AdoptMatch | How Does Open Adoption Work?

How Does Open Adoption Work?


Adoptions are on a spectrum from closed adoptions to completely open adoptions. Closed adoptions do not involve any contact between birth families and adoptive families. Often, in closed adoptions, birth and adoptive families have little to no knowledge of each other. Before the 80s and 90s, closed adoptions were common practice in adoption. It was believed that closed adoptions were best for the adoptive families to empower them in their roles as parents and to protect the adopted child from any stigmas of “illegitimacy.”


In recent decades, however, research has shown that open adoptions are more beneficial for adoptive families, birth families and adopted children alike. As a result, more and more adoptions occur to the right of the spectrum as mediated adoptions or open adoptions. Mediated adoptions refer to adoptions in which an adoption professional facilitates the exchange of pictures and letters between birth families and adoptive families. In mediated adoptions, there is typically no direct contact between birth families and adoptive families. At the other end of the spectrum are open adoptions which include direct communication between birth and adoptive families. In these adoptions, the child participates in communication and there is a full exchange of information between the families.


If you would like to learn more about why open adoptions are good for children, check out our page here. For a variety of reasons, the level of openness in an adoption may change over time from being more open or less open.


Recently, websites like AdoptConnect have established social platforms to help birth families and adoptive families maintain communication and exchange photos and videos in line with their post-adoption contact agreement.


Every adoption is different, but there are some key factors in making any open adoption successful:

  1. Birth parents and adoptive parents have a mutual understanding about what open adoption is and is not. In adoption, birth parents and adoptive parents can come with a lot of expectations for how the adoption relationship will work. It is important that these expectations and desires for the adoption relationship be openly discussed. A written post-adoption contact agreement (PACA) should then be made between the birth parents and adoptive parents. These agreements detail exactly how much communication will occur between the adoptive parents and birth parents and what will be shared. This allows both sides to feel that they have reasonable expectations for the adoption relationship.
  2. Birth and adoptive parents receive their own counseling and training (both pre- and post-adoption). Adoption is not easy for birth or adoptive parents. Birth parents need to receive counseling and post-adoption support services to help them as they prepare for the adoption and to help them walk through the grief and loss after they have placed their child. Adoptive parents also need to receive counseling and training for how to build successful relationships with their adopted child and the birth parents. These services provide adoptive parents with strategies to work through tensions and changes in the adoption relationships that keep the adopted child’s best interests as the focus.
  3. As with any relationship in life, it is imperative that both the birth parents and adoptive parents approach the relationship with empathy, respect, honesty and trust and share a commitment to maintaining the connection.
  4. As is often established in a PACA, there needs to be clear boundaries in the relationship that both sides are comfortable with. Boundaries help both sides feel that their expectations or needs have been aired and are being met as agreed on. Both the birth parents and adoptive parents need to have a voice in setting the boundaries in the relationship.
  5. Finally, it is essential that birth parents and adoptive parents are adaptable in their open adoption relationship. Relationships evolve over time and situations change and this may mean that the PACA needs to be readdressed or adjusted over time. That is ok and normal.


There is no “one size fits all” post adoption relationship.  For some, the regular exchange of pictures and letters may be best.  For others, visits with birth parents on an annual or semi-annual basis may be beneficial for the child.  Factors like the birth parent’s lifestyle, the child’s age and interest in a relationship, the distance between the parties, or the presence of other birth siblings may all effect how much contact is best for the child.  What’s vital, though, is that all of the parties set clear expectations at the beginning of the relationship, keep their promises, and are flexible and reasonable as circumstances make modification of those promises in the child’s best interests.