Before the 1980s, most adoptions were kept closed. This is because women who go through unexpected pregnancy simply relocate while pregnant, give birth and then return to their homes. The doctor or an agency then looks for an adoptive family for the child without the mother knowing. This kind of setup can bring about a lot of complications and confusion within the adoptive family, particularly on the adopted child.
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Closed adoption refers to an adoption process where there is no interaction between birthmothers and prospective adoptive families. In closed adoptions, there is no identifying information provided either to birth families or adoptive families. Non-identifying information such as physical characteristics and medical history may be made available to all involved parties. There are a number of disadvantages that need to be considered regarding closed adoptions.
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Only a court order allows closed adoption records to be unsealed, which was quite uncommon prior to the early 1990s. A few cases have surfaced in which records were thought to have been sealed but were not—either by mishandling or misunderstanding. Although rare, a small number of people have been prosecuted over the years for violating the confidentially of sealed adoption records. In 1998, Oregon voters passed Measure 58 which allowed adoptees to unseal their birth records without any court order. Some other states which used to keep closed adoption records sealed permanently by default have since changed to allowing release once the adoptee turns 18. However, these laws were not made retroactive; only future adoptions subsequent to the laws' passage apply.
Open adoption has slowly become more common since research in the 1970s suggested that open adoption was better for children. In 1975 the tide began to change, and by the early 1990s open adoptions were offered by a majority of American adoption agencies. Especially rapid progress was seen in the late 1980s and early 1990s - between 1987 and 1989 a study found only a third of agencies offered fully open adoption as an option; by 1993 76 percent of the surveyed agencies offered fully open adoptions. As of 2013, roughly half of US states consider them legally binding, however contact in open adoption is not always maintained.
Secondly, not having any contact with the birth mother actually can raise the uncertainty level in the adoptive family. For example, families who get to know the birth parents, even on a limited basis, will know why they chose adoption, what’s going on in their lives, and why they chose them to raise her child. Families without this contact may have these questions in their minds that they can never fully answer.
While open adoption is becoming more common as we learn about healthier adoption practices and the importance of open adoption for adoptees, many recognize that open adoption is not always possible. This may be because of security issues or simply at the request of the birth parents. It may be too risky or harmful to the child to allow for any openness in adoption. There may also be situations where an open adoption is simply not possible for the time being or cases where adoptive parents would prefer a closed adoption for varying reasons. The benefits of such a decision will likely depend on the reasons for it.
Prior to adoption, the infant would often be placed in temporary and state-mandated foster care for a few weeks to several months until the adoption was approved. This would also help ensure that he or she was healthy, that the birthparent was sure about relinquishment, and that nothing was overlooked at the time of birth. Nowadays[when?], this practice is discouraged, as it prevents immediate bonding between the mother and child. Also, much better medical testing is available, both prenatally and postnatally. Many children also developed orphanage-type behavior including head banging, rocking and hand flapping. Many adopted adults still retain this rocking behavior especially when tired.
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In virtually all cases, the decision is up to the adoptive parents regarding how to inform the child that he or she has been adopted, and at what age to do so, if at all. Although a non-profit adoption agency (if one is used) might mail newsletters and solicit funds from the parents, traditionally, it has been extremely rare for them to communicate directly with the child (usually, adoption agencies do not contain the word "adoption" in their name).
When the birth mother has narrowed down her prospective adoptive parents to one or a few families, normally they arrange to meet in person. Good adoption agencies and attorneys do this in a pressure-free setting where no one is encouraged to make an immediate decision. If they are geographically distant from each other (as some adoptions are interstate, with the birth mother living in a different state from the adoptive parents), the first meeting will normally be by phone, then advance to a face-to-face meeting if the meeting by phone went as well as hoped.
