By definition, adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a child with someone other than the child's biological parents. An open adoption is a type of adoption in which a birth family may have some form of initial and/or ongoing contact with an adoptive family. That contact could include meeting one another, sharing full identifying information and/or having ongoing contact over the years.
There are different forms of openness:
Semi-Open Adoption (Mediated)
History of Open Adoption
For the past several generations, adoption was kept secret. "Today, most adopted children and youth know that they are adopted, and many adoptive families have had some contact with birth families. A national study of adoptive families in the United States found that in approximately one-third of all adoptive families, the adoptive parents or the adopted child or youth had some contact with the birth family after the adoption. Postadoption contact occurred more often in private domestic adoption (68 percent) as compared with adoption from foster care (39 percent) and international adoption (6 percent). A more recent study among U.S. adoption agencies reported that almost all (95 percent) of their domestic infant adoptions were open."
Openness in Adoption: Building Relationships Between Adoptive and Birth Families Child Welfare Information Gateway Fact Sheet for Families January 2013.
Several factors have contributed to the increasing openness of adoption. First, there is growing awareness of the negative effects of secrecy and the benefits of openness for adopted children. Second, in response to large numbers of adoptees returning to adoption agencies seeking information, states have changed adoption laws. Third, social media is connecting adoptees to their biological families. Choosing openness at the time of the adoption may provide greater control over as well as preparation for future contact and facilitate communication between parties.
Post Adoption Contact Agreements
Open adoption should be decided by written agreement. It is important that the birth and adoptive families agree on what “open” means in their particular circumstance and have these plans in writing. No matter how well the families get along before the adoption it is very important that everyone is clear on open adoption expectations. The amount of contact will be decided by the people involved and can range from several times a month to every few years, and can be modified over time as needed.
Post Adoption Contact Agreements usually include visitation information as well as provisions for the sharing of information about the child in the future. California Rule of Court 5.451(b) limits the terms that can be put into a post-adoption contact agreement. Under California law, a postadoption agreement must contain the following warnings in bold type:
(1) After the adoption petition has been granted by the court, the adoption cannot be set aside due to the failure of an adopting parent, a birth parent, a birth relative, an Indian tribe, or the child to follow the terms of this agreement or a later change to this agreement.
(2) A disagreement between the parties or litigation brought to enforce or modify the agreement shall not affect the validity of the adoption and shall not serve as a basis for orders affecting the custody of the child.
(3) A court will not act on a petition to change or enforce this agreement unless the petitioner has participated, or attempted to participate, in good faith in mediation or other appropriate dispute resolution proceedings to resolve the dispute.
Once an adoption petition is granted, and the adoption order is issued, juvenile court dependency jurisdiction is terminated. Any enforcement of the post adoption contact agreement must be under the continuing jurisdiction of the court granting the petition of adoption. A party seeking termination or modification of a post adoption agreement must first participate in mediation or some other alternative dispute resolution proceeding prior to litigating in court. It is important to note that the adoption will not be set aside or revoked because a party seeks modification or termination of a post adoption agreement.
California Rule of Court 5.451 requires any petition for modification or termination of an agreement to be filed using court form Request to: Enforce, Change, End Contact After Adoption Agreement (ADOPT-315).
Rights of Parents in Open Adoption
The rights of the birth parents end with the finalization of adoption. In any adoption—open or closed—birth parent rights are legally and permanently transferred to the adoptive parents, but relationships can continue in an open adoption. It is important to emphasize that even in a fully open adoption, adoptive parents and birth parents do not parent their child together. In all forms of adoption only the adoptive parents have the permanent legal rights and responsibilities for parenting and raising the child.
Questions for Adoptive Parents to Consider:
Open adoption is not for everyone. Open adoption may not be in a child’s best interests when a parent has mental or behavioral issues and is unable to maintain a healthy relationship or continued contact might create further trauma for a child already victimized. Additionally, birth parents may want privacy in which to move on with their lives. Further, adoptive parents may have concerns about interacting with the birth family or want greater control over the information that their child receives.
- What would contact between our family and our child’s birth family mean to our child?
- Do I want my child to know about his or her family background and related information?
- What forms of communication (letters, emails, videos, Facebook, phone calls, visits) am I comfortable with?
- At what age should our child be included in contact with his or her birth family?
- What role will our child’s birth parents and/or other birth relatives play out in our child’s life?
- How will openness with one child’s birth family affect adopted siblings who have different levels of openness?
- How will we react if we choose a closed adoption and our child and birth parents later establish contact through social media or other avenues.
Making an open adoption work requires commitment to building and maintaining healthy relationships between birth and adoptive families:
- Stay focused on what is in the best interests of the child, which may not always be the same as the preferences of the birth and adoptive families.
- Show respect for and acceptance of the other family members.
- Set clear boundaries of what and what is not acceptable in terms of contact and communication, and respect the limits requested by other parties.
- Maintain open communication that reflects a genuine commitment to maintaining connection.
- Be flexible and recognize that needs may change over time.
The impact of social media
- Increasing numbers of adopted people and their birth families are finding each other through social networking site whether the adoption is open or closed.
- Connections are being made between adopted people and their birth families without the benefit of support systems.
- Online contact may occur with a preteen or child before the young person is developmentally ready.
- Professionals urge adopted children and youth, and their adoptive families, to think through their contact and expectations and prepare for a range of potential emotional reactions.
- Adoptive parents need to monitor and manage their child’s age-appropriate use of the internet and of social media.
- Adoptive parents need also to respond to questions about the birth family, provide age-appropriate information, prepare the child that the birth family may make contact with them on line, and discuss potential responses, i.e. prepare themselves and their children.
Openness in Adoption: Building Relationships Between Adoptive and Birth Families, Child Welfare Information Gateway Fact Sheet for Families January 2013.