Openness in adoption has been occurring for many years in private adoptions. While it is not a special need it is a special consideration for everyone involved in adoption. Openness in adoption is the result of the lived experiences and lessons learnt from birth families, adoptees and adoptive families who have advocated for change to the closed adoption system. They found the information and connections were too great to lose because of adoption.
Many people involved with open adoptions have been able to see the positive long term effects for their child. There are many fears about openness and our purpose is to provide the information you need to understand openness in adoption.
What is Openness?
Openness is about the child maintaining as many connections and relationships as possible to the people who love and care about them. While it may be contact between the birth parents and the adoptive family; it can also be contact between birth siblings, other birth family members, or a significant person or community member in the child’s life. The importance of openness is to allow for children to maintain the important connections and relationships that they have built throughout their lives in a healthy and beneficial way.
Openness is a spectrum. It could mean contact through exchanging letters and photos a few times a year to regular in person visits. Openness can grow and change over time. It is always important to keep in mind what is in the child’s best interest as well as their wishes and feelings.
Openness does not mean co-parenting. Adoptive parents are the legal guardians and decision makers for the child. It allows for the important people a child’s life to stay involved and helps them know their adoption story including those who were a part of their journey before their forever family.
Legal Definition of Openness
In Ontario government policies, openness is currently defined as follows: “includes written, verbal or face-to-face contact or communication, where the communication may be direct or indirect and may permit the disclosure of identifying or non-identifying information and the frequency of contact or communication may vary from episodic to ongoing” (Ontario Regulation 70, subsection 49.1(2)).
Openness in Public Adoption
Many of the children available through public adoption have been removed from their families due to safety concerns. It is important to identify the potential challenges and issues; however, this does not mean that openness should not be considered.
While protection concerns may exist, this does not erase the bonds of early life. Having biological family connections and allowing for children to stay in touch with their roots makes them better able to acknowledge and resolve their loss and helps them understand their story.
Keeping openness with a child’s birth family is important even if the child is not ready for contact at this point. This maintains the birth connection and for the child to feel comfortable about having and getting information about their birth families. In many cases, a child may feel guilt when expressing interest in re-connecting with birth family members. This may result in them either not addressing their feelings, or doing it without your awareness. If there is openness early on, the child will feel supported when reaching out instead of trying to reach out without the adoptive family’s knowledge and support. Remember, openness should always be about the needs of the child first.
What we know about adoption is that many children want to know who their biological family is and learn about their history. Openness allows this to occur slowly and inclusively. Assisting the child in their journey of learning about their biological connections and the realities of why they could not be parented by their birth family. It allows children to learn about their roots within the safety and security of the support that parents can provide. Remember, some of the information they learn may be difficult and hard; however, having you as a loving and open support will help them through this process.
Benefits of Openness in Adoption
In general the goals of having openness in adoption are child focused:
There are many benefits of having openness in adoption. Each person involved in the adoption process can gain, learn and grow through this process. Please scroll to the section that pertains to your situation to learn more about the benefits of openness is adoption.
For the Adopted Child
Openness in adoption may:
For Birth Family, Extended Family, Community, Aboriginal Or Native Band, Foster Parent.
Openness in adoption may:
For Adoptive Families
Openness in adoption may:
For Agencies/Practitioners Making Permanency Decisions For Children
Openness in adoption may:
(Excerpt from: Resource Guide on Openness in Adoption, 2007, pp. 3-7/ Ontario)
Openness planning starts at the very beginning of the adoption process in the form of learning in PRIDE and discussion during the Adoption Homestudy but it is an evolving process throughout the adoption journey. Here are some tips and strategies that may help.
During the Process
The importance of a child having an ongoing relationship with birth family whenever possible is an accepted belief within our Ontario adoption program. At the same time, we are keenly aware of the complexities of bringing together two families through adoption.
If you work together with the adoption professionals to keep a clear focus on the best interest of the child, this will help maintain positive relationships with birth family members. There are ways to make openness in adoption work for the children and the families who are committed to the lifelong journey of adoption.
Helpful links or Resources for Openness
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies - http://www.oacas.org/adoptionopenness/faq.htm#5
Insight! - http://www.openadoptioninsight.org/
Open Adoption Experience Authors: Lois Ruskai Melina and Sharon Kaplan Roszia - http://www.amazon.com/The-Open-Adoption-Experience-Complete/dp/0060969571
Arms Wide Open: An Insight into Open Adoption Author: Jane Waters - http://www.amazon.ca/Arms-Wide-Open-Insight-Adoption/dp/1420878549
Because I Loved You: A Birthmother's View of Open Adoption Author: Patricia Dischler - http://www.amazon.ca/Because-Loved-You-Birthmothers-Adoption/dp/1595980423
Making Room in Our Hearts: Keeping Family Ties Through Open Adoption Author: Micky Duxbury - http://www.amazon.ca/Making-Room-Our-Hearts-Adoption/dp/0415955025
Openness in Adoption: Exploring Family Connections Author: Harold D. Grotevant and Ruth G. McRoy - http://www.amazon.com/Openness-Adoption-Exploring-Connections-Research/dp/0803957793
Spirit of Open Adoption Author: James L. Gritter - http://www.amazon.ca/Spirit-Open-Adoption-James-Gritter/dp/0878686371
Baron, A., & Pannor, R. ( 1993). Perspectives on open adoption. The Future of Children: Adoption, 3(1), 119-124.
Berry, M. (1993). Adoptive parents’ perceptions of, and comfort with, open adoption. Child Welfare, 77(3), 231-251.
Berry M. (1993). Risks and benefits of open adoptions. The Future of Children, 3(1) 125-138.
Grotevant, H.D., & McRoy, R. G. (1998). Openness in adoption: Exploring family connections. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Resource Guide on Openness in Adoption, Ontario – 2007
Beneath the Mask, Understanding Adopted Teens, Case Studies and Treatment Considerations for Therapists and Parents, Debbie Riley M.S. with John Meeks M.D. - http://www.amazon.ca/Beneath-Mask-Understanding-Adopted-Teens/dp/0971173222
Spirit of Open Adoption Authors: James Gitter and L. Gitter
Siegel, D.T, & Smith, S.L. (2012). OPENNESS IN ADOPTION: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections. Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.
Child Welfare Information Gateway (2013). Openness is Adoption: Building Relationships Between Adoptive and Birth Families.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. Open Adoption: Could Open Adoption be the Best Choice for you and Your Baby?