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Understanding Openness

Openness in adoption has been occurring for many years in private adoptions. While it is not a special need it is a special consideration for everyone involved in adoption. Openness in adoption is the result of the lived experiences and lessons learnt from birth families, adoptees and adoptive families who have advocated for change to the closed adoption system. They found the information and connections were too great to lose because of adoption.

Many people involved with open adoptions have been able to see the positive long term effects for their child. There are many fears about openness and our purpose is to provide the information you need to understand openness in adoption.

What is Openness?

Openness is about the child maintaining as many connections and relationships as possible to the people who love and care about them. While it may be contact between the birth parents and the adoptive family; it can also be contact between birth siblings, other birth family members, or a significant person or community member in the child’s life. The importance of openness is to allow for children to maintain the important connections and relationships that they have built throughout their lives in a healthy and beneficial way.

Openness is a spectrum. It could mean contact through exchanging letters and photos a few times a year to regular in person visits. Openness can grow and change over time. It is always important to keep in mind what is in the child’s best interest as well as their wishes and feelings.

Openness does not mean co-parenting. Adoptive parents are the legal guardians and decision makers for the child. It allows for the important people a child’s life to stay involved and helps them know their adoption story including those who were a part of their journey before their forever family.

Legal Definition of Openness

In Ontario government policies, openness is currently defined as follows: “includes written, verbal or face-to-face contact or communication, where the communication may be direct or indirect and may permit the disclosure of identifying or non-identifying information and the frequency of contact or communication may vary from episodic to ongoing” (Ontario Regulation 70, subsection 49.1(2)).

Openness in Public Adoption

Many of the children available through public adoption have been removed from their families due to safety concerns. It is important to identify the potential challenges and issues; however, this does not mean that openness should not be considered.

While protection concerns may exist, this does not erase the bonds of early life. Having biological family connections and allowing for children to stay in touch with their roots makes them better able to acknowledge and resolve their loss and helps them understand their story.

Keeping openness with a child’s birth family is important even if the child is not ready for contact at this point. This maintains the birth connection and for the child to feel comfortable about having and getting information about their birth families. In many cases, a child may feel guilt when expressing interest in re-connecting with birth family members. This may result in them either not addressing their feelings, or doing it without your awareness. If there is openness early on, the child will feel supported when reaching out instead of trying to reach out without the adoptive family’s knowledge and support. Remember, openness should always be about the needs of the child first.

What we know about adoption is that many children want to know who their biological family is and learn about their history. Openness allows this to occur slowly and inclusively. Assisting the child in their journey of learning about their biological connections and the realities of why they could not be parented by their birth family. It allows children to learn about their roots within the safety and security of the support that parents can provide. Remember, some of the information they learn may be difficult and hard; however, having you as a loving and open support will help them through this process.

Benefits of Openness in Adoption

In general the goals of having openness in adoption are child focused:

  • To minimize the child's loss of relationships
  • To maintain and celebrate the adopted child's connections with all the important people in his or her life
  • To allow children to resolve losses with truth, rather than with fantasy
  • To allow for children to maintain cultural and other important connections

There are many benefits of having openness in adoption. Each person involved in the adoption process can gain, learn and grow through this process. Please scroll to the section that pertains to your situation to learn more about the benefits of openness is adoption.

For the Adopted Child

Openness in adoption may:

  • Provide permanency through adoption while allowing the opportunity to maintain significant relationships
  • Enable an Aboriginal or native child to remain connected to their band or native community and preserve their heritage, culture and traditions
  • Enable easier access to current medical or other significant information about the birth family
  • Lessen the impact of loss and diminish grief
    Many adopted persons have had great difficulty dealing with their losses where all ties were severed through the adoption process. By maintaining relationships the sense of loss may be reduced
  • Reduce identity confusion for adopted persons
    Literature suggests that when adopted children have knowledge of birth parents and feel connected to them, their level of emotional adjustment is healthier. It is important for adopted children to have an understanding of their origins and reasons for being placed for adoption
  • Promote the sharing of information about a person’s adoptive status and help to prevent issues or concerns that may arise as a result of the element of secrecy
  • Ease feelings of abandonment
  • Lead to less fantasizing about their birth family as the birth family and significant others will be known
  • Increase the circle of supportive adults, unless protection concerns prohibit contact
  • Increase the attachment to the adoptive family when supaported by birth family
  • Lessen loyalty conflicts and free them to ask questions
  • Expose them to cultural origins that support the development of a healthy cultural identity

For Birth Family, Extended Family, Community, Aboriginal Or Native Band, Foster Parent.

Openness in adoption may:

  • Minimize the impact of loss and diminish grief
    Many birth parents have had great difficulty dealing with their losses where all ties were severed through the adoption process. By maintaining relationships the sense of loss may be reduced
  • Enable birth parents to consent and participate in the permanency decision of adoption for their child despite their inability to parent the child
  • Reduce guilt about decision to give a child up for adoption
  • Maintain some form of contact to the child if contact is determined to be in the child’s best interests
  • Prevent issues/concerns that were created by the element of secrecy
  • Provide comfort through knowledge of the child’s well-being
  • Enable the person to have a defined role in the child’s life
  • Facilitate a healthy relationship with the child as the child grows
  • Provide opportunities to share cultural information with the child

For Adoptive Families

Openness in adoption may:

  • Enable easier access to current medical and/or other significant information about or for the child
  • Increase their sense of entitlement to parent the child if the birth parent accepts and acknowledges the parenting role of the adoptive parents
  • Enhance the ability to answer the child’s questions with accurate information
  • Prevent issues/concerns that may arise as a result of the element of secrecy
  • Provide a greater sense of control over the adoption process
  • Provide opportunities for relationships with birth family or significant persons in the adopted child’s life
  • Encourage learning related to adoption issues and raising adopted children
  • Increase understanding of the child’s history
  • Increase understanding of the child’s birth parent
  • Reduce fears that birth parent /significant person will reclaim the child

For Agencies/Practitioners Making Permanency Decisions For Children

Openness in adoption may:

  • Provide a broader range of options available for children as a means of maintaining meaningful and beneficial relationships
  • Support consideration of the permanency option of adoption for Crown wards where continued contact is in the child’s best interests

(Excerpt from: Resource Guide on Openness in Adoption, 2007, pp. 3-7/ Ontario)

Managing Openness

Openness planning starts at the very beginning of the adoption process in the form of learning in PRIDE and discussion during the Adoption Homestudy but it is an evolving process throughout the adoption journey. Here are some tips and strategies that may help.

