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Birth and adoptive families are counseled about the importance of honoring one’s word in open adoption agreements through American Adoptions. If, for some reason, contact is lost and one party is unable to reach the other, we’ll hold any correspondence intended for them for up to 18 years in case they notify us and request to receive that communication and want to get back in touch.
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Increasingly common nowadays is the "open" adoption process, in which the adoptive parents actually meet and usually stay in touch with the birthparents. Each adoption is a unique experience and the degree to which there is openness and interaction between adoptive parents and birth parents varies. It depends on how comfortable all of the parties are with the process and circumstances. However, most adoption agencies now encourage some degree of openness.
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Closed adoption, not to be confused with sealed records, is an adoption in which the adoptive family and the birthmother never meet and know nothing or very little about one another. With the advent of open adoption, closed adoptions have become the exception in domestic adoption rather than the rule. The term closed adoption is most often used in relation to post-adoption contact, whereas the term sealed records is related to the access of legal documentation surrounding the birth and placement of the adopted child once the adoption is final. It is entirely possible to have a closed adoption and unsealed records or an open adoption with sealed records. The two practices are not mutually exclusive.
Open adoption is the exact opposite of a closed adoption. In this situation, there is some kind of fellowship between the birth and adoptive parents and the adopted child. Generally, there is an exchange of identifying information (e.g. first and last names, home address, phone number, etc.) and contact is retained between the two parties. There are several examples of an open adoption, including:
There are also private search companies and investigators who charge fees to do a search for or assist adoptees and birth mothers and fathers locate each other, as well as to help other types of people searching. These services typically cost much more, but like search organizations and search angels, have far greater flexibility in regards to releasing information, and typically provide their own intermediary services. However, they may not circumvent the law regarding the confidentiality process.
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Oftentimes the birth and adoptive parents will sign a Post-Adoption Contract (sometimes called an Open Adoption Agreement), putting in writing any promises regarding contact after the adoption is finalized. Even in those states which do not expressly have laws in this area, these agreements can usually be prepared if the parties desire to formalize the agreement. In an increasing number of US states, courts will find these agreements legally enforceable, as long as they serve the best interests of the child. It is not unusual for these agreements to be more like "handshake" agreements, although they offer less protection to a birth parent if the adoptive parent's promises were not honored.
Now that the first open-adoption generation is under way, social workers are becoming more aware of the role of siblings in these arrangements. An adoptive child’s relationships with biological siblings need to be taken into account. And two children adopted into the same family may have different degrees of openness with their birth mothers. Openness may also affect decisions about family size.
Grotevant, however, sounded a note of caution to those who portray it as a panacea. The children of open adoption do not have higher self-esteem than those in closed adoptions, he observed. For children in each group, self-esteem is about the same, his research found. He stressed that more research is needed to assess the impact of open adoption on adolescents. (The research he did with McRoy studies children up to age 12.)
Prior to the 1980s, it was common practice to keep adoptions closed. Oftentimes, women facing unexpected pregnancies would temporarily move to another location, have their babies, and return home. The doctor or a child-placing agency would then find an adoptive family, unbeknownst to the birth mother. Clearly, this led to various complications in each of their lives, especially for the adopted child.
Fortunately, prospective birth mothers today have the power to choose the type of relationship they want to have with the adoptive family and their child during and after the adoption process. Some prospective birth mothers still feel that closed adoption in Texas is the best option for them, and this is entirely their choice to make. However, more and more women today are choosing open adoptions in Texas and across the U.S.
Some states have confidential intermediary systems. This often requires a person to petition the court to view the sealed adoption records, then the intermediary conducts a search similar to that of a private investigator. This can be either a search for the birth mother at the request of the adoptee, or vice versa. Quite often, in the many years which have passed since the adoptee was born, a birth mother or female adoptee has both moved to another address, and married or remarried resulting in a change of her surname. While this can make the search difficult and time consuming, a marriage certificate may provide the needed clue as to the person's whereabouts. If and when the intermediary is able to contact the birth mother (or adoptee), she is informed that her adopted child (or birth mother) is inquiring about her. In the few states that have open adoption records, should this party indicate that he or she does not want to be contacted, by law, the information would not be given out. Upon completion of the search in which the birth mother agrees to be contacted, the intermediary usually sends the adoptee the official unamended birth certificate obtained from the court. The adoptive parents' application to an adoption agency remains confidential, however.
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.
Many states, though, still keep this information sealed even after the adoptee and the birth parents agree to know and contact each other. A second court order would be required to have this information unsealed permanently. This is well beyond the scope of the initial search, and what is covered by the payment to the intermediary. Should an adoptee subsequently lose his or her unamended birth certificate, a court order may be required to obtain another one (even if a photocopy is submitted).
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.