Closed adoption (also called "confidential" adoption and sometimes "secret" adoption) is a process by which an infant is adopted by another family, and the record of the biological parent(s) is kept sealed. Often, the biological father is not recorded—even on the original birth certificate. An adoption of an older child who already knows his or her biological parent(s) cannot be made closed or secret. This used to be the most traditional and popular type of adoption, peaking in the decades of the post-World War II Baby Scoop Era. It still exists today, but it exists alongside the practice of open adoption. The sealed records effectively prevent the adoptee and the biological parents from finding, or even knowing anything about each other (especially in the days before the Internet). The International Association of Adopted People does not support any form of closed adoption because it believes that closed adoption is detrimental to the psychological wellbeing of the adopted child. However, the emergence of non-profit organizations and private companies to assist individuals with their sealed records has been effective in helping people who want to connect with biological relatives to do so.
Like any relationship, open adoption relationships evolve over time. Post-adoption contact may increase or decrease, or the nature of the contact may change along with people’s changing lives. However, even in the most open adoption relationship, the birth parent is not a co-parent but rather another very important person in the child’s life. The child’s adoptive parent(s) are his or her legal parent(s) and they have all rights and responsibility for the child. Most importantly, when birth parents and adoptive parents set out to forge their relationship, the child’s needs must always be paramount.
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.
Closed adoption, also called a confidential or traditional adoption, refers to an adoption in which there is no relationship between the adoptive family and birth parents. In a closed adoption, the birth parents and adoptive family arrange the adoption via a facilitator, attorney or a case worker at an agency. Neither member of the adoption triad knows identifying information about the other. By opting for a closed adoption, a future birth mother is trying to have as little involvement as possible with the placement process. For some women, this is a way to distance themselves from the emotional decisions associated with placement. However, the distance is something many adopters fear will make it easier for a birth mother to change her mind about placement.
Semi-open adoption doesn't usually involve any post-placement, face-to-face visitation. The children involved don't normally have any direct communication with their birthparents. Like closed adoption, once a child reaches the age of majority in his or her state, they have the option of searching for or being searched for by their biological family. Unlike a closed adoption, those involved in a semi-open adoption usually have access to some basic information that can assist in the search process.
“A lot of birth parents went into it thinking it was a privilege to them,” said Brenda Romanchik, executive director of Insight: Open Adoption Resources and Support, an adoption education and support organization in Royal Oak, Michigan. “So when things got tough, they thought, this isn’t working for me, so I’m going to leave. They didn’t take the child into account.”
The nature of adoption has changed greatly over the years, and open adoptions are one of the many ways that birth parents can take charge of their adoption plans. Instead of having to wonder whether or not they chose the right family or how their child is doing, they will always know. In an open adoption, birth parents have the opportunity to get to know the family they have chosen for their child, which puts many people at ease and makes the difficult decision of adoption much easier.
The Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) is a credentialed organization dedicated to the competent and ethical practice of adoption and assisted reproduction law. It advocates for laws and policies to protect the best interests of children, the legal status of families formed through adoption and assisted reproduction, and the rights of all interested parties.
In an open adoption, as I define it, the adopters and the birthparents both know each other's full names, both first and last names. (It is not open if only one side has identifying information about the other.) They may agree to exchange photos and letters directly, without using the agency or attorney as a middleman. Sometimes a semi-open adoption later becomes an open adoption, if both parties decide that they want it that way.
The empty mailbox is just one example of the challenges that families in open adoptions may face. In recent years, we have embraced the concept of open adoption with gusto — yet the journey, for some, has proved to be unexpectedly bumpy. Lack of support, a sudden change in the life of either the adoptive or biological family, logistical pressures — all can complicate matters. Add to that the emotionally charged issues at stake-parenthood, power, identity — and open adoption can make for some combustible family dynamics.
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