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Open adoption and birth family


More and more adoptions involve keeping in touch -- adopted child, and adoptive parents, maintain a relationship with the birth family. In an open adoption, birth parents and adoptive parents agree to ongoing contact between themselves. They come to some sort of agreement, verbal or written, on the frequency and manner of contact. They could exchange letters and photos, either directly or through an agency, or schedule phone calls and visits. The goal of keeping in touch is to minimize loss and celebrate connections.

In a fully open adoption, the families know all about each other: they exchange names and addresses, and have a full and ongoing relationship -- perhaps visits to each others' homes, meetings in public places, phone calls and letters, or contact with the extended family. In fact, for the adoptive family, the birthfamily is part of their extended family.

In a semi-open adoption, the families do not reveal identifying information, such as last names or addresses. They exchange letters, photos or gifts through go-betweens, such as adoption agency staff.

In a closed adoption, the families do not share identifying information and have no contact at all. Before placement, the adoptive family usually receives non-identifying information about the child and the birth family. Any exchange of information typically stops after placement. After finalization, records are sealed and unavailable to the adoptee. The legacy of closed adoptions, which were common in the past, is that adoptees and birth parents are unable to locate each other later in life, to exchange medical information or to renew connections.

Between 1987 and 1992, Grotevant and McRoy collected information on open adoption from 190 adoptive families and 169 birthmothers experiencing varying levels of openness in their adoptions. They found:
-- Fears that birth parents would attempt to reclaim their children or otherwise intrude on adoptive families' lives are not apparent in families with fully disclosed adoptions.
-- Openness does not interfere with adoptive parents' emerging sense of entitlement to parenthood.
-- Having a fully disclosed adoption does not guarantee successful grief resolution, as evidenced by the broad range of grief resolution ratings among birthmothers across all adoption arrangements in the study.     [--National Adoption Information Clearinghouse]


Adoptive families are discovering that oceans are no barrier to keeping in touch with the birth family. Openness can work with international adoptions. For adoptees returning to their birth country, it's not just a visit, it's a journey to the core of their being.

Leceta Chisholm Guibault writes, "It was important for my children (ages 10 and 13) to see all the realities (age-appropriately) of their birth countries [Colombia and Guatemala], and the people in those countries who were connected to them. That is why we visited their orphanages, foster families, birth family, rich friends and their homes, poor friends and their homes, medical centers, nutrition centers and humanitarian organizations. We experienced the natural beauties of their birth countries and the harsh realities. Only then did their stories actually make sense to them, more effectively than mere words from Mom."

Web - Openness

Adoption: A Gathering, Stories about adoption; bringing adoption out into the open. PBS Online and Web Lab.
American Assn. of Open Adoption Agencies, Articles on open adoption. Find a good open adoption agency. Bill Betzen, Dallas TX.
Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents, Feelings resulting from a placement; resolution; support groups. List of web sites, books, articles. Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2004.
Insight: Open Adoption Resources and Support, Articles and books on open adoption. Brenda Romanchik, R-squared Press, Royal Oak MI.
Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project, Grotevant and McRoy study on open adoption (190 adoptive families). About 1999.
Open Adoption in Canada, History and impact of open adoption. Marilyn Shinyei and Linda Edney, in Transition, Sept. 1992 (Vanier Institute of the Family).
L'adoption ouverte au Canada, Marilyn E. Shinyei et Linda Edney. Transition, Institut Vanier de la famille, septembre 1992. French version of "Open Adoption in Canada".
Open Adoption, Resources, articles, personal stories. Over 100 links, from a search for "open adoption".
Openness in Adoption: A Bulletin for Professionals, Agency role; laws; research. Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2003.
Openness in Adoption: A Fact Sheet for Families, Benefits of postadoption contact with birth parents. Determining the degree of openness. Pros and cons of confidential adoptions, mediated adoptions and open adoptions. Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2003.
Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process, Article on the needs of those choosing adoption for their infants, and the benefits of ongoing information about and contact with their children. Susan Smith, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Nov. 2006.
What Does Open Adoption Mean?, By an agency advocating open adoption. Adoption Options, Edmonton.

Web - Birthparents, domestic

For birthparents trying to make contact with their children placed for adoption, see Search and Reunion.

