The Benefits of Open Communication in Adoption
ACI was founded 35 years ago on the belief that best practice in adoption is to nurture and advocate for genuine, open communication. This goes from all involved and starts at the very beginning of the adoption journey and follows through post placement, especially for the child. How does open communication differ from the term “open adoption”? Open communication in adoption refers to a practice where there is honest, transparent communication and sharing of information between adoption professionals, the biological parents, adoptive parents, and the adopted child. Research shows that open communication in adoption has many benefits. Let’s explore those benefits.
For biological parents considering adoption, open communication is crucial. This starts with the adoption professionals you are working with. The professionals have a responsibility to inform expectant parents of all their rights when it comes to placing a child for adoption. Expectant parents must be able to freely explore all their options in order to make a well informed decision. By setting an example of open communication, biological and adoptive families are better equipped to build a relationship that is honest, genuine, and built on trust. When a healthy foundation is built, everyone benefits from ongoing open communication.
Some of these benefits include:
Reduced Stigma and Shame: In a culture where adoption was historically kept secretive, open communication helps to reduce the stigma and shame sometimes associated with placing a child for adoption and for the child being adopted. When adoption is openly discussed and normalized , both birth parents and adoptees are less likely to feel ashamed, alone, and an outsider.
- Helps with Grief and Loss: adoption stems from loss for both birth parents and adoptees. Open communication can help ease the grief associated with that loss by having answers to questions such as “are they okay?” “what are they doing now” and “do they love me?”.
- Continuity of Relationships: Open communication leads to a healthy open adoption. When feelings, lives, and love is shared between bio families and adoptive families, the support and family network is extended for an adoptee.
Post placement, open communication or an “open adoption” can take different forms depending on the preferences and agreements made by the individuals involved. It may involve letters, emails, phone calls, in-person visits, or even social media interactions. The frequency and level of openness vary and can be tailored to meet the needs and comfort levels of everyone involved.
Most importantly open communication for an adoptee is invaluable.
Emotional well-being: Open communication can help address the adopted child’s curiosity, questions, and potential feelings of loss or identity confusion. It provides an opportunity for them to develop a sense of connection and belonging to both their birth and adoptive families.
Identity and Self-Esteem: Oftentimes, adoptees struggle with building a complete sense of self. With open communication, an adoptee may know more about their background, heritage, and biological family. This knowledge can play a crucial role in shaping their sense of identity and self-esteem. Adopted children often grapple with questions about their origins, and open communication provides them with answers that can help them feel more secure in who they are.
Reduced Fantasies and Myths: When children have access to factual information about their adoption, they are less likely to create unrealistic fantasies or myths about their birth parents or the circumstances of their adoption. This can lead to healthier psychological development and a more grounded perspective on their life story.
Better Understanding of Adoption: Open communication allows all parties involved to gain a better understanding of the adoption process and its impact on everyone’s lives. This understanding can lead to more empathy and a willingness to work together for the child’s best interests.
What an Open Adoption Can Look Like
We’ve seen thousands of successful open adoptions over ACI’s 30 years in operation. Open adoptions look different for different families and often the level and kind of communication can fluctuate with time. In one case, we placed a child with a loving family in an open adoption. To them, this meant the child’s parents kept in touch with the birth mother, sending updates and pictures via emails over the years.
When the child was a bit older, he started to have questions for his birth mother and wanted to reach out as well. Together with his parents, he was able to write an email update with his parents with his questions and his birth mom was able to give him the answers he wanted, giving him a greater understanding of himself and a line of communication that he can access should he want to know more down the line.
Why and When Open Adoption May not Be Appropriate and How to Tell
Open communication in adoption is not always possible for a multitