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Open vs. Closed Adoption – Comparison


As we explore the adoption process we will be describing situations in which birth parents and adoptive families keep in regular contact, open adoptions typically include:

Exchange of information – Once an adoptive family and birth mother are matched, they can trade identifying information such as last names, personal email addresses, and any other information that will help them keep in contact

Pre-placement contact – Before the baby is born, the birth mother and adoptive family will probably correspond over email and have at least one conversation over the phone. The adoptive family will also usually travel to the birth mother’s location for an in-person visit.

Post-placement contact agreements – As they communicate, the birth mother and adoptive family can come to an agreement on exactly the kind of relationship the birth mother will have with the child and how often they will communicate.

Considerations for Adoptive Parents

Open adoption benefits not just the adoptive family, but everyone in the adoption triad. The free flow of communication between the members of the adoption triad is especially good for the adopted child, who can contact his or her birth mother whenever questions arise.

Adoptive parents should remember that an open adoption is not just a relationship, but a promise that families make to birth parents. Parents should always do their best to honor their contact agreement as time passes. For many, this is not an issue; in fact, may adoptive families develop strong relationships with the birth parents of their children and even come to view them as extended family members.

Considerations for Birth Parents

The nature of adoption has changed greatly over the years, and open adoptions are one of the many ways that birth parents can take charge of their adoption plans. Instead of having to wonder whether or not they chose the right family or how their child is doing, they will always know. In an open adoption, birth parents have the opportunity to get to know the family they have chosen for their child, which puts many people at ease and makes the difficult decision of adoption much easier.

More importantly, birth parents will get to know their child. Not only does this provide peace of mind for the birth parents, but it gives them the opportunity to talk to their child about adoption and provide that same peace of mind to the child.


Also known as a confidential adoption, a closed adoption involves:

  • Little to no exchange of identifying information – In some closed adoptions, a birth mother and adoptive family might communicate briefly, but no identifying information will be shared.
  • Protection of privacy on both sides – Any communication or exchange of information – for example, medical records – will be mediated by an adoption specialist to ensure that the birth mother and adoptive family’s information is kept confidential.
  • No contact after the child’s birth – Once the child is born, there will be no visits, communication, or exchange of pictures or letters. In some cases, an adoption agency may hold onto pictures or letters in the event that the birth mother wants access to them later.
Considerations for Adoptive Families

Adoptive parents may prefer the idea of a closed adoption because they will not have to worry about a complicated relationship with a birth mother. Some of these parents may believe that the presence of the birth family will confuse their child, or that the birth mother will want to co-parent or even take her child back.

While a closed adoption does eliminate any risk of a rocky relationship, it also eliminates the possibility of a fulfilling, positive relationship. Moreover, birth mothers cannot reclaim their children under any circumstance, and adopted children are often less confused about their adoption when they know their birth mothers, who can answer their questions.

Hopeful families should also keep in mind that very few birth mothers opt for closed adoption today. If a family insists on a closed adoption, it could drastically increase their wait time.

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Considerations for Birth Parents

Prospective birth mothers often pursue closed adoption to gain a sense of closure or to avoid the emotional distress of watching someone else raise their child. Every person and adoption situation is unique, and only a birth mother can know what the right decision is for her situation.

It’s important to keep in mind that, while adoption relationships can change, it is more complicated to increase contact than to decrease it. If a birth mother starts with an open relationship and then decides later that she needs distance, she can do this at any time. However, if an adoption is closed and a birth mother wants more contact, then she has to come to an agreement with the adoptive family. Therefore, it is especially important that a birth mother choosing closed adoption is sure that it is what she wants.

Building the Right Adoption Relationship

For those who do not want a completely open adoption, there is the option of semi-open adoption. Semi-open adoption is a great option to create an adoption relationship that meets the needs of a particular situation. Every adoption relationship is different, and semi-open adoptions can take many forms; a typical semi-open adoption involves communication without exchanging identifying information, along with sending pictures and letters on occasion.

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