Are You Pregnant and Thinking About Adoption?, Options; arrangements; future contact. Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2000.
Birth / First Families, Links to 37 articles on birth/first-fathers, -mothers, -families.
Birthmothers of Canada, Counselling and support; monthly meetings; annual Birthmother's Day Celebration. Kitchener, Ontario.
California, Rights and responsibilities of birthfathers.
Concerned United Birthparents, National support group with local branches. San Diego CA.
Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents: A Factsheet for Families, Emotional issues that parents face when placing a child for adoption and in handling feelings that persist afterward. Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2004.
Lifemothers, Celebrating birthmoms. Skye Hardwick.
Open adoption, broken heart, and others, Articles, from a search for "open adoption".
Supporting Birth Parents , For pregnant women and teens, birth mothers and fathers, with information on counselling them.

Web - Birthfamily abroad

Birth Country Adventures, Meeting birth family and foster family abroad. Finding connections in Colombia and Guatemala. Articles by Leceta Chisholm Guibault and Kahleah Guibault. Family Helper.
Birth Family Contact in International Adoption, Find orphanage addresses. Get links for international birth family search or contact. Karen's Adoption Links
Birth Family Search, Advice for searching for birth families in Korea (applies to all countries). Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network.
DNA Adoption Networking, Match DNA to trace parents, siblings, children ... even abroad. Douglas Chalke, Sunrise Adoption, Feb. 2008.
Finding The Birth Family Abroad, Birthmothers support the search of Leceta Chisholm Guibault. 1998.
International Birth Family Search, Ruslan, translator, finds birth families in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Anna.
Ties Program, Homeland journeys. Adoptive families take culture and heritage tours to birth countries. Becca Piper, Wauwatosa WI.

Web - Birthfamily abroad - Sibling registries

You can find siblings of your child who were also adopted. For example, families who adopted from China have traced siblings from the same orphanage or the same province. Parents have discussion groups (email lists) to exchange photos and adoption info, and to discuss issues arising from finding a biosibling.

China Province Sibling Find Groups, See "Sibling Find" in a given province. Parents post photos of their children, hoping others may see a resemblance to their own child.
Chinese Orphanage Addresses, Postal addresses and telephone numbers of orphanages in China, by province. Lotus Travel, Kirkland WA.
Directories of Families Adopting from China, Paper directories of families who adopted from 76 orphanages in China, by province and city. Families send in contact information and child information. Copies available only to listed families. Of value to parents now, to find others who adopted from the same orphanage, and to the children in the future, preserving a link to others with a shared history. Bob Crawford, Roanoke VA.
Guatemala Adopt Sibling Registry, Email list, 1,700 members. Search the database for your child's biological siblings in Guatemala who may also have been adopted.
Honduras Siblings Bulletin Board, Send in your search announcement, event or comment.
Sibling Registries, Finding biological siblings in China, Guatemala, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine. Karen's Adoption Links.

Email lists - Birthfamily abroad

Email lists can help you meet and discuss with other parents who are searching for the birth family abroad.

DIRECTORY: Groups about Birth Parents, Directory of 130 Yahoo email groups for "Birth Parents".
Birth Parent Contact, Email list for those who adopted internationally and are thinking of contacting, or have contacted, their child's birth parents or birthfamily. 1,189 members. Listowner: Karen Holt.
Cambodia Birth Parents Search, Email list for adoptive parents of children from Cambodia who have already decided to search for birth relatives of their child and are trying to find more about them. 111 members.
China: Orphanage- and Province-Specific, Email lists for individual orphanages in China, by province.
Colombian Adoptee Search and Support, Email list for those searching for birth family in Colombia: adoptive parents, siblings, spouses, extended family. 406 members.
Global Adoption Triad, Email list respecting the legacy of the "Global Adoption Triad": birth family, child, adoptive family. Birth-family issues, abduction, orphanage life, foster care, adoptive-family issues, sibling/birthfamily searches. 555 members.
Guatemala Birthfamilies, Email list on issues of searching for an adopted Guatemalan child's birthfamily. Ways to search; keeping contact; helping the birthfamily. 1,213 members.
Open International Families, Email list for those seeking contact with birth family internationally. 149 members. Jeannie and Karen.
Sister Far, Email list for parents of internationally adopted children who have already found a biological sibling or twin. Issues of DNA testing; emotional and social aspects of raising biosiblings in different homes. 160 members.

