Openness: Adoption Today


In 2017, American Adoptions reported that 95% of today’s adoptions involve some level of openness, whether they are mediated, fully open or somewhere in between. So what does openness really mean in adoption? Is it sharing the responsibility of parenthood? Is it having an open house to the birth family at any time? Does it negate the losses that are inherent in adoption? The short answers are no, no, and no, respectively, but it is important to provide further insight.

Openness comes in all shapes and sizes; what adoption professionals refer to as “levels.” Some adoptions are confidential and no identifying information between the birth parents and adoptive parents is shared. Some adoptions are mediated, meaning that non-identifying information is typically shared through a third party (i.e. adoption agency or professional). Others are fully open or disclosed, meaning all parties involved have shared their identifying information, but there are boundaries around the relationship. There are many factors to consider when thinking about what level of openness is right for your family when adopting.

But why is openness important?

Openness honors the child’s beginning and past. A child’s life does not begin the day he or she is adopted. The adoptee has a past, even if placed with an adoptive family at birth. The child has the opportunity to know their connection to their birth family and their adoption story from the start. With openness, they gain the understanding of why the choice to place was made rather than fantasize about what circumstances led to adoption. Openness allows for truthfulness. If adoption is kept a secret or not discussed openly, the child may develop low self-esteem, believing that their birth family is not worthy of knowing or does not love them. Openness allows the child to feel the love from their birth family and adoptive family. What is wrong with a child being loved by more people?

Openness has other benefits, including:

  • Access to medical or mental health information that, over time, may be significant.
  • The potential to maintain sibling relationships that may provide the adoptee the opportunity to see shared traits, interests and temperament. As a child grows and develops his sense of identity in adolescents, the connection to birth siblings is significant.
  • Bonding and attachment between adoptee and adoptive parents. Openness builds trust, both emotionally and physically.

Openness is beneficial for birth and adoptive parents too. Birth mothers who have ongoing contact with their child report greater peace of mind and less grief, worry and regret. Many adoptive families who have open adoptions report having positive experiences and are more satisfied with the adoption process. Openness helps reduce adoptive parents fears and increases their empathy toward birth parents. It is important to acknowledge that openness is not the easy option. It takes work and is not always convenient for the adults. Openness does not erase the grief and loss that is inherent in adoption for all members of the adoption kinship network, but ultimately It promotes healthy self-esteem, reduced anxiety, and open communication among families.