What Is the Difference Between Open, Closed and Semi-Open Adoptions?

Adoptions are often defined by the amount of contact between an adoptive family and birth parents.

But while people may ask you if you are involved in an open adoption, semi-open adoption or closed adoption, it is possible that your adoption doesn’t neatly fit into any one of these definitions.

Just as open and closed adoptions are two very different adoption experiences, two open adoptions can also vary greatly from one another.

To make things even more difficult to define, adoption professionals often use their own definitions for “open adoption,” “closed adoption” and “semi-open adoption.”

For example, in a semi-open adoption, generally, adoptive families agree to:

  • participate with the birth parents in a conference call and email exchange
  • meet the birth parents at the hospital
  • send pictures and letters of the adopted child for up to 18 years

With another adoption professional, these three criteria may be considered part of an open adoption instead of a semi-open adoption.

Here we’ll define “closed adoption,” “semi-open adoption” and “open adoption” as follows:

Closed Adoption – In a closed adoption, very little identifying information is exchanged between parties.

Birth parents will have access to the adoptive family’s adoption profile and video profile, which will state the adoptive family’s first names, hobbies and interests, but no other identifying information will be disclosed.

Only about 2 percent of adoptive families will have a closed adoption, as birth parents are becoming more and more interested in participating in at least a semi-open adoption.

Semi-Open Adoption – In a semi-open adoption, the adoptive family will have some contact with the birth parents, but minimal identifying information will be exchanged unless approved by both parties.

Often times, adoptive families will be required to be open to a semi-open adoption with the birth parents.

As previously mentioned, this includes participating in a conference call and email exchange, meeting the birth parents at the hospital, and sending pictures and letters for up to 18 years.

The vast majority (about 90 percent) of birth parents want a semi-open adoption, so it is important for adoptive families to embrace these forms of contact.

Open Adoption – There is no set definition for “open adoption” per se, but our adoptions do have varying degrees of “openness” and shared identifying information.

For example, in Adoption A, the adoptive family and birth parents exchange emails, pictures and letters once a month and talk on the phone a couple of times per year.

In Adoption B, the adoptive family and birth parents exchange emails, pictures and letters, talk on the phone every month and visit each other twice a year.

Both are considered open adoptions, but Adoption B is more “open” than Adoption A. Open adoptions make up 5 to 10 percent of the adoptions we’ve seen.

Defining adoptions as “open” or “closed” doesn’t always tell the full story of the adoption relationship.

Because of differences in terminology among adoption professionals, it is sometimes easier to view an adoption on a scale of openness instead of as simply a “closed adoption” or “open adoption.”

Also, remember that adoption relationships are fluid just like any other relationship.

It is common for a semi-open adoption to become more open as both parties become more comfortable with each other, just as it is common for an open adoption to become less open as the birth mother becomes more comfortable with her adoption decision. 

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The Domestic Adoption Process – Step by Step

There are many different adoption professionals to choose from, but the domestic adoption process remains mainly the same.

These are the steps of the domestic adoption process, by and large, which are as follows:

Step 1 – Infertility to Adoption

Deciding if adoption is right for your family is a personal decision, and one that is usually made due to infertility.

Infertility treatments are available to those families who are interested, but they don’t work for everyone, and they are too expensive for others.

For many families, adoption is the only way they will ever become parents.

If this describes your family’s situation, it is important to make a healthy mental transition from infertility and fully accept adding to your family through adoption.

The assistance of a counsellor or an Adoption Specialist is sometimes necessary to move on from infertility.

This commitment to adoption allows you to let go of the dream of having a child biologically so you can fully embrace the dream of having a child through adoption.

Step 2 – Selecting the Type of Adoption

As an adoptive family, you have to decide what type of adoption you are interested in pursuing, which depends on several factors. Do you want to:

  • Adopt domestically or internationally?
  • Adopt privately or through the state foster care system?
  • Adopt a newborn or an older child?
  • Have any kind of contact with the birth parents?
  • Receive medical information about the birth parents?
  • The private domestic adoption process refers to the placement of U.S.-born infants for adoption by their birth parents, who legally consent to the adoption with an adoptive family of their choosing.

Some organizations specialize in private domestic adoptions of newborn babies.

We encourage semi-open contact between the adoptive family and the birth parents, which helps create more secure adoptions and allows for future medical records to be received, among many other benefits.

Step 3 – Choosing an Adoption Professional

Often times, adoptive families inaccurately believe all adoption professionals provide the same adoption services with the same levels of success.

It is essential for adoptive families to thoroughly research adoption professionals before settling on one.