All states allow an adoptive parents access to non-identifying information of an adoptee who is still a minor. Nearly all states allow the adoptee, upon reaching adulthood, access to non-identifying information about their relatives. Approximately 27 states allow biological parents access to non-identifying information. In addition many states give such access to adult siblings. Identifying information is any data that may lead to the positive identification of an adoptee, biological parents, or other relatives. Nearly all states permit the release of identifying information when the person whose information is sought has consented to the release. Many states ask biological parents to specify at the time of consent or surrender whether they are willing to have their identity disclosed to the adoptee when he or she is age 18 or 21.5. If consent is not on file, the information may not be released without a court order documenting good cause to release the information. A person seeking a court order must be able to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that there is a compelling reason for disclosure that outweighs maintaining the confidentiality of a party to an adoption. In Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, New Hampshire, and Oregon, there is no requirement to document good cause in order to access their birth certificates. Some groups, such as Bastard Nation, One Voice, and Origins USA, campaign for adoptees' automatic access to birth certificates in other US states.
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In some states, (North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia) the city and county of the adoptee’s birth is changed on the amended birth certificate, to where the adoptive parents were living at the time the adoption was finalized. Often, the states will not give the adoptee the correct location of their birth. Some adoptees have been denied passports for having incomplete birth certificates. The hospital may also be omitted on the amended birth certificate, especially if it primarily serves unwed mothers. In the United States, many such hospitals were run by the Salvation Army, and named after its founder, William Booth. By the mid-1970s, all of these hospitals had closed due to high costs and the reduced need for secrecy, as the social stigma of having a child out of wedlock in America had decreased. More and more mothers were raising their child as a single parent (often with the help of the newly created institution of government welfare).
Many adopting parents in non-private adoptions would apply to a local, state licensed adoption agency. The agency may be a member of the national Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). The CWLA and many adoption agencies are still in operation today, but with an expanded and somewhat different agenda compared to past decades, as the government has largely taken over some of their previous responsibilities.
Closed adoption was once the most common type of adoption, but now after decades of research, nearly all adoption professionals agree that closed adoption is the least beneficial of all the types of adoption relationships. Only in necessary situations will a closed adoption be recommended for a birth mother, and adoptive families should always be open to at least a semi-open adoption.
Many birth mothers do more than just meet the adoptive parents once before the birth. If they live close enough to each other it is not uncommon for the birth mother to invite the adoptive mother (or adoptive father too if the birth mother wishes) to come to her doctor appointments. This may allow all parties to the adoption a chance to bond. Adoptive parents may be present for the delivery if that is the birth mother's wish.
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“Although I’m very open, [his birth mother] drops into and out of our lives as she needs to,” Miller said. After one long absence, when her son was nine years old, she paid for his birth mother to fly from Colorado to California and stay with them for ten days. Miller doesn’t give up, she said, “because I think we need to honor the pieces that we didn’t provide in the makeup of the child.”
Semi-open adoption is the practice in which information, generally non-identifying, is shared between adoptive families and birthmothers. Usually semi-open adoption consists of the exchange of letters, photos, and emails, either directly or through a third party. It is not unheard of to have some pre-birth, face-to-face meetings or for the birthparents and adoptive parents to spend time together at the hospital during and after the birth.
For those who do not want a completely open adoption, there is the option of semi-open adoption. Semi-open adoption is a great option to create an adoption relationship that meets the needs of a particular situation. Every adoption relationship is different, and semi-open adoptions can take many forms; a typical semi-open adoption involves communication without exchanging identifying information, along with sending pictures and letters on occasion.
Closed adoption, not to be confused with sealed records, is an adoption in which the adoptive family and the birthmother never meet and know nothing or very little about one another. With the advent of open adoption, closed adoptions have become the exception in domestic adoption rather than the rule. The term closed adoption is most often used in relation to post-adoption contact, whereas the term sealed records is related to the access of legal documentation surrounding the birth and placement of the adopted child once the adoption is final. It is entirely possible to have a closed adoption and unsealed records or an open adoption with sealed records. The two practices are not mutually exclusive.