Sue Heinzman’s enthusiasm for openness was echoed by virtually every family interviewed for this story. Even Kim Felder, whose empty mailbox made her son so sad, would not have it any other way. Robbie is one of four children adopted by the Felders since 1987, all of them involved some form of openness. And Kim knows the pain of closed adoption firsthand: she placed her son, Jim, for adoption 24 years ago, reuniting with him when he was 18.

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Semi-open adoption is the practice in which information, generally non-identifying, is shared between adoptive families and birthmothers. Usually semi-open adoption consists of the exchange of letters, photos, and emails, either directly or through a third party. It is not unheard of to have some pre-birth, face-to-face meetings or for the birthparents and adoptive parents to spend time together at the hospital during and after the birth.
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.
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Reunion registries were designed so adoptees and their birth parents, siblings or other family members can locate one another at little or no cost. In these mutual consent registries, both parties must have registered in order for there to be a match. Most require the adoptee to be at least 18 years old. Though they did not exist until late in the 20th century, today there are many World Wide Web pages, chat rooms, and other online resources that offer search information, registration and support.
Likely the most common arrangement in open adoptions is for the adoptive parents to commit to sending the birth mother photos of the child (and themselves as a family) each year, and short written updates, until the child reaches the age of 18.[19] Often these photos and updates will be sent more than just once a year, such as the child's birthday or other significant events. Sometimes an intermediary is selected to receive and forward the updates, and sometimes it is done directly. This can be through mail or email. Some adoptions are more open than just sending photos and updates and include face-to-face contact. The amount of contact can vary greatly from just once in the first year, to multiple times annually throughout the child's life.[13][20] Some of the adoptees raised in open adoption are now in adulthood and are writing about the experience of growing up in an open adoption.[21]

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.


Once the adoption has been approved, the agency transfers the infant from foster care (if used) to the adoptive parents. After the infant has spent a few weeks or months with the adoptive parents, a local judge formally and legally approves the adoption. The natural mother has until the final court hearing. The infant is then issued a second, amended certificate, sometimes stated to be a birth certificate, that states the adopting parents are the child's parents. This becomes the adopted person's permanent, legal "birth" certificate. In the post WWII era, laws were enacted which prevented both the adopted person and adoptive family from accessing the original, and the information given to them can be quite limited (though this has varied somewhat over the years, and from one agency to another). Originally, the sealed record laws were meant to keep information private from everyone except the 'parties to the action' (adoptee, adoptive parent, birthparent and agency). Over time, the laws were reinterpreted or rewritten to seal the information even from the involved parties.

Open adoption has slowly become more common since research in the 1970s suggested that open adoption was better for children. In 1975 the tide began to change, and by the early 1990s open adoptions were offered by a majority of American adoption agencies.[3][4][5] Especially rapid progress was seen in the late 1980s and early 1990s - between 1987 and 1989 a study found only a third of agencies offered fully open adoption as an option; by 1993 76 percent of the surveyed agencies offered fully open adoptions.[citation needed] As of 2013, roughly half of US states consider them legally binding,[6] however contact in open adoption is not always maintained.
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Many birth mothers do more than just meet the adoptive parents once before the birth.[16] If they live close enough to each other it is not uncommon for the birth mother to invite the adoptive mother (or adoptive father too if the birth mother wishes) to come to her doctor appointments. This may allow all parties to the adoption a chance to bond. Adoptive parents may be present for the delivery if that is the birth mother's wish.[17]
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.
Many birth mothers do more than just meet the adoptive parents once before the birth.[16] If they live close enough to each other it is not uncommon for the birth mother to invite the adoptive mother (or adoptive father too if the birth mother wishes) to come to her doctor appointments. This may allow all parties to the adoption a chance to bond. Adoptive parents may be present for the delivery if that is the birth mother's wish.[17]

Historically, the four primary reasons for married couples to obtain a child via closed adoption have been (in no particular order) infertility, asexuality, having concern for a child's welfare (i.e. would not likely be adopted by others), and to ensure the sex of the child (a family with five girls and no boys, for example). In 1917, Minnesota was the first U.S. state to pass an adoption confidentiality and sealed records law.[1] Within the next few decades, most United States states and Canadian provinces had a similar law. Usually, the reason for sealing records and carrying out closed adoptions is said to be to "protect" the adoptee and adoptive parents from disruption by the natural parents and in turn, to allow natural parents to make a new life.


