I want to get back to the subject of open adoption and how the definition appears to be changing. I came back to this subject after reading a comment made on a blog post by a first mother from the closed era who runs a closed group on FB and a website where she helps mothers with an adoption plan (who she calls birthmothers before they have given birth). I’m not linking to the blog post, but the author of the blog may do so in the comments if she chooses. That definition of open adoption in the comments was updates via the internet until the child becomes an adult. Updates to me – is not an open adoption.
When I first became interested in how adoption worked today, the general definition or types of adoption were as follows below. Understand the following definitions are my interpretation and is pretty broad, many small variations within each category exist depending on the people directly involved.
Closed adoption; no ongoing contact by any means, although they may have met briefly, and one, or both parties may also know the other’s names just like my era.
Semi-open adoption; ongoing contact by scheduled updates for a set amount of years, or until the child was an adult. The child may (or may not) know the contact happens. Often, the parents by birth do not know the last name of the parents by adoption or their address and phone number, they generally know the state they lived in at the time of the adoption. On the other hand, the parents by adoption could have far more personal information about the parents by birth, and if updates weren’t sent through the agency, they may set up a post box for updates and/or contact, or use email or a private website.
Open adoption; includes visits in person and updates in between visits. A relationship designed to be flexible and as the comfort level grows (or not), the relationship changes as well. The family of birth may not know the address of the family by adoption, but contact is supposed to happen until the child becomes an adult.
So, the above was my understanding of the different types of adoption that I learned within the last ten years…that’s changing, and I don’t think for the better by any means if open adoption is supposed to be better for the child. In my way of thinking the blending of open and semi-open into one definition means that if mothers don’t understand they are being offered a semi-open as compared to open, they won’t know that there is another version of open that may indeed provide more benefit to the child than semi-open. Based on my belief that adoption practices should be created for the benefit of the child, not the parents, and knowing there are more people wanting to adopt than babies, the parents who are suited to whatever is best for the child should be the ones who get to adopt. I know I said that badly, but I really don’t care, if you aren’t the right match for what is best for the child, the child’s best interests always supersede what you want. And before I get a slew of comments about if the mother is using substances, and/or has mental health challenges, please don’t bother, just use your common sense and apply the basic premise that I am basing all of this on what is best for the child which obviously wouldn’t include any situation that would hurt the child. Anyways, now that is said, I googled “who is open adoption supposed to benefit” to see if the child is actually seen as the person who open adoption is meant to benefit looking for articles and papers written on the subject. That’s not what came up on the first page. Following are the adoption agencies in order listed on the search page result, so no one can say I went and picked what supported my position. As with everything, I am including other items that stood out to me on each website I visited.
First agency result was IAC. The page that came up lists the benefits to the birth parents first, the adoptive parents second, third the adoptees. They touch briefly on extended family by birth as well. Benefits for the adoptee were touched upon in a well thought out way, yet, the information, or answers seems to be passed by the birth parent to the adoptive parent, to be filtered down to the adoptee. There is no mention of direct in-person contact by the different parties anywhere within the article, not a single mention of visits. Not a single mention of creating an ongoing relationship between the parents by birth and the adoptee. In all fairness they do speak of visits in some cases on other pages. They do not define a difference between types of openness, and in their FAQ’s, they use “Birthmothers” instead of the term Expectant Mothers, they are also mum on whether the open adoption is legally able to be enforced, rather, I don’t think they even mention the word legal. Birth fathers seem to be more or less just a footnote. I did not see any mention of what they offer, or what happens if the mother chooses to parent, instead of continuing with adoption.
Second agency result was The Cradle. They wrote in bullet point form on the page that came up, hitting the obvious benefits. They also, correctly in my opinion, identify the adoptee first, and as the primary beneficiary of open adoption, the parents by adoption second, and the parents by birth third. They also don’t mention in person visits on that page, although they do note this under the adoptee category “Access to biological siblings, if there are any” which could indicate direct contact. They don’t define different types of open adoption that I could see. They correctly identify the mother as an Expectant Mother, and speak to her legal rights regarding open adoption with a link to the law in Illinois. They speak to what happens if she parents, and that they also have cradle care in case she needs more time to make up her mind (I think all agencies should offer this option). They are open about the father by birth, and that if known, he has rights that must be respected. They also have a page for the adult adoptee regarding Illinois open records laws, and how to go about getting your original birth certificate.
Third agency result was Adoptions by Heart of Colorado. Based on the page that came up and the title, it solely benefits the parents by birth. To be fair, I went to the home page shown on that page to see what else they may say. Adoptee’s aren’t even mentioned there, the only parties of note is the parents by birth and the adoptive families, nor is in person visits mentioned. The only hint is this statement “Adoptive families and birth families mutually set the boundaries and frequency of contact after birth”. So trying to be open-minded, I went to the Adopt a Baby tab which linked to a page Open Adoption Benefits Adoptees. In their opening statement on the page, they note that there is a lack of empirical evidence to support either open or closed adoptions as better, but they support open adoptions (I personally think the longitudinal adoption study referenced as MTARP does a fine job showing it does). There is no definition of the different types of open adoption, nor mention of in person visits, rather they list the adoptive parents ability to provide answers. They refer to birth parents and birth moms, not expectant parents and expectant mothers. It is also curious that I could not find a link or a tab on the home page, or additional pages – to the first page I linked to that came up in the search, there is no clear way I could see, for the adopting parents to see what they are saying to the expectant parents…
I’m stopping at the first three agency responses, your search results will likely show different listings, based on what google thinks you want to see. I have linked to the agencies above so you can confirm what I said is correct because I’m not perfect. If anything I’ve said above is incorrect I’m happy to fix it, and no, I’m not implying that they don’t spell it out when they meet with the mother, they very well may. By linking, I am not recommending them, or saying they are doing anything wrong or right, I am simply using them to show how the definition of open and semi-open adoption seems to have become one definition. My concern is in how broadly an open adoption is defined, instead of breaking it down between open and semi-open that was the norm just a few years ago. The concern is two-fold, but primarily for expectant mothers, who are likely brand-spanking new to adoption, in a crisis, and I feel the website should clearly tell what options there are broken down into the two distinctly different types of openness, as well as what their legal rights are to either after they sign the papers. Without a breakdown of what defines an open adoption compared to a semi-open, they may not know until it is too late, that they didn’t have all the facts at their disposal to make a true choice. If adoption must happen (and you know I think it should be rare), it must be transparent from the get-go, and what types of adoption they offer should be clear on the website so the expectant mother can choose which agency to contact.
So, I’m asking what you think. Should adoption agencies and professionals clearly define between open and semi-open on their websites, and whether openness is legally protected for the expectant mother after she has signed the papers? Let me know in the comments and please understand this is meant to open discussion, not shut down by painting all with the same brush, you get my drift.
I’m also going to leave you with this question to mull on. How can you have a truly open adoption when parents live in a different state if open means visits (yes, I know things happen and people move, but I’m talking about at the time of the adoption)…