What is an Open Adoption?


According to the Child Welfare League of America, there are over 150,000 children in the United States awaiting adoption, and an additional 500,000 in foster care. Many of these children will also become eligible for adoption. The process of adopting a child is often complicated and lengthy, but sorting through some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding this issue can help put prospective parents on a clearer path.

The way that adoption is often portrayed in movies and television, where couples visit an orphanage and return home as parents, is hardly accurate. Children are adopted in many ways – through agencies that pair up adoptive parents with interested pregnant women, through the foster care system, international adoptions, as a result of family situations including death and remarriage and a whole host of other circumstances.

Making sense of a complicated process
Becoming a parent is always a vulnerable experience, but adoption adds an extra layer of exposure. “You’re basically naked,” Andrea, mother of two adopted children and a set of twins, says. “You’re being poked and prodded and inspected by complete strangers. The paperwork is overwhelming, and you feel like you’re walking on eggshells the whole time.” Still, she is quick to add, “I would have gone through 100 times worse. It is all completely worth it.”

No matter the path, adoptions generally fall into a few categories: open, semi-closed, and closed. These categorizations refer to the amount of privacy and ongoing contact the adoptive and birth families will maintain.

Brandy Pendleton, adoptive mother and Director of Social Services at The Bair Foundation in Cincinnati explains that even within these definitions, there is some variation. “The term open adoption means different things to different families,” she says. “For my family, open adoption means we permit the exchanges of letters and pictures between some of our children and their birth mother or birth families as well as occasional text messages or phone calls.” This is in contrast to a closed adoption, where, she says, “very little, or even, no, confidential information is shared between the birth and adoptive families.”

Julie Robinson, Foster Care Supervisor for Clermont County Children’s Protective Services, points out that an open agreement between adoptive and birth parents is not legally binding in Ohio. “It can be changed by either party at any time,” she explains. When making decisions about the level of openness in an adoption, Robinson stresses that it should always be about “what best meets the needs of the child.”

Pendleton says some people fear the concept of open adoption, believing it will allow birth parents to continue making decisions in the child’s life. This is not the case, however. “Once an adoption is finalized, the adoptive parent is the legal parent of the child,” she says.

After the adoption
For Andrea, the circumstances following her two adoptions “couldn’t be more different.” One birth mother maintains limited email contact, and Andrea sends occasional updates. “Honestly, I wish it could be more,” she says, “but I need to respect her privacy and desire to keep a far distance.” Her other child’s birth family, on the other hand, has become an extended family to her own. She was present in the delivery room and the family bonds have only grown stronger over the years. Both sons even participated in her younger son’s birth mother’s wedding.
Cherie McCarthy, Director at Adoption Connection in Cincinnati, says that when it comes to maintaining contact, open adoption can seem uncomfortable for some birth parents. “It can be helpful as they are moving through the adoption process to have the sharing of information handled through the agency,” she says.

Pendleton hopes to see increased understanding and interest about adoption. “So often, caring for our orphaned children is not looked at as a societal issue, but rather a problem for those who choose to immerse themselves in that world,” she explains. “In reality, this is an issue everyone should be concerned about and contributing to in some way.”

November is National Adoption Month. To find out more, visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website: www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/nam/#twtr=pro

A few Cincinnati area adoption resources
Adoption Connection www.adoptioncincinnati.org
The Bair Foundation www.bair.org
Clermont County Children’s Protective Services http://cps.clermontcountyohio.gov
MLJ Adoptions www.mljadoptions.com
NECCO www.necco.org

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