Types of Adoption
Adoption: An Overview
Adoption can be broken into two categories: open and closed. The most simple way to describe the difference between open and closed adoptions is the amount of contact an adoptee has with their biological family. In closed adoptions, adoptees do not have contact with their biological family or know who their biological parents are. In open adoptions, adoptees know (or know of) their biological families while growing up. Like many things in life, these two categories fall on opposite sides of a vast spectrum. Some may never know who their biological parents are, some have their biological parents over for family events, and others fall anywhere in-between.
Just as every person is different, every adoption is different.
And even though, these days, open and closed adoptions have more in common than they did before, there are some crucial differences between open and closed adoptions that change and define the experiences of adoptees. Just as every adoption is different, every adoptee will have their own perspectives and opinions on adoption.
While open adoptions have become the more common type of adoption, historically, they were not so. Only a few decades ago, adoption was shrouded in stigma and secrecy.
Open adoption at its most basic definition means that the birth family and adoptive family share identifying information and at some level, have some sort of personal relationship before and after the adoption takes place. The emphasis in open adoptions is on the birth family finding the "right match" for their child and being able to maintain some level of contact with the adoptive family or child. Adoptive families are often asked to be open to accommodating the level of contact the birth mother requests.
The level of contact between families can vary greatly and can be extremely structured or more go-with-the-flow. Regardless of the structure, open adoptions allow for the child to ask questions and gain answers, understand where they came from, and for the families to share communicate important information such as health history.
While there are many benefits to open adoptions, it is not without its complications. Many organizations tout a positive message of being able to create honest relationships with the child and the end result for the child is being able to have more people in their life that love them. For many adoptees, while this is a wonderful message, it does not entirely ring true. Adoptees of open adoptions can feel lost or torn between the expectations of relationships that have been arranged.
With adoption agencies, while well intentioned, much of the focus is kept on the desires and needs of the birth families and their hopes for their child. Second to this is often also focus on the adoptive parents. The focus is of course, making sure that the child is settled with a good match, which must happen between the birth and adoptive parents. But, in these arrangements, for many adoptees it can often be hard to put into words that the agreements made by both families, as they grow, do not take into consideration their changing needs of the child for contact with the biological family.
Of course, too, there are adoptees who do have good experiences with open adoptions. Adoptee’s experiences are contingent on the adults they are surrounded by and how equipped they are to deal with extra complexities of raising an adopted child.
Closed adoption, simply put, is an adoption where the adoptive family does not have contact with the biological family and birth records are sealed. The adoptive and biological families may have contact prior to the adoption taking place, but cut contact once the adoption is made official. While this is a simple definition, closed adoption is not simple, especially for the adoptee. Closed adoption is often an incredibly painful experience due to a lack of information that they have about their origin story.
Over the past few decades, beginning in the 1990s, thanks to organizations like Bastard Nation, legislation has made it easier for adoptees to gain access to their original birth certificates and information in certain states, but this is still a huge struggle in the majority of states in the United States. For adoptees who were adopted through closed adoption, retrieving adoption information can take months or years. The process also takes an incredible amount of self-advocacy and persistence from adoptees to gain access within the social welfare systems, at times requiring court orders.
While closed adoptions still happen, the occur less frequently than they did in the past. Like open adoptions, biological parents in the United States who choose to go through with closed adoptions can be involved in the process of choosing the adoptive parents. This is not necessarily the case for international adoptions.
Today the majority of adoptions that take place are at least semi-open. Many parents opt to have some level of contact with each other and at the very least and prefer to exchange information including names and location so that they can get in contact if needed. While many agencies approach semi-open adoption as the new closed adoption option, fully closed adoptions still occur and have a major impact on adoptees.
Many adoptees of closed adoption express difficulties with either not knowing they were adopted or not knowing who their biological parents were. Closed adoptions occur for many reasons including: the parents (adoptive or biological) believing that the adoption will be too confusing to the child, the biological parents feeling emotionally fragile, and protecting a child that has come from an abusive or negligent experience, or the child was first in foster care. While closed adoptions at times need to occur for safety reasons, the struggle that adoptees of closed adoptions bump up against has been well documented. For many, there is a desire to know where they came from, what and who brought them into the world, which can be particularly challenging.
Other Adoption Options
While open and closed adoptions are the broad strokes of types of adoptions, there are many variations that occur along the spectrum of adoption that impact an adoptee's experience. These variations include, but are not limited to:
Being a transracial adoptee
Being an international adoptee
Being an international adoptee without citizenship (please read more on this here)
Being an adoptee without access to birth records (please read more on this here)
Being a former foster youth
Being an adoptee who is disabled or neurodivergent
Being an LGBTQIA+ identifying adoptee
An adoptee can experience one or more of these variations in their adoption. This list can and should be used to start conversations about how different variables in adoption can impact an adoptee's experience in their own unique adoption. If any adoptees would like something added to this list because they feel it would be of value to other adoptees, please do not hesitate to contact us.
All experiences and perspectives on how adoption has impacted an adoptee are valid and should be acknowledged. No, buts, ands, or ors - it gets to just be.