Open, semi-open, and closed adoptions

There are a number of important decisions that adoptive parents will need to make during the adoption process – a process that is complex and involves factors that many parents-to-be have never had to consider before. One such decision is whether to have an open, semi-open, or closed adoption.

Types of adoption

At its most basic level, a closed adoption means there is no contact between the adoptive family and the birth parents after the adoption takes place. (There may also be no contact before.) An open adoption, by contrast, is when all parties meet each other and can stay in each other’s lives in some capacity after the adoption takes place. This can mean different things to different families, including anything from a yearly exchange of letters and photos to a regular dinner together, depending on what both parts of the family are comfortable with.

A semi-open adoption, on the other hand, is facilitated by an agency, and allows birth families and adoptive families to share some information, including photos, letters, and medical information, which are sent first to the adoption agency, and then on to the family. This system allows for shared information while still keeping the identities of both families relatively anonymous to each other. Semi-open adoptions can be turned into open adoptions eventually, if everyone involved feels comfortable.

In the U.S., closed adoptions used to be much more common – and often the children of these adoptions didn’t know of their adoption, and their parents often didn’t know much about their children’s birth families. Closed adoptions are still common in international adoptions. When adoptions are “closed,” the adoption files are sealed, and accessing this information can be a difficult process. Many states have procedures through which people can “open” a closed adoption and gain access to information about the adoption, including information about the birth parents. In other cases, depending on local laws and specifics of the closed adoption, children may or may not be able to access records until they turn 18, or at all.

Choosing a type of adoption

For a variety of reasons, different families feel that different types of adoption suit them better than others. In an open adoption, there is sometimes concern over birth parents remaining in a child’s life – from fear of intrusion or confusion for the child. Closed adoption removes some of these worries, but there is also no contact with birth parents should questions arise, like family or health history. Open adoptions allow adoptive parents to have access to this kind of information, and also allows children to hear answers to questions some about their birth parents and background. Often when older children are adopted, these adoptions are at least partially open because children are already old enough to know about members of their birth family and may wish to stay in touch with them or with any biological siblings living elsewhere.

  • “Open vs. Closed Adoption.” FindLaw. Thompson Reuters. Retrieved September 12 2018.
  • “Types of adoptions.” National Adoption Center. National Adoption Center. Retrieved September 12 2018.
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