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Adoption

Learn the pros and cons of open adoption.

A number of options are open to parents who are interested in adoption. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
A number of options are open to parents who are interested in adoption.

Many parents choose to build their families through adoption. Some families opt for international adoptions while others opt for domestic adoptions. Domestic adoption options include adoption through the foster care system, adoption through an agency or private adoptions.

Although adoptions may be open or closed, open adoptions have become more commonplace in the United States. Currently, approximately 80 percent of domestic adoptions are open adoptions. Even though open adoptions are increasingly common, many people do not thoroughly understand what constitutes an open adoption.

What Is an Open Adoption?

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute considers an open adoption to be an adoption that involves the continuation of contact between the birth family and adoptive family after the adoption is complete. The degree and type of contact can vary considerably; however, many professionals recommend that decisions about the contact should be made based on the child's well-being. The National Adoption Center acknowledges several forms of contact, including corresponding through mail, sharing pictures or carrying out a contract of visitation. Modern forms of contact may include e-mail, text messaging or video conferencing.

Benefits of Open Adoption

For adopted children, there are numerous benefits to an open adoption. Adopted children do not have to go through a period of searching for their birthparents and wondering if they will ever find them. This early openness about the adoption may also prevent adopted children from suffering identity confusion and subsequent psychological maladjustment, especially during adolescence. In some cases, an open adoption enhances the child's circle of supportive adults.

Adoptive parents and birthparents also experience unique benefits from open adoption. It is thought that open adoptions prevent adoptive parents from developing maladaptive thoughts about the adoption and their child. Specifically, the secrecy that surrounds closed adoptions may cause adoptive parents to attribute problems with the adoption to the birthparents. Furthermore, an ongoing relationship between the adoptive parents and birthparents prevents adoptive parents from denying their child's lineage. An open adoption gives birthparents more control over the adoption as they frequently have the right to choose the adoptive family. In addition, open adoption often minimizes feelings of grief that surround giving a child up for adoption.

Drawbacks of Open Adoption

One of the most significant potential drawbacks for the adopted child is the possibility that the birthparent will stop communication, which may jeopardize the adopted child's emotional well-being. In addition, some people point to the possibility that the adopted child may play the birthparents and adoptive parents against one another if there is a failure to set clear limits and boundaries. Some professionals also worry that open adoptions may interfere with the bonding process.

Adoptive parents and birthparents face specific challenges in an open adoption. First, there is some concern that open adoptions may fuel already present insecurities and uncertainties that adoptive parents have regarding their ability to parent the adopted child. Also, in some situations, the adoptive parents come to depend on the birthparent too much and vice versa. Clear boundaries and limits regarding the relationship must be established to prevent this additional strain. Finally, professionals have voiced concern that open adoptions may prolong separation, extending the grief process.

Proceeding With an Open Adoption

The first step towards an open adoption is to identify an agency that can help facilitate the process. Most good agencies offer some level of counseling to prospective adoptive parents and birthparents to help reflect on and cope with any feelings of loss, including the inability to have biological children.

Adoptive parents must complete a home study in accordance with state regulations. A home study includes a home visit, interviews and background checks to determine whether the prospective adoptive parents qualify to serve as parents. The home study also educates the adoptive parents and helps them prepare for adoption.

Birthparents review biographies written by the prospective adoptive parents and select parents based on those profiles. Throughout the process, counselors should work with birthparents to ensure their comfort and willingness with respect to putting their child up for adoption. During counseling, it is important to identify issues pertaining to the roles of the birthparents and adoptive parents as well as expected boundaries and limits in the relationship. Following the birth of the child, counselors should remain available to help facilitate the terms of the relationship and mediate any conflicts that arise.

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