Inclusive Adoption


Inclusive Adoption: A New Paradigm for the Adoption Process

By: Melani Engel, LFCS Director of Adoption Services

At Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri (LFCS) we know firsthand that adoption is a life-changing decision for birth parents, adoptive parents, and the adopted child. Serving more than 500 people with these specialized services each year in Missouri, we work to connect children with adoptive families – and to foster connections between adoptive and birth parents.

Approximately 1,200 children are adopted in Missouri every year. Nationwide, that number is close to 140,000. Additionally, there are estimated to be between 1 and 2 million US families waiting to adopt at any given point. These figures demonstrate the vast impact of adoption as well as the opportunity we have to make a positive impact in the adoption experience. LFCS is in a powerful position to do so.

Serving people before, during, and after adoption is a responsibility we take seriously, which is why we strive to be at the forefront of both current best practices and research. Adoption isn’t a simple act. It is a complex process that navigates the needs of many over a long period of time, and which intersects with social work, clinical and behavioral science, and child development.

The multiple people involved, the lifelong impact, and the complexity of adoption are why LFCS believes that access to accurate knowledge and informed support are essential to adoption services.  Misinformation and stereotypes persist, leaving those impacted by adoption without the support they need to navigate the challenges adoption may bring.


Openness in Adoption

Over that last several decades, adoption has moved from the largely closed adoptions of the past to semi open and open adoptions. When contact is not possible, adoptees benefit from the spirit of openness.

Closed Adoptions: In closed adoptions, the adoptee and adoptive parents have no contact with the birth parents and no identifying information is shared. When it is available, information pertaining to the family medical history and the child’s heritage is provided to the adoptive parents. In the 1900s, closed adoptions were the most common type of adoption often due to social stigma around unplanned pregnancies. As a result, many adopted children grew up with no connection to their birth families or cultural heritages, and many birth parents lost contact with their children.

Open Adoptions: While in some cases a closed adoption might be necessary – such as those where safety or privacy is a concern – current literature shows that open adoptions offer significantly more benefits to the adoptee, birth parents, and adoptive parents. An open adoption is one in which identifying information is shared between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. In a fully open adoption, birth families and adoptive families meet and remain in touch with one another throughout the life of the adoptee.

Semi-open Adoptions: Semi-open adoption is the type of adoption that LFCS is most commonly involved. In semi-open adoption, some identifying information is shared between birth parents and adoptive parents; and there is interaction between the parties facilitated by a third party. At LFCS, caseworkers assist with everything from passing along letter/picture updates and phone calls, to video visits and in person visits.  The type and frequency of the contact changes as needs and wants of those involved change.

Spirit of Openness:  Regardless of the type of openness that exists in adoption, adoptees benefit when they are raised in homes with a spirit of openness.  The spirit of openness refers to an inclusive, positive, and open attitude of adoptive parents toward their child’s birth family.  This allows the adoptee to know their own story, feel confident in seeking answers to questions they have, and to have their experiences validated by their adoptive parents.


The Continued Shift towards Open Adoptions

Currently about 60-70% of all adoptions are “open” adoptions. The increased frequency of open adoptions continues to be influenced by many factors. Practitioners have gleaned much insight from research about the benefits of open adoption. The growth of DNA services and social media platforms have also made it easier than ever to connect. Changing legislation in many states has even affected openness of adoptions. Missouri now allows adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates, making it easier to connect with birth families. In 2018, when Missouri implemented post-adoption contact agreements, birth and adoptive parents were able to negotiate contact terms that outlined the type and frequency of contact expected from either party. This has allowed those who might have otherwise opted for a closed adoption to set terms they were comfortable with – and in the best interest of the child.

While research points to the benefits of open adoption for all members of the adoption triad, it is not without its challenges.  The openness relationship is like any other human relationship; trust must be built, there are ups and downs along the way, and misunderstanding happens.  Often, members of the adoption triad have been provided minimal support with navigating these valuable relationships successfully. There is a tremendous need for education and resource sharing around not only what contemporary adoption looks like, but how to apply best practices.