Pre-Adoption

  • Read about openness – see some books and articles below
  • Talk with families who have openness
  • Start early to prepare extended family about the concept of open adoption
  • Openly discuss fears and challenges
  • Discuss views on openness during Homestudy process and ensure your views are included in HS and profile. If your views and perspective change make sure your adoption worker is aware of this and your homestudy is updated to reflect new information.

During the Process

  • Meet with Child’s adoption worker and discuss views on openness. Get as much information as possible about family history, family members who will be involved in openness and a clear understanding of what activities family members hope the ongoing contact will involve
  • Set up direct meetings with people involved in openness to discuss plans. A face to face meeting with all the adults who will be involved in the ongoing contact is very helpful to diminish fears and establishing communication
  • Try to outline some shared visions, communication ground rules and some basic information about the parameters of the ongoing contact and use this simply as a foundation to support the building of good rapport and effective communication between two families
  • Start slow as a child needs time to establish relationships in the adoptive family. If too much time is spent with extended family it will be confusing for a child
  • Use creative ways to maintain connections when there are concerns about direct contact between parents. Use the support of the adoption worker and child’s worker to support contact during the adoption probation period if necessary
  • Use the support of your adoption worker during the adoption probation period if needed

Ongoing Openness

  • Openness changes over time. Parents should check in with birth family members and check in with child at regular intervals
  • Relationships should be within the adoptive family context. It is important that adoptive families be included in visits with birth family members especially in the early stages but also much of the time ongoing
  • Whenever possible, it is helpful for a child to have a predictable routine of contacts with birth family members
  • Expect a child to be confused and have emotional reaction to visits. Preparing children for visits and giving time to process feelings after a visit is important
  • If problems arise, be prepared to address them directly and make changes to plans as necessary
  • Always focus on the child’s need for stability in the adoptive family as well as to have a comfortable relationship with birth family members

The importance of a child having an ongoing relationship with birth family whenever possible is an accepted belief within our Ontario adoption program. At the same time, we are keenly aware of the complexities of bringing together two families through adoption.

If you work together with the adoption professionals to keep a clear focus on the best interest of the child, this will help maintain positive relationships with birth family members. There are ways to make openness in adoption work for the children and the families who are committed to the lifelong journey of adoption.

Helpful links or Resources for Openness

Open Adoption - http://www.openadoption.org/

Child Welfare Information Gateway
http://www.cwla.org/programs/adoption/cwla_standards.htm
http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/cooperative.cfm

Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies - http://www.oacas.org/adoptionopenness/faq.htm#5

Insight! - http://www.openadoptioninsight.org/ 

America Adopts! - http://www.americaadopts.com/what-growing-up-in-an-open-adoption-has-taught-me/

Content References:

Open Adoption Experience Authors: Lois Ruskai Melina and Sharon Kaplan Roszia - http://www.amazon.com/The-Open-Adoption-Experience-Complete/dp/0060969571

Arms Wide Open: An Insight into Open Adoption Author: Jane Waters - http://www.amazon.ca/Arms-Wide-Open-Insight-Adoption/dp/1420878549

Because I Loved You: A Birthmother's View of Open Adoption Author:  Patricia Dischler - http://www.amazon.ca/Because-Loved-You-Birthmothers-Adoption/dp/1595980423

Making Room in Our Hearts: Keeping Family Ties Through Open Adoption Author: Micky Duxbury - http://www.amazon.ca/Making-Room-Our-Hearts-Adoption/dp/0415955025

Openness in Adoption: Exploring Family Connections Author: Harold D. Grotevant and Ruth G. McRoy - http://www.amazon.com/Openness-Adoption-Exploring-Connections-Research/dp/0803957793

Spirit of Open Adoption Author: James L. Gritter - http://www.amazon.ca/Spirit-Open-Adoption-James-Gritter/dp/0878686371

Baron, A., & Pannor, R. ( 1993). Perspectives on open adoption. The Future of Children: Adoption, 3(1), 119-124. 

Berry, M. (1993). Adoptive parents’ perceptions of, and comfort with, open adoption. Child Welfare, 77(3), 231-251.

Berry M. (1993). Risks and benefits of open adoptions. The Future of Children, 3(1) 125-138.

Grotevant, H.D., & McRoy, R. G. (1998). Openness in adoption: Exploring family connections. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Resource Guide on Openness in Adoption, Ontario – 2007

Beneath the Mask, Understanding Adopted Teens, Case Studies and Treatment Considerations for Therapists and Parents, Debbie Riley M.S. with John Meeks M.D. - http://www.amazon.ca/Beneath-Mask-Understanding-Adopted-Teens/dp/0971173222

Spirit of Open Adoption Authors: James Gitter and L. Gitter

Siegel, D.T, & Smith, S.L. (2012). OPENNESS IN ADOPTION: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections. Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

Child Welfare Information Gateway (2013). Openness is Adoption: Building Relationships Between Adoptive and Birth Families.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. Open Adoption: Could Open Adoption be the Best Choice for you and Your Baby?