For example, it is a mistake to compare Adoption Professional A’s $10,000 fees to Adoption Professional B’s $20,000 fees and select Adoption Professional A because it seems like a less expensive option.

When selecting an adoption professional, price is just one of several factors to consider, which also include:

  • Wait times
  • Disruption rates
  • Hidden fees
  • Financial protection
  • Amount of support, education and guidance

We provide this information to prospective adoptive families because we want you to make the correct choice up front to save yourself time, money and heartache.

There are many adoption agencies out there, and some adoption agencies are not always the best fit for every adoptive family.

We would rather you compare other adoption professionals’ services with one another and determine which adoption professional is best to meet your adoption goals.

Step 4 – Completing the Home Study Process

A home study is required in every domestic, international, private and state adoption, and is an in-depth overview of your life to ensure that you are fit to become parents.

Your home study social worker will ask you to collect state and federal criminal background checks, financial and medical information, will interview you and will conduct an in-home inspection.

The home study process can seem long and tedious at times, but it is essential to ensure the adoption professional and prospective birth parents your readiness as parents.

Step 5 – Completing the Adoption Profile

Most adoption professionals have the adoptive family complete an adoption profile, which is a collection of text and photos about the adoptive family.

Prospective birth parents then look through the adoption profiles and select the adoptive family that best matches their adoption plan.

From there, you might be asked to complete an Adoptive Family Video Profile.

The print profile is an effective way for a birth mother to learn certain aspects about an adoptive family, but the Adoptive Family Video Profile allows the birth mother to learn what makes them truly unique.

Certain traits like personality, humour and an excitement to become parents can only accurately translate to video.

Together, the print profile and video profile complement one another, so prospective birth parents can easily imagine what their child’s life would be like as a member of your family.

Step 6 – Activation and Waiting Period

Each adoption professional calls this step a different name, but here we will call it “activation”, which is when the adoptive family has completed:

  • The Home Study
  • The Adoptive Family Profile and Video Profile
  • The Adoption Planning Questionnaire

Then, the waiting period begins.

The waiting period can be difficult for some adoptive families, so it is important to approach it the right way.

In a healthy approach, the adoptive family maintains their normal lifestyle, keeps their adoption private to only close family members and friends, and perhaps takes up new hobbies to help keep their minds occupied, all while being prepared for when they do receive “the call.”

In a non-healthy approach, the adoptive family stalks the adoption professional’s website to gather any clues, tells everyone they know about the adoption, wakes up every morning wondering if “today is the day,” and discontinues certain hobbies in favour of shopping for baby clothes or focusing on completing the nursery.

Adoptive families that are able to distance themselves from the wait tend to have much smoother adoptions.

After all, at this point there is nothing they can do to speed up the adoption process.

Step 7 – Match and Contact with the Birth Parents

Once the birth parents identify an adoptive family based on their adoption profile, they are then involved in what is referred to as a “match.”

During this time, it is common in domestic adoptions for the birth parents and the adoptive family to get to know one another a little bit more, whether it’s over the phone, through email, in person, or a combination of all three.

Contact is very important to the overall health of the adoption because it helps the birth mother feel more comfortable with her adoption decision and confirms the reasons she chose the family’s adoption profile in the first place.

Families ought to be accepting of a semi-open adoption, which includes any or all of the following that the birth mother is interested in:

Conference Call – An Adoption Specialist-mediated conference call between you and the birth parents.

Email Exchange – Ongoing confidential e-mail communication prior to placement.

Meet During Placement – Travel to the hospital where the birth takes place and interact with the birth parents upon placement.

Pictures and Letters – Updates on the child in the form of pictures and letters are mailed to the birth mother for up to 18 years.

Step 8 – ICPC and Post-Placement Visits

Once the consent papers have been signed by the birth parents and the newborn baby is free to leave the hospital, the new family can leave together but must remain in the state where the adoption is being completed.

The adoptive family must remain in the state until Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) paperwork clears, which usually takes between 7 to 10 business days.

Once ICPC is completed, the adoptive family will have a select number of post-placement visits to complete, usually performed by their home study provider.

Post-placement visits show the adoption professional and the court that the baby and family are adjusting well to one another.

Step 9 – Finalization

The finalization hearing is a judge’s final review of the adoption, ensuring the necessary post-placement visits were completed, ICPC was conducted in applicable states, and both birth parents’ parental rights were legally terminated.

Once the hearing is finished, the adoptive family is granted legal custody of the child and awarded the adoption decree, and the domestic adoption process is complete.