Adoption Today: The Adoption Triad

At LFCS, we are strong proponents of the open adoption and the spirit of openness. While this may be best, it is not always easy.  We work to provide extensive support and education to our clients so that decisions and commitments are made based on accurate information rather than fear or other emotion.

Meaningful, evidence-based steps should be taken to create intentional connections and provide support for all parties throughout the entire adoption process. No two adoptions are the same, and as an adoption agency, it is our job to help everyone involved navigate the process with confidence and awareness. To achieve this, we embrace and serve all members of the adoption triad. Our model of care ensures that the adoptee, birth parents, and adoptive family are supported in the adoption and ensuing relationships.

Not only do we take steps to care for each party throughout the entire process – we continue to provide support in the long-term.

While on the surface our approach resembles the traditional “open adoption” approach of agencies focused on matching birth and adoptive families, our unique strength is that we focus on educating everyone involved about their options, and on advocating for every party. We ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to make informed decisions, including what they want the adoption to look like, how the adoptive family plans to parent, and what kind of connections will exist between the families. Our work is informed by an ethical social work perspective, with our staff having been trained in how to incorporate adoption knowledge into a clinical or mental health setting, as well as the latest in research.


Our process is as follows:

Pre-adoption: We provide Q&A-based inquiry packets to both expectant parents and pre-adoptive families to educate them about the adoption process, what to expect, and decisions they will make. Both parties also meet with a dedicated case worker so that we can learn about them and their specific circumstances. Potential adoptive parents are given required reading and taken through a 10-hour training module. Expectant parents are provided resources and support and given the opportunity to explore parenting as well. Additionally, we provide access to an adoption attorney to ensure that the legal side of adoption is understood and addressed. Peer support is also provided for both expectant and pre-adoptive parents from those who have been through the process.

Post-adoption: Once the adoption has been finalized, we continue to offer support through peer-led private Facebook groups, monthly connection opportunities, podcasts, and events that celebrate both birth and adoptive families . Our connection events vary in format and leadership – staff or peer led – providing individuals with multiple opportunities to connect with those who have been in  similar situations, or to learn from and ask questions of professionals in the field. To assist families with their connections with one another, we provide openness facilitation and support, often for many years following placement. To support adoptive parents, we coach them with the spirit of openness and provide assistance through challenges. For adoptees, we have developed resources such as guided journals that help the child adoptee process their adoption story.  We will continue to grow our service offerings to meet the specific needs or challenges of our clients and others who reach out to us for help.

The common thread throughout our process is that of advocacy and inclusion. Adoption isn’t a single moment in time: it’s a life-long decision. Offering education, support, and ongoing opportunities to connect has value to all parties over the years, especially when a child has questions about their identity and heritage. Research supports that open adoption is a positive option for all involved, and that the spirit of openness inspires honesty and positive framing, all of which is beneficial for self-concept and identity growth. With us, no one is ever left to feel alone.


Knowledge is power.

When the team at LCFS starts the process of connecting a birth parent and their child with hopeful adoptive parents, we know we’re involved with something that will impact those involved for the rest of their lives. That’s why it’s vital to foster positive birth and adoptive family connections, together with open information-sharing and an emphasis on the perspectives and feelings of all parties. Listening, validating, and supporting each individual’s needs can lead to improved outcomes for the child, for the birth mother, and for the adoptive parents. The extra effort invested on our behalf is returned many times over when the families we serve thrive.

With more than 1.5 million adopted children living in the US, the adoption community is vast. Every person involved should feel empowered, valued, and part of a community – and it’s our responsibility to ensure that’s the case. For more information about LFCS adoption services please visit


About the author:

Melani Engel is a social worker and Adoption Program Director at the Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri. She has worked extensively as a social worker for charitable organizations and holds a BS in Psychology from Drury University and a Master’s in Social Work from Missouri State University. She is a licensed as a Clinical Social Worker in the state of Missouri