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Many open adoption relationships have a warmth that comes from having shared a common struggle – allowing yourself to be vulnerable to another human being, responding to that person’s vulnerability, and being committed to a common goal that centers around the best interest of the child. Like all relationships, open adoption will inevitably have peaks and valleys; yet, as people overcome each hurdle, there are opportunities to learn what to expect from each other and ultimately gain confidence in a collective ability to make the relationships work. When it is safe to create meaningful connections for a child, openness in any adoption — however limited — can be a great gift.
Although open adoptions are thought to be a relatively new phenomenon, most adoptions in the United States until the twentieth century were open. Until the 1930s, most adoptive parents and biological parents had contact at least during the adoption process. In many cases, adoption was seen as a social support: young children were adopted out not only to help their parents (by reducing the number of children they had to support) but also to help another family by providing an apprentice.
Thankfully, as adoptive families, birth mothers, adopted children and child-placing agencies continued to see the negatives of closed adoption and the positives of open adoption, adoption as a whole began to evolve, and for the better. Today, most adoption agencies allow the birth mother to make most of the decision in the adoption, including how much contact she wants with the adoptive family and the child. It is then the adoption agency’s job to find the appropriate adoptive family for each adoption situation.
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On June 1, 2009, Ontario, Canada, opened its sealed records to adoptees and their birth parents, with a minimum age of 18 for the adoptee, or one additional year if the birth parents initiate the request. Both parties can protect their privacy by giving notice of how to be either contacted or not, and if the latter, with identifying information being released or not. All adoptions subsequent to September 1, 2008, will be "open adoptions"
Females have statistically been somewhat more likely than males to search for their birth parents, and are far more likely to search for their adopted children. Very often, the reason the infant was put up for adoption in the first place was the birth father's unwillingness to marry or otherwise care for the child. Nevertheless, many birth fathers in this situation have agreed to meet with their grown children decades later.
Although pre-birth openness is becoming routine in newborn adoptions there are more variations in the years following the birth, after the adoption has been completed. Some birth mothers want to get to know the adoptive parents before the birth, but then wish to go "their own way" in life thereafter. Getting to know the adoptive family gives her confidence in the placement and the knowledge she can feel secure in the child's future with the parents (or single parent) she selected. The birth mother may feel that future contact with the adoptive parents, or the child, would be emotionally difficult for her.
The probate laws of most states in the U.S. prohibit an adoptee from automatically inheriting from his or her birth parents. This applies regardless of whether or not the birth father participated in or agreed to the adoption. Had the adoption not have taken place, any son or daughter would be an heir upon his or her father's death—regardless of who his childhood caretakers were. There can be additional complications if the birth father has subsequently moved to another state. Should a birth parent include an "unknown" adoptee in his or her will, the probate court has no obligation to fulfill this type of request, while "known" adoptees may have the same status as non-family members. However, there is some variation in probate laws from one state to another.
Many in the adoption community first learned of search and support resources through newspaper articles, the Dear Abby column and various TV shows and movies. Starting in the mid-1980s, many adoptees and their parents first learned about the possibility of reunion on the NBC (later CBS) television program Unsolved Mysteries hosted by Robert Stack. This was under their "Lost Loves" category, the vast majority of which involved closed adoption. More than 100 reunions have occurred as a result of the program, many of those being the adoption-related cases. Reruns of the program (with a few new segments and updates) were also aired on the Lifetime Television cable network until mid-2006, and very briefly on Spike TV in late 2008. In September 2010, the program returned to Lifetime from 4 to 7 pm ET/PT.
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We have learned valuable lessons regarding the resilience of children, and they continue to astound and inspire us. We have also been humbled by many birth parents who have been able to successfully resolve the grief of lost opportunities to parent their children through sheer grace that is involved in their healing relationships with their children and their adoptive family members through the years.
Many adopting parents in non-private adoptions would apply to a local, state licensed adoption agency. The agency may be a member of the national Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). The CWLA and many adoption agencies are still in operation today, but with an expanded and somewhat different agenda compared to past decades, as the government has largely taken over some of their previous responsibilities.
Adoptive parents should remember that an open adoption is not just a relationship, but a promise that families make to birth parents. Parents should always do their best to honor their contact agreement as time passes. For many, this is not an issue; in fact, may adoptive families develop strong relationships with the birth parents of their children and even come to view them as extended family members.
When the birth mother has narrowed down her prospective adoptive parents to one or a few families, normally they arrange to meet in person. Good adoption agencies and attorneys do this in a pressure-free setting where no one is encouraged to make an immediate decision. If they are geographically distant from each other (as some adoptions are interstate, with the birth mother living in a different state from the adoptive parents), the first meeting will normally be by phone, then advance to a face-to-face meeting if the meeting by phone went as well as hoped.
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