Exploring the Concept of Open Adoptions

Whether you are a family considering adopting a child or a birth parent thinking about all of your options for placement, there are many important terms and concepts that you are likely to come across as you search for more information — including the idea of an “open adoption.” 

Put simply, open adoptions are those that provide a way for the birth parent (or parents) to maintain some level of contact and stay involved in the child’s life, if that’s what all parties want.

Open adoptions can come in many different forms, depending on the needs and wishes of the parties involved. With that said, open adoptions are becoming more and more common in America. By one measure, it is estimated that more than 60 percent of domestic adoptions are open to some extent. 

Let’s explore what it may mean to participate in an open adoption here in Illinois — for birth parents, adoptive parents, and children. 

What Is an Open Adoption?

As the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway explains, open adoption

is a form of adoption that allows birth parents to know and have contact with the adoptive parents and the adopted child.

It’s important to keep in mind that open adoption does not mean that birth parents and adoptive parents will be co-parenting the child together. As in all forms of adoption, the adoptive parents have permanent legal rights and responsibilities over raising the child, and the birth parents must surrender theirs.  Open adoption can be understood in contrast to closed or confidential adoptions. In such arrangements, the birth parents need not ever make contact with the adoptive parents. The birth parents’ identities may remain confidential, and only crucial non-identifying information (such as medical information) will be shared. 

The concept of open adoption is quite broad, and no two experiences will ever be exactly alike by design. The ins and outs of will be heavily dependent on the needs and wishes of all parties involved, including both biological and adoptive parents. In a typical open adoption, the birth parents — or other birth family members — will be extended some level of contact with the adoptive parents and adopted child. This could take the form of occasional visits, letters and postcards, emails, or phone calls — whatever feels most comfortable and agreeable for everyone. 

As the Department of Health and Human Services puts it: 

Families communicate in ways that feel comfortable to them. Some send pictures and brief notes. Others celebrate holidays together. The type of contact and how often it happens will depend on the needs and choices of everyone involved, and may change over time.

How Are Open Adoptions Arranged?

There are different levels and types of open adoptions. A fully open adoption is one in which the birth parents may be provided with a way to make direct contact with the adoptive parents or the child, allowing everyone to develop a relationship with one another. With that said, both parties may set down ground rules and boundaries, and it’s important to recognize that everyone’s wishes and preferences for staying in touch may change over time. A semi-open adoption is one in which birth parents and adoptive parents exchange limited contact, which may be conducted through a third party mediator such as an attorney or adoption agency official. This allows both groups to get updates and exchange important information, while maintaining their privacy.

Ongoing communication and other arrangements may be set up through a third party, such as an adoption agency, attorney, or a confidential intermediary — that is, a court-appointed person who may connect and exchange information among adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents.

Arrangements for how and when to stay in touch may be made through a formal or informal agreement. A formal written agreement is often known as a postadoption contact agreement. However, it’s important to recognize that in Illinois, as in many other states, contact agreements are not generally enforceable under the law. This means that birth parents typically have very limited legal recourse if the adoptive parents change or break the arrangements. 

Why Consider an Open Adoption?

One reason for the increasing popularity and prevalence of open adoptions? As the Department of Health & Human Services explains:

Research has shown that children do better in an open adoption because it allows them to better understand how they came to be adopted. An open adoption also allows them to ask questions about their family backgrounds as these questions come to mind throughout their lives.

For families bringing a new child home through adoption, this arrangement can help reduce the stigma around adoption by not treating it as something that needs to be kept secret or closed-off. Over time, this approach can offer benefits to all parties involved in the adoption process. 

An open adoption can offer birth parents a sense of closure and comfort, and allow them to maintain some relationship with the child and their adoptive parents. For adoptive parents, this arrangement can give them access to important medical and background information, and allow them to develop a more open and trusting relationship with their child. Perhaps most importantly, open adoption can provide children with a sense of who they are and where they come from — which can lead to a better sense of self-worth and provide a beneficial sense of belonging. 

Getting Answers About Adoption in Illinois

Adoption can be an incredibly meaningful process — but it can also become overwhelming and complicated very quickly. Our experienced legal professionals can help you understand the many moving parts and considerations that go into open and closed adoptions at every step throughout this major life transition. 

When it comes to open adoptions, the more mindful you are about setting expectations and creating plans to address future concerns, the better off your family may be in the long-term. An attorney can help guide you through the ins and outs of the adoption process. At the same time, your attorney will represent and advocate for your interests and protect your rights, allowing you to bring a child home with confidence and peace of mind that all of the legal steps have been successfully completed.

At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd., our compassionate and skillful team can help handle both related and unrelated domestic adoptions, including grandparent adoptions, stepparent adoptions, and adoptions of a ward through the state or a reputable adoption agency. After adoption, we can continue to provide access to information and resources that may help make the adjustment easier for new parents and children. 

Founded in 2009 and offering more than 20 years of combined experience, the attorneys and staff at the Law Offices of J. Jeltes work together to provide skilled, efficient, and affordable legal representation to individuals and families.  We know that restructuring a family or making a major life change can be a vulnerable time, and we endeavor to remain thoughtful and effective in helping achieve the best possible results for your situation.

We know that every situation is unique, and our attorneys can provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals. Have any questions about any aspect of adoption in Illinois? Don’t hesitate to contact us to begin the conversation.