Articles and books

Baron, A. and Pannor, R. (1993). Perspectives on open adoption. The Future of Children: Adoption, 3(1), 119-124. (article)

Berry, M. (1993). Adoptive parents' perceptions of, and comfort with, open adoption. Child Welfare, 77(3), 231-253. (article)

Berry, M. (1993). Risks and benefits of open adoptions. The Future of Children: Adoption, 3(1), 125-138. (article)

Bexon, Sandy. Family: an Open Adoption Adventure. Hanna, Alberta: S. Bexon. 1999.

Catholic Human Services, The Nuts and Bolts of Open Adoption. R-squared Press, Traverse City MI. Forms used by agencies to make open adoptions easier.

Dorner, Patricia Martinez, How To Open an Adoption: A Guide for Parents and Birthparents of Minors. R-squared Press, Traverse City MI.

Duxbury, Micky. Making Room in Our Hearts: Keeping Family Ties Through Open Adoption. Routledge, 2006, A marriage and family therapist looks at how open adoption relationships evolve over time, with stories from families who have experienced it.

Forge, Leslie and Gail Mosconi. The Third Choice: a Woman's Guide to Placing a Child for Adoption. Berkeley CA: Creative Book Company, 1999.

Franklin, Lynne and Elizabeth Ferber. May the Circle be Unbroken: an Intimate Journey into the Heart of Adoption. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998.

Gritter, James L. The Spirit of Open Adoption. Thinkers in adoption, theology, philosophy and literature point the way on the spiritual journey toward successful open adoptions.

Gritter, James L., ed. Adoption Without Fear. 17 couples tell their emotion-filled experiences with open adoption.

Grotevant, Harold and Ruth McRoy. Openness in Adoption: Exploring Family Connections. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications. 1998. Study of the effects of open adoption on adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents.

Hern, Katie and Ellen Carlson. Reunion: a Year in Letters between a Birthmother and the Daughter she Couldn't Keep. Seattle WA: Seal Press, 1999.

Kruzel, Karis. Pugnose Has Two Special Families. R-squared Press. Book for children in an open adoption.

Lifton, Betty Jean. Lost and Found: the Adoption Experience. New York: Harper Collins, 1988.

Marsh, Mary Jean Wolch, A Birth Mother's Day Planner. R-squared Press, Traverse City MI.

Melina, Lois Ruskai and Sharon Kaplan Roszia. The Open Adoption Experience: a Complete Guide for Adoptive and Birth Families - from Making the Decision through the Child's Growing Years. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993. Stages of the adoption relationship from placement to adjustment to adolescence. All aspects of open adoption.

Pavao, Joyce Maguire. The Family of Adoption. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998. Insight into a wide variety of adoption issues; an argument for the right kind of openness.

Romanchik, Brenda. Birthmother's Book of Memories. R-squared Press, Traverse City MI.

Romanchik, Brenda. Your Rights and Responsibilities: For expectant parents exploring adoption; Birthparent Grief; Being a Birthparent: Finding our place; What is Open Adoption? Four guides on issues in open adoption. R-squared Press, Traverse City MI.

Silber, Kathleen and Patricia Martinez Dorner. Children of Open Adoption and Their Families. Effects of open adoption on children. Explores open adoption experiences through topics such as bonding, grief, communication, entitlement, and adoption understanding among children.

Video: We're Your Neighbors adoption videos. Over 50 participants from both open and closed placements from the 1960s to the present give their perspectives on adoption. Part 1: "Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents." Part 2: "Adopted Persons Ages 5 to 55." Lethbridge Community College Bookstore, 3000 College Dr. S., Lethbridge AB T1K 1L6, 403-320-3341.

Birthfamily abroad
Sibling registries
Email lists
Articles and books

 Adoption Resource Central
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Fertility Adoption Adoption Resource Central Post-adoption Family Tree
Contact: Robin Hilborn,
Box 1353, Southampton, Ont. N0H 2L0 Canada
©2008 Robin Hilborn.
URLs verified, Feb. 29, 2008
Updated, Mar. 24, 2008

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