Written by Sara Nolette, CHOICES Coordinator

In my work with adoptive families, and as an adoptive mama myself, I have seen and experienced concern surrounding the idea of open adoption.  At Carolina Adoption Services, an open domestic adoption varies based on what works for both our adoptive parents and the wishes of the birth parent. This is not a one size fits all and the level of openness should be one that best matches the futures for both families.  At our agency, around 75% of the adoptive families and birth families have selected some defined level of openness.  For some families, this may be pictures only.  For others, meetings are arranged and supervised by the agency staff, and there are some that later in the adoption orchestrate meetings independently of our agency. The key is to define what works best for the combination of families, and this will continually evolve over time. For some families the level of connectedness will increase; for others, birth families begin to feel assured of the care of their birth child and reduce their engagement.  There is no correct formula for openness in adoption, however, our agency strongly supports open knowledge of the adoption and history of the birth family for the healthiest possible future for the child and journey of life with the adoptive parents.

Upon completion of the home study, one of the discussions the CHOICES Coordinator will have with you is about your Matching Preferences.  This includes your preferences regarding the age, race, gender, medical and mental health history, and level of openness that your family feels most comfortable.  Your preferences are used in discussions with the expectant mother to guide her in a match that she feels is best for her and her baby.  In this process, you will be asked what levels of openness you are willing to consider: closed (no contact), semi-open (pictures, letters, and phone calls through the agency), or open (pictures, letters, phone calls, and visits through the agency).  You may indicate that your family is comfortable with one, two, or all levels of openness.

Sometime between when the official match occurs and within a few days after the baby is born, the CHOICES Coordinator facilitates a discussion with both the adoptive parents and the biological parent(s) about their desired level of post-adoption contact. An agreement is drafted and signed with the projected, agreed upon amount and type of contact.  This agreement is designed as a communication tool to guide and set reasonable expectations that both the adoptive parents and the biological parent(s) are comfortable with; in North Carolina, this is not a legally binding agreement.  The following clause is included in the agreement to set reasonable expectations about the nature of the relationship, communication, and visits:

INVALIDATION: If either Birth Parent assumes an adversarial relationship with the Adoptive Parents (except for enforcement of this Agreement), or if s/he is convicted of any serious misdemeanor or felony, or if s/he fails to exercise his/her visitation rights during any period of twelve consecutive months, or if s/he appears at a visitation under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then Adoptive Parents will no longer be obligated to fulfill the terms of this Agreement as to that Birth Parent. In addition, all parties understand that if the Child suffers emotional harm from the visitation plan, as determined by the Child’s treating therapist, that Adoptive Parents shall have the right to limit visitations as necessary in the best interests of the Child, until such time as the Child is able to resume visits without emotional harm.

The vast majority of research available supports that openness in adoption benefits the child.  Here are a few resources for more information:

https://www.adoptivefamilies.com/openness/understanding-open-adoption/

https://www.americanadoptions.com/blog/10-things-that-scientific-research-says-about-open-adoption/

https://creatingafamily.org/adoption/resources/open-adoption/

http://www.adoptioncouncil.org/publications/2019/07/adoption-advocate-no-133