Woman signing contract about adoption

What is the Difference Between Open and Closed Adoption?

If you have started researching adoption, then you have most certainly run into the terms open adoption and closed adoption. Though the terms themselves may seem self-explanatory, reality is actually far more nuanced. There are many options available to birth families and adoptive families today for having a level of relationship that works for everyone.

What is Open Adoption?

Open adoption is far more common today than in previous decades. Birth parents who choose adoption have much more support in their journey than was historically available, and they are encouraged to continue a role in their biological child’s life. Children in an open adoption often feel a stronger sense of identity and acceptance of their family circumstances.

Open adoption is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Contact with the birth parents may only involve letters and photos, or it can be as integrated as regular visits and family time. Sometimes, open adoption involves extended family members in addition to, or rather than, the birth parents. This is common when extended family members were caring for a child in foster care prior to the adoption.

Some families who are initially welcoming to the idea of open adoption are understandably concerned about future problems with the level of contact. They may wonder if an open adoption can be flexible. Most open adoption relationships have ebbs and flows to their dynamic, much like other relationships in one’s life. It is vital to enter into open adoption with healthy boundaries, and maybe even written commitments for each party. If there are circumstances in which the adoptive family feels that contact should be limited or ended with the birth parents, they will need to get in touch with their attorney to learn more about their rights and responsibilities. Transparency and communication are essential in open adoption relationships.

What is Closed Adoption?

In a closed adoption, the birth parents choose not to have any continued contact with the adoptive family or child. There are many reasons a birth parent might make this choice, but some include:

  • To protect the child – If the birth mother is experiencing violence, criminal activity, or heavy drug use in day-to-day life, she may determine that both her child and the adoptive family will be safest if there is no connection to her.
  • To protect her well-being – Some birth mothers feel that regular contact with their biological child would be too difficult for their emotional and mental health. They choose a closed adoption so that they can mourn the loss of their child and then move forward.
  • To protect her privacy – A birth mother may choose closed adoption to prevent others from knowing about her pregnancy, or that she gave birth to the child. The closed adoption ensures that her boundaries will be respected and that she will not be contacted by the adoptive family.

Though closed adoption prevents identifiable information about the birth parents from being shared, some non-identifiable information is still available in a closed adoption. Pennsylvania has an Adoption Information Registry, which holds the medical, ancestral, and social history of birth parents so that adopted children and their families have access to relevant health information. Also, updates about the child can sometimes be passed through a third-party to the birth parents without revealing identities. Adoptive parents and birth parents in a closed adoption also may have some contact prior to the birth of the baby, but with identifiable information withheld to prevent later contact.

Open Adoption vs. Closed Adoption – Is One Better?

While open adoption is the most common form of adoption today, closed adoption may still be the better option for either a birth family or the adoptive family. There are many factors and considerations that go into deciding on an open vs. closed adoption, and it is very important to explore all of them with your caseworker.

Adoption will never be a completely perfect journey, but with education, support, transparency, and thoughtful planning, it is often a beautiful experience that brings healing to many different people. Whether a birth mother develops a plan for an open adoption or a closed adoption, we are always so grateful to her for the blessing she so selflessly gave to both her child and the adoptive family.

About the Author

Kelly Weidner is a co-founder of Haven Adoptions, Inc., and is a a well respected advocate in the adoption community. In that time, she has lead Haven Adoptions in connecting countless children with loving homes. Kelly is a member of the National Association for Professional Women, on the Executive Committee of the Our Lady of Mercy Board of Jurisdiction and lives in Ambler, PA with her three children.
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