but there is not a planned, ongoing sharing of medical or social information.
- There is no contact between the adoptive family and the birth family, such as sharing pictures and letters or visits.
- Access to contacting a birthparent is limited by law and preferably is by mutual agreement when the child becomes of legal age. The adult adoptee should first contact the state’s central adoption registry and may contact the placing agency.
In most cases, total confidentiality is legally provided for birthparents and adoptive parents who desire this. For a variety of reasons, some birthparents feel compelled to keep their pregnancies and adoption plans a secret.
In this form of adoption, there is no ongoing exchange of information other than a court ordered exchange in the case of medical emergency. As an adoptive child grows, he or she may have questions that remain unanswered. Confidential adoptions make it difficult to gain needed information. A family who has accepted a child through confidential adoption at the birthparents’ request, may later express the desire for communication with the birth family because the child has a biological history that the family cannot access. A child may want to meet the birthparents or they seek answers to questions that the adoptive family cannot answer. Even in situations where the birthparent wants to maintain a level of privacy, a semi-open arrangement is an alternative to consider because it allows some level of information exchange.