Navigating Open Adoptions

By Jess Nelson, Community Manager, PairTree

January 25, 2022

5m read

What is an Open Adoption?

If I had to make a list of the top 5 questions I would get asked about adoption when working for an adoption attorney, one would always be “what is open adoption?” And the answer is, there isn’t just one answer. Open adoption is different for everyone – no two open adoptions are the same.

But you shouldn’t be afraid of open adoption...

Open adoption can be anything from a monthly, quarterly or semi-yearly text or email exchange with pictures and updates for important milestones, an open line of communication, annual visits, frequent visits and/or lunch on Sunday afternoons. Open adoption usually allows for direct communication between birth and adoptive families through phone calls, text messages or email. 

Semi-Open adoption will usually funnel all communication and updates through a case worker, and both parties will have basic information on each other. 

How to make open adoptions work

No matter what type of open adoption you have, it is having love in your heart for every member of the triad, it’s being respectful of each other’s boundaries, it’s healthy communication, and it’s effort and work on both the birth and adoptive families to build a relationship that works for everyone.

That relationship will always work best when there are clear expectations in place through a Post Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA).

Writing down and agreeing to the expectations might seem silly if you have a great relationship, but life happens and people get busy so having an agreement to uphold, even if it isn’t legally enforceable, is best practice. The agency or attorney you work with for finalization will be able to help you navigate a PACA that works for everyone!

If you find yourself, as an adoptive parent, seeking a closed adoption, I urge you to ask yourself why. Research and history have proven time and time again that access to birth parents from an early age is better for adoptees. (Two wonderful resources on the subject are The Girls That Went Away or American Baby, two stories of women forced into closed adoption in the 50s and 60s.)

What about closed adoptions?

If your child’s birth parents have closed the adoption for their own personal reasons, please don’t shut the door permanently. Give them some grace and space, but don’t forget about them. Still honor and love them in your home. Still speak about them. Save the things you would send them – pictures, updates, artwork, gifts, and put them aside for when that door opens again. Closed adoptions don’t mean birth parents don’t still exist.

For a glimpse inside an open adoption, check out Inside an Open Adoption.

Jess Nelson Jess Nelson is the Community Manager at PairTree, focused on growing the resources, programs and education offered for both expectant and birth families, and adoptive families. Jess has spent the last 5 years working in the field of private adoption, first as a paralegal for an Adoption Attorney in Louisiana and most recently with PairTree. As a birth mom of two through private adoption, her firsthand experience of both agency and attorney adoption led her to becoming an adoption professional and join the fight for reform and post placement care for birth moms.