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Sue Heinzman’s enthusiasm for openness was echoed by virtually every family interviewed for this story. Even Kim Felder, whose empty mailbox made her son so sad, would not have it any other way. Robbie is one of four children adopted by the Felders since 1987, all of them involved some form of openness. And Kim knows the pain of closed adoption firsthand: she placed her son, Jim, for adoption 24 years ago, reuniting with him when he was 18.
Reunion registries were designed so adoptees and their birth parents, siblings or other family members can locate one another at little or no cost. In these mutual consent registries, both parties must have registered in order for there to be a match. Most require the adoptee to be at least 18 years old. Though they did not exist until late in the 20th century, today there are many World Wide Web pages, chat rooms, and other online resources that offer search information, registration and support.
This idea can be scary at first. Most women considering adoption are totally unfamiliar with how open adoption works. But, after understanding the idea better, it’s something that many prospective birth mothers are eager to choose. In fact, more than 90 percent of adoptions today involve some level of openness — and it is entirely up to you to decide what that looks like for you and your child.
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“It removes the mystery, but it doesn’t remove the grief,” said Claude Riedel, a psychologist and family therapist who co-directs the Adoptive Family Counseling Center in Minnesota. “The reality is that, at certain stages, it’s normal to have questions: why did you choose not to parent me, not to keep me? And there may be complexities: have you kept your other children, but not me?”
On June 1, 2009, Ontario, Canada, opened its sealed records to adoptees and their birth parents, with a minimum age of 18 for the adoptee, or one additional year if the birth parents initiate the request. Both parties can protect their privacy by giving notice of how to be either contacted or not, and if the latter, with identifying information being released or not. All adoptions subsequent to September 1, 2008, will be "open adoptions"
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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).
Once the adoption has been approved, the agency transfers the infant from foster care (if used) to the adoptive parents. After the infant has spent a few weeks or months with the adoptive parents, a local judge formally and legally approves the adoption. The natural mother has until the final court hearing. The infant is then issued a second, amended certificate, sometimes stated to be a birth certificate, that states the adopting parents are the child's parents. This becomes the adopted person's permanent, legal "birth" certificate. In the post WWII era, laws were enacted which prevented both the adopted person and adoptive family from accessing the original, and the information given to them can be quite limited (though this has varied somewhat over the years, and from one agency to another). Originally, the sealed record laws were meant to keep information private from everyone except the 'parties to the action' (adoptee, adoptive parent, birthparent and agency). Over time, the laws were reinterpreted or rewritten to seal the information even from the involved parties.
Parents may also wonder how to react when kids start voicing their preferences regarding birth parent contact. Letting a young child call the shots in an open adoption is probably a bad idea. (After all, small children don’t get to decide when to visit grandparents or other relatives.) But a child of 12 may be ready to make some decisions about whether or when to meet with birth parents. “The older a child gets, the larger the role they should have,” Grotevant advised.
Closed adoption (also called "confidential" adoption and sometimes "secret" adoption) is a process by which an infant is adopted by another family, and the record of the biological parent(s) is kept sealed. Often, the biological father is not recorded—even on the original birth certificate. An adoption of an older child who already knows his or her biological parent(s) cannot be made closed or secret. This used to be the most traditional and popular type of adoption, peaking in the decades of the post-World War II Baby Scoop Era. It still exists today, but it exists alongside the practice of open adoption. The sealed records effectively prevent the adoptee and the biological parents from finding, or even knowing anything about each other (especially in the days before the Internet). The International Association of Adopted People does not support any form of closed adoption because it believes that closed adoption is detrimental to the psychological wellbeing of the adopted child. However, the emergence of non-profit organizations and private companies to assist individuals with their sealed records has been effective in helping people who want to connect with biological relatives to do so.
Open adoption means there is an ongoing direct relationship between the child and the birth family. Friends in Adoption (FIA) adheres to Hospitious Adoption. Jim Gritter, the author of Hospitious Adoption takes the approach that practicing goodwill, respect, and courage within the realm of open adoption makes the process move smoother and enriches children’s lives. Each adoption is unique, and degrees of openness vary from adoption to adoption depending on the comfort level of those involved. All FIA families are open to open adoption.
Adoptive parents should remember that an open adoption is not just a relationship, but a promise that families make to birth parents. Parents should always do their best to honor their contact agreement as time passes. For many, this is not an issue; in fact, may adoptive families develop strong relationships with the birth parents of their children and even come to view them as extended family members.
In nearly all US states adoption records are sealed and withheld from public inspection after the adoption is finalized. Most states have instituted procedures by which parties to an adoption may obtain non-identifying and identifying information from an adoption record while still protecting the interests of all parties. Non-identifying information includes the date and place of the adoptee's birth; age, race, ethnicity, religion, medical history, physical description, education, occupation of the biological parents; reason for placing the child for adoption; and the existence of biological siblings.
Adoption has changed a great deal over time. Today, birth mothers and birth fathers often choose to be actively involved in all facets of the process of adoption planning. Many times they opt to choose their child’s adoptive parents, and they are requesting consistent communication and interaction with the children they place for adoption throughout the life cycle of the adoption. Does this benefit the children?
The cost for a confidential intermediary and related court fees can be around $500, but varies by state and agency. For persons who cannot afford the fees, there is usually assistance available from the tax-payer supported state department or the non-profit agency, and anyone can request from them how-to request this help. Most agencies charge a fixed fee which includes everything, and only in the most extreme and unusual circumstances ask for additional funds. If the adoptee is unable to locate (or would prefer to use a third person) to find his or her birth father, often the same confidential intermediary can be used for an additional fee.