Open Adoption (Glossary)

Open Adoption: Open adoption is a broad term that indicates that there is at least a minimum level of contact between an adoptive child’s biological parents and adoptive parents.

Before the late 1970’s, open adoption was virtually unheard of. Throughout the 1980’s with a sharp decline in adoption rates and an increase in biological parents desiring to be kept informed about the adoption placement, open adoption began to emerge. The shift toward open adoption continued to increase through the 1990’s and with the turn of the century, open adoption soon became the norm. In recent studies, roughly 95% of adoptions now have ongoing contact and some form of interaction between biological parents and adoptive parents.

Of that 95%, it’s estimated that 40% of those adoptions have contact through the use of a mediator (such as a caseworker or an adoption agency). In these adoptions, the biological parents, adopted child, and adoptive parents do not speak directly to one another, but give information to the mediator, who in turn relays the information to the other party. This process provides a buffer zone for those who are uncomfortable with direct contact, but the contact is typically much slower than those with direct contact. It’s estimated that 55% of open adoptions have direct contact, meaning that through means of phone calls, letters, social media, etc., there is an exchange of information without the use of a middleman.

The term open adoption has shifted in meaning over recent years. Previously, simply knowing the name and location of the adopted child by the biological parents meant that the adoption was open. Previous to the changes that took place in the 1970’s, adoptive records were sealed up, prohibiting access to the public. So open adoption in the past basically meant that the records were not sealed up.

In current times, however, since it’s no longer common for adoption records to be completely unavailable, the term closed adoption has been changed to mean any adoption where there is no contact between biological and adoptive parents, even if the biological parents are aware of the location and name of the adopted child.

With the shift in definition of the words open and closed adoption has arisen another category known as semi-open adoption. This term, in essence, means that the adoption is open with exchange of information and sometimes even face-to-face interaction, but that there is some sort of structure to the relationship keeping it from having constant and frequent contact between the different parties.

The term open adoption, as well as closed adoption and semi-open adoption can vary in definition depending on differing opinions. Different circles have different ways of defining the terms. Some believe the only open adoptions are ones where biological parents have frequent and liberal amounts of contact with their biological child, while others refer to nearly all modern day adoptions as open simply because the adoption records are not sealed to the public.

See What is Open Adoption? for more information.