When adoptions are closed, the files are usually physically sealed. Nevertheless, most states have created procedures through which family members seeking to "open" a closed adoption may be able to access information about the other parties. However, the process and degree of access to information varies widely from state to state, with some states requiring a court order to reveal information that can be used to identify a party to an adoption.
The nature of adoption has changed greatly over the years, and open adoptions are one of the many ways that birth parents can take charge of their adoption plans. Instead of having to wonder whether or not they chose the right family or how their child is doing, they will always know. In an open adoption, birth parents have the opportunity to get to know the family they have chosen for their child, which puts many people at ease and makes the difficult decision of adoption much easier.
Although open adoptions are thought to be a relatively new phenomenon, most adoptions in the United States until the twentieth century were open. Until the 1930s, most adoptive parents and biological parents had contact at least during the adoption process. In many cases, adoption was seen as a social support: young children were adopted out not only to help their parents (by reducing the number of children they had to support) but also to help another family by providing an apprentice.
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.
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).
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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.
The short answer is, yes. It was once believed that openness in adoption would undermine adoptive parents’ ability to feel entitled to parent their children, that children would be confused about the roles and rights of their adoptive parents in light of contact with their birth parents, that adoptive parents would lose all sense of control or that birth parents would not be able to successfully resolve their grief and loss in reference to their decision to place their child for adoption. What thirty-plus years of open adoption has taught us is that children are not confused about the roles of the people in their lives who love them. Adoption specialists now believe that openness can be a great gift — not just for the children — but for all who are involved in the story of adoption.
It’s important to keep in mind that, while adoption relationships can change, it is more complicated to increase contact than to decrease it. If a birth mother starts with an open relationship and then decides later that she needs distance, she can do this at any time. However, if an adoption is closed and a birth mother wants more contact, then she has to come to an agreement with the adoptive family. Therefore, it is especially important that a birth mother choosing closed adoption is sure that it is what she wants.
Many states, though, still keep this information sealed even after the adoptee and the birth parents agree to know and contact each other. A second court order would be required to have this information unsealed permanently. This is well beyond the scope of the initial search, and what is covered by the payment to the intermediary. Should an adoptee subsequently lose his or her unamended birth certificate, a court order may be required to obtain another one (even if a photocopy is submitted).
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.
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A semi-open adoption in Texas allows you to stay in contact with the adoptive family through American Adoptions without having to share identifying information like your last name or home address. American Adoptions can mediate contact of a semi-open adoption for up to 18 years. However, most adoptive parents and birth parents today share a more open adoption, which involves direct communication without the agency’s involvement.
From the early 1950s when Jean Paton began Orphan Voyage, and into the 1970s with the creation of ALMA, International Soundex Reunion Registry, Yesterday's Children, Concerned United Birthparents, Triadoption Library, and dozens of other local search and reunion organizations, there has been a grass roots support system in place for those seeking information and reunion with family.
While a closed adoption does eliminate any risk of a rocky relationship, it also eliminates the possibility of a fulfilling, positive relationship. Moreover, birth mothers cannot reclaim their children under any circumstance, and adopted children are often less confused about their adoption when they know their birth mothers, who can answer their questions.
Open adoptions have helped birth parents heal post-placement by removing any lingering fears they might have about their child’s happiness after the adoption. Through open adoptions, birth and adoptive families remain connected and a valued part of each other’s lives. Many birth and adoptive parents even come to think of each other sort of like extended family!
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?
If adoptive parents have chosen closed adoption as a preference, they may feel closed adoption allows them to parent without interference or worry that an open adoption would confuse their child. If birth parents have chosen to keep the adoption closed, the benefits will also be tied to the reasons for this choice. The placement may be due to wanting the child out of a bad situation, and the closed adoption allows for security. If the child is a product of sexual assault, closed adoption may benefit the privacy and emotions of both the birth parent and child. A birth parent may also choose to keep an adoption closed because an open adoption would be too difficult emotionally. A closed adoption may be viewed, in this case, as an opportunity to try to move on.
Thankfully, as adoptive families, birth mothers, adopted children and child-placing agencies continued to see the negatives of closed adoption and the positives of open adoption, adoption as a whole began to evolve, and for the better. Today, most adoption agencies allow the birth mother to make most of the decision in the adoption, including how much contact she wants with the adoptive family and the child. It is then the adoption agency’s job to find the appropriate adoptive family for each adoption situation.
A closed adoption is the type where there is totally no contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents as well as the child. There is also no classifying information shared between families about each other, thereby effectively cutting possible contact between the two. Before the child joins the family, the adoptive parents are provided with non-identifying data about the child and his or her birth family. Once the adoption is concluded, all records are sealed. These sealed records may or may not become accessible to the adopted child once he or she turns 18, but this is dependent on the signed paperwork and local law.
Like any relationship, open adoption relationships evolve over time. Post-adoption contact may increase or decrease, or the nature of the contact may change along with people’s changing lives. However, even in the most open adoption relationship, the birth parent is not a co-parent but rather another very important person in the child’s life. The child’s adoptive parent(s) are his or her legal parent(s) and they have all rights and responsibility for the child. Most importantly, when birth parents and adoptive parents set out to forge their relationship, the child’s needs must always be paramount.
Occasionally birth parents experiencing shame or sadness just have to retreat for a while. In rare cases, when safety is an issue, adoptive families may have to cut off contact. A child whose biological parent disappears experiences a double whammy. He wonders why he was placed to begin with, then feels rejected again because a birth mother no longer visits.
Females have statistically been somewhat more likely than males to search for their birth parents, and are far more likely to search for their adopted children. Very often, the reason the infant was put up for adoption in the first place was the birth father's unwillingness to marry or otherwise care for the child. Nevertheless, many birth fathers in this situation have agreed to meet with their grown children decades later.
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When a child is adopted through a closed adoption, the records of that adoption are sealed by a judge to make the transaction private. Biological parents will sometimes do this if they do not want to be contacted by their biological child, or if the parties involved agree that it is best if certain information be anonymous. But sometimes a child may grow up and want to contact his biological parents, or she may need to know her parents in the event of a hereditary illness or risk that requires knowledge of family medical history.
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“A lot of birth parents went into it thinking it was a privilege to them,” said Brenda Romanchik, executive director of Insight: Open Adoption Resources and Support, an adoption education and support organization in Royal Oak, Michigan. “So when things got tough, they thought, this isn’t working for me, so I’m going to leave. They didn’t take the child into account.”
Even if you are not sure whether an open adoption is right for you, most birth and adoptive parents find that speaking and meeting with one another before making a commitment, helps them to decide whether to move forward with an adoption plan. Meeting in person allows the birth and adoptive parents to get to know one another and often provides the birth parent(s) with the confidence of knowing that they have selected the best family for their child. Many birth parents who have ongoing contact with the adoptive family find that receiving information about the child, and knowing that the child is thriving, helps to ease their feelings of loss. Children who are in direct communication with their birth family may come to understand that their birth parent didn’t abandon them but made the decision to place them for adoption out of love for them. Many adopted children also benefit from having a direct connection with another person with whom they have a shared biology. The benefit for adopted persons to obtain updated medical information from genetically related family members is also undeniable. While some adoptive parents fear that an open adoption will confuse their child, ongoing research has not born out that concern.
In 2013, the film Philomena based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, opened in cinemas worldwide. It tells the true story of Philomena's 50-year-long search for her forcefully adopted Irish infant son, who was sent to the United States. She is eventually assisted by BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith, which takes up the majority of the film. Starring Judi Dench as Philomena and Steve Coogan as Sixsmith, it was nominated for four American and four British Academy Awards.