Understanding Open Adoption and the Benefits
When deciding to build a family through adoption, it is important to understand the types of adoption as well as the impact on the “adoption triad” - birth parents, adoptive parents, and child. Understanding the different types will help you choose the best option for you and will be one of the first parenting decisions you will make for your child.
What does “adoption triad (or constellation)” mean?
“Adoption Triad” is a triangle which symbolizes the 3 members involved in an adoption: child, adoptive parents/family, and birth parents/family.
“The Triad or Triangle” demonstrates an equal or harmonious connection between the child who was adopted and his/her two families. Also, this term acknowledges that all of these members are impacted by adoption and need to be understood as well as supported.
“Constellation” is a newer version of the term recognizing extended birth and adoptive family members as well as bio- and adoptive siblings.
What is an open adoption?
● In an open adoption, birth and adoptive parents share FULL identifying information,
● Expectant parents are able to select the family of their choice and have direct communication with the adopting parents during the pregnancy and also following the placement/adoption at the level of openness all parties feel comfortable with and mutually agree to.
● Contact in a fully open adoption typically includes a combination of texting, photo sharing, letter/email, phone/video calls, s0cial media, and in-person visits.
● The level of openness and ongoing contact in open adoptions vary based on birth and adoptive parent preferences/desires and it is highly recommended to seek the guidance and support of an adoption counselor/professional.
● Typically, an open adoption agreement (aka post-adoption contact agreement or post-placement contact agreement) is created during the “match” process with the assistance of an adoption counselor/professional. This agreement can also be created post-placement. The counselor/professional often facilitates individual and joint discussions with the birth and adoptive parents regarding preferences, expectations and desires for the open adoption relationship in order to ensure a mutual understanding. The open adoption agreement is a signed agreement detailing the parameters (e.g., type, frequency, duration, special considerations) of contact the birth parents and adoptive family intend to have with one another following the placement and throughout the child’s life.
● If the adoption attorney retained by the adopting family who is handling the legal finalization of the adoption files it with the adoption court(s), this agreement is a legally enforceable document in the state of Florida. The purpose is to ensure the contact agreement is upheld but can never be grounds to overturn an adoption. Laws regarding these agreements vary state to state.
All adoption relationships are different, but there are some key factors in making an open adoption successful:
1. Birth parents and adoptive parents have a mutual understanding about what open adoption is and is not. Open adoption is NOT co-parenting. In adoption, birth parents and adoptive parents may come with a lot of expectations for how the adoption relationship will work, therefore, it is important that these expectations and desires for the adoption relationship be openly discussed with the guidance of an adoption professional/counselor. A written open adoption agreement should then be made between the birth parents and adoptive parents. These agreements detail exactly how much communication will occur between the adoptive parents and birth parents and what will be shared. This allows both sides to feel that they have reasonable expectations for the adoption relationship.
2. Birth and adoptive parents receive their own counseling and training (both pre- and
post-adoption). Adoption is not easy for birth or adoptive parents. Birth parents may benefit from counseling and training/support to help them as they prepare for the emotional experience in adoption, training for how to build successful relationships with adoptive parents, managing grief and loss after they have placed their child, and support in transitioning into the role as a birth parent. Adoptive parents also need to receive counseling and training/support for how to build successful relationships with the birth parents and their child as well as how to meet the lifelong needs of their child as it relates to adoption. These services provide adoptive parents with strategies to work through tensions and changes in the adoption relationships that keep the adopted child’s best interests as the focus.
3. As with any relationship in life, it is imperative that both the birth parents and adoptive parents approach the relationship with empathy, respect, honesty and trust and share a commitment to maintaining the connection.
4. As is often established in an open adoption agreement and related discussions, there needs to be clear boundaries in the relationship that both sides are comfortable with. Boundaries help both sides feel that their expectations or needs have been aired and are being met as agreed on. Both the birth parents and adoptive parents need to have a voice in setting the boundaries in the relationship.
5. Finally, it is essential that birth parents and adoptive parents are adaptable in their open adoption relationship. Relationships evolve over time and situations change and this may mean that the open adoption agreement needs to be readdressed or adjusted over time. That is ok and normal.
There is no “one size fits all” in adoption and post-placement relationships between birth and adoptive families. For some, the regular exchange of pictures and letters may be best. For others, visits with birth parents on an annual or semi-annual basis may be beneficial for the child. Factors like the birth parent’s lifestyle, the child’s age and interest in a relationship, and the distance between the birth and adoptive families may affect how much contact is best for the child. The most important thing is that all of the parties set clear expectations at the beginning of the relationship, keep their promises, and are flexible and reasonable as circumstances make modification of those promises in the child’s best interests.
Benefits to Openness in Adoption
Research shows that open adoption is best practice for the following main reasons:
● Supports everyone in the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, adopted child)
● Acknowledges and supports the grief and loss process
● Results in better psychological outcomes
The greatest benefit of openness is accessed by the adopted child. The child understands he/she was placed out of love and has a better understanding of the meaning of adoption. The child has a connection to and an understanding of his/her heritage, family history, medical information, and personality traits. Through active communication with his/her adoptive parents and an ongoing connection to their birth family, the child is able to establish a secure identity, self-confidence, and sense of belonging.
In an open adoption, birth parents are able to have a role in the child’s life, often similar to an extended family member or friend relationship. Through ongoing contact and connection, birth parents often feel reassured with their decision when they know the child is happy, loved, and taken care of. The continued contact with the family and child promotes healing in the grief and loss process. medical and family history as well as information that will assist them in raising their child
Adoptive parents benefit from openness as it provides them with a sense of honor in parenting due to being selected by the birth parents. Due to the ongoing contact and relationships with birth parents, any concern that he or she wants to “take my child back” or regret their decision is alleviated. Lastly, the adoptive family has direct access to their child’s and discussing his/her adoption story openly.
A 2012 study from Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute found that there are several key factors that make open adoption best for children:
1. Open adoption involves open communication within the adoptive family. Communicative openness is then a key factor in determining the adoptive child’s positive adjustment to the adoption. Furthermore, adopted children who have greater communicative openness in their adopted family reportedly trust their adoptive parents more, have less feelings of alienation and appear to have better overall family functioning.
2. Children in open adoptions report having higher levels of self-esteem and their adoptive parents reported less behavioral problems.
3. In open adoptions, children are able to connect with their birth relatives about their history and communicate with them directly to answer any questions they might have about their medical and genealogical background and identity. Adopted children are also able to hear directly from their birth parents about the birth parents’ decision to place. Direct access to their birth parents for information on their identity and background is crucial to an adopted children’s identity formation.
4. Adopted children in open adoptions also have access to an additional supportive adult besides their adoptive parents to further help in their identity formation and development.
Deborah Siegel and Susan Livingston Smith identify in their study that adoption is a process and experience that changes over time as the needs of the adoptive family, birth parents and child change over time. The end goal is not the final decree of adoption. The final decree is the beginning step in the lifelong journey of adoption between the adoptive parents, birth parents and the adopted child.
Source: Deborah H. Siegel and Susan Livingston Smith, “Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections,” Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, (New York: NY, 2012).