Types of Adoptions: Open Versus Closed

Mother in an open adoption holding baby

As you are considering adoption, you will need to think about what type of adoption you would like and why. But in order to do that, you need to understand what the different types of adoption are and how they differ.

Open Adoption

Nowadays, some form of open adoption is the most common type of adoption. It is also seen by many as the healthiest type of adoption for the child. According to Wikipedia, open adoption is defined as “a form of adoption in which the biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other's personal information and have an option of contact.” (Source) In short, in an open adoption, the birthmother or birthparents select the adoptive parents, the birthparents and adoptive parents meet and begin a relationship prior to the birth and placement of the child, know identifying information about each other such as names, phone numbers, etc., and have ongoing contact (such as visits, phone calls, exchanging photos and updates on the how the child is doing) after the birth and placement of the child.

Open adoption often provides birthmothers with a sense of control over the decisions regarding their baby’s adoption as well as comfort in seeing their child grow up happy and healthy. They are also able to have a personal relationship with the adoptive parents and their child.

Open adoption is beneficial to the adopted child because the child has a direct link to his or her birth family. The child is able to have his or her questions answered directly from his birth family. The secrecy and shame associated with being adopted is removed in open adoptions. The child also has direct access to his or her medical information as it develops over the years.

It’s important to keep in mind that open adoption is not legally enforceable in all states and even in the states where it is enforceable, it is difficult to enforce. And it’s also important to note that open adoption is not co-parenting. The adoptive parents have all legal rights to decision making for the child as well as all financial responsibility to the child. Open adoption is not a “one size fits all.” No two open adoptions will look identical so you have to find and do what works best for your particular situation and the people involved.

Semi-Open Adoption

Usually a semi-open adoption refers to an adoption in which the adopters and birthparents meet once or twice and on a first-name-only basis. In addition, they may agree to exchange pictures and letters on an annual or fairly infrequent basis through the adoption arranger.” (Source) A semi-open adoption, which is also sometimes called a mediated adoption, is a form of adoption in which the birthmother may still choose the adoptive parents but contact (typically both pre and post adoption) goes through an adoption agency or adoption attorney. First names may be shared but identifying information such as last names and addresses is not shared. Typically there is ongoing contact post birth and placement such as sharing of photos and updates on how the child is doing but this is done through an adoption agency or attorney and sometimes for a limited amount of time.

In semi-open adoptions, birthmothers have the same benefit of having a sense of control in making decisions about their adoption plan that birthmothers in open adoptions experience but they also maintain a sense of privacy that some birthmothers who are not quite as open about their situation are looking for. Some birthmothers also choose semi open adoption because they think the option of visits presented in open adoption would be too difficult emotionally for them.

Closed Adoptions

Closed adoption is defined as “an adoption of a child in which the relinquishing parent surrenders his or her parental rights to unknown parties.” (Source) Closed adoptions, also known as confidential adoptions are becoming rarer nowadays in the United States. In a closed adoption, the birthmother usually does not choose the adoptive parents. This is done so by the adoption agency or adoption attorney. If any information is shared, such as limited, non identifying medical information about the birth family, between the adoptive parents and birth parents it is done so through the adoption agency or attorney.

Things to Think about When Choosing Which Type of Adoption to Proceed With

As you are considering open, semi-open, or closed adoption, ask yourself the following questions to gain a better sense of which type of adoption might be best for you, your baby, and your situation.

  • Do I want to choose who will raise my child?
  • Do I want to meet who will raise my child?
  • Do I want to just receive photos and updates of my child over the years?
  • Do I want to have actual face to face visits with my child over the years?
  • Am I comfortable sharing identifying information with the adoptive parents?
  • Am I comfortable allowing someone else to choose who will raise my child?
  • Do I want to be there to provide ongoing medical information should medical problems arise over the years in my child’s birth family?
  • Do I want to wait until my child is older to know him or her?