What is Open Adoption?

Open Adoption vs. Closed Adoption


One of the most common questions asked about adoption is “What is open adoption?”

The definition of open adoption is that there is no exact definition of what an open adoption is.

Confused? Read on to learn more about open vs. closed adoption in domestic adoption, and how American Adoptions views both types of adoptions.

Open Adoption

Many people believe open adoption is a type of adoption relationship in which the adoptive family and birth parents have personal visits with one another, and the birth mother is able to maintain a relationship with the child. This is an example of open adoption, but not the only example.

Generally, open adoption refers to any adoption relationship between the adoptive family and birth parents in which identifiable information as well as contact are shared between both parties.

Identifiable Information: May include first and last names, address, phone number, personal email address and more.

Contact: May include contact before and after the adoption, including phone calls, emails and visits.

Of course, some open adoptions are more open than others. Some of these adoption relationships do include personal visits agreed upon by both the adoptive family and birth parents prior to them following the same adoption plan. Other open adoptions may just include periodic phone calls on holidays or birthdays.

No two adoptions, and no two open adoptions, ever look quite the same. Keep reading for more information on what American Adoptions’ typical “open adoption” communication looks like.

Closed Adoption

Closed adoptions are becoming less requested by birth mothers every year – an estimated 1 out of every 10 – unlike adoptions in the past where an overwhelming majority were closed.

Prior to the 1980s, it was common practice to keep adoptions closed. Oftentimes, women facing unexpected pregnancies would temporarily move to another location, have their babies, and return home. The doctor or a child-placing agency would then find an adoptive family, unbeknownst to the birth mother. Clearly, this led to various complications in each of their lives, especially for the adopted child.

Thankfully, as adoptive families, birth mothers, adopted children and child-placing agencies continued to see the negatives of closed adoption and the positives of open adoption, adoption as a whole began to evolve, and for the better. Today, most adoption agencies allow the birth mother to make most of the decision in the adoption, including how much contact she wants with the adoptive family and the child. It is then the adoption agency’s job to find the appropriate adoptive family for each adoption situation.

That said, some birth parents do still request closed adoptions, where very limited contact or identifying information is exchanged. The adoptive family still receives medical records in closed adoptions, but very little else.

Semi-Open Adoption

Now that you understand the differences between an open adoption and closed adoption, what about the types of adoptions that fall somewhere in between?

Semi-open adoptions are a type of open adoption where there is less direct contact shared between the adoptive family and the birth parents. Typically, identifying information is protected, and an adoption professional mediates pre- and post-placement contact between the two parties.

Like other, more open adoptions, what a semi-open adoption looks like will vary based on the preferences of the birth parents involved. As prospective adoptive parents, you should prepare to be flexible on communication in a semi-open adoption, as birth parents’ comfort levels (and communication preferences) may change over time as you build a relationship with them.

Adoption with Our Agency

While every birth mother’s preferences for communication are different, at American Adoptions, we ask all of our families to be accepting of an open relationship if and when presented with an adoption situation.

Over the past few decades, we’ve found that the majority of prospective birth mothers are looking for an adoptive family they can have a personal relationship with before, during and after the adoption process is complete. Therefore, we require our prospective adoptive families to be open to the kind of communication most of these birth mothers are looking for, including:

  • A pre-placement, mediated conference call
  • Exchange of email addresses and phone numbers for direct communication before and after placement
  • Personal meeting during the hospital stay and placement process
  • Pictures and letters sent for the 18 years after placement
  • An in-person meeting within the first five years of placement

We understand that you may be wary of this open communication if you’re just starting the adoption process, but our adoption specialists are happy to explain how this open adoption communication will work and why it’s beneficial to everyone involved. Read the following to learn more about an open adoption with American Adoptions.


Keep in mind that adoption relationships are ever evolving. One adoption may be fully open and then the birth mother decides to limit contact, while another adoption may be semi-open and then both the birth parents and adoptive family decide to engage in a more open adoption. While American Adoptions does require adoptive parents to be open to a certain standard of communication, what your adoption communication will look like will ultimately depend on the preferences of the pregnant woman who chooses you.

Contact American Adoptions today at 1-800-ADOPTION or request free information to continue to answer the question of what is open adoption.

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