Over the past few decades, we’ve found that the majority of prospective birth mothers are looking for an adoptive family they can have a personal relationship with before, during and after the adoption process is complete. Therefore, we require our prospective adoptive families to be open to the kind of communication most of these birth mothers are looking for, including:
Decades ago, virtually all adoptions were closed. A closed adoption means that there is no contact whatsoever between the birthparents and the adoptive parents and child after the adoption takes place. In fact, there may also be no contact before the adoption. Nowadays, however, the trend in the United States is toward open adoptions, in which all the parties to an adoption meet and often remain in each other's lives.
Before the 1980s, most adoptions were kept closed. This is because women who go through unexpected pregnancy simply relocate while pregnant, give birth and then return to their homes. The doctor or an agency then looks for an adoptive family for the child without the mother knowing. This kind of setup can bring about a lot of complications and confusion within the adoptive family, particularly on the adopted child.

A closed adoption is the type where there is totally no contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents as well as the child. There is also no classifying information shared between families about each other, thereby effectively cutting possible contact between the two. Before the child joins the family, the adoptive parents are provided with non-identifying data about the child and his or her birth family. Once the adoption is concluded, all records are sealed. These sealed records may or may not become accessible to the adopted child once he or she turns 18, but this is dependent on the signed paperwork and local law.
American Adoptions accepts a limited number of families into our gender-specific program. Please contact us at 1-800-ADOPTION to learn whether we are currently accepting families into this program. With this option, families pay an additional Gender-Specific Fee to help our agency locate and work with birth mothers meeting this additional criterion. This fee is in addition to other program fees and covers additional advertising. The fee is not considered part of your adoption budget. Please note that gender specificity will likely increase your wait time significantly.

Even if you are not sure whether an open adoption is right for you, most birth and adoptive parents find that speaking and meeting with one another before making a commitment, helps them to decide whether to move forward with an adoption plan. Meeting in person allows the birth and adoptive parents to get to know one another and often provides the birth parent(s) with the confidence of knowing that they have selected the best family for their child. Many birth parents who have ongoing contact with the adoptive family find that receiving information about the child, and knowing that the child is thriving, helps to ease their feelings of loss. Children who are in direct communication with their birth family may come to understand that their birth parent didn’t abandon them but made the decision to place them for adoption out of love for them. Many adopted children also benefit from having a direct connection with another person with whom they have a shared biology. The benefit for adopted persons to obtain updated medical information from genetically related family members is also undeniable. While some adoptive parents fear that an open adoption will confuse their child, ongoing research has not born out that concern.
Open adoption is now the most widely practiced form of adoption in the United States. In an open adoption, identifying information is shared, including names, phone numbers, and email addresses. Additionally, an open adoption includes varying degrees of openness after the adoption process is finalized. This typically includes the exchange of emails, letters, pictures, and phone calls. A fully open adoption also includes in-person visits. Fully open adoptions can also include extended family members, such as birthgrandparents and siblings.

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.


The cost for a confidential intermediary and related court fees can be around $500, but varies by state and agency. For persons who cannot afford the fees, there is usually assistance available from the tax-payer supported state department or the non-profit agency, and anyone can request from them how-to request this help. Most agencies charge a fixed fee which includes everything, and only in the most extreme and unusual circumstances ask for additional funds. If the adoptee is unable to locate (or would prefer to use a third person) to find his or her birth father, often the same confidential intermediary can be used for an additional fee.
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Parents may also wonder how to react when kids start voicing their preferences regarding birth parent contact. Letting a young child call the shots in an open adoption is probably a bad idea. (After all, small children don’t get to decide when to visit grandparents or other relatives.) But a child of 12 may be ready to make some decisions about whether or when to meet with birth parents. “The older a child gets, the larger the role they should have,” Grotevant advised.
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We’re honored to offer our services to women and couples throughout the United States. If you live in Oregon or Washington and would like to meet in person we have offices in Portland and Eugene, Oregon and Seattle, Washington or we’ll come to you. We can also meet via Skype. (OA&FS can place children in adoption up to the age of three and one-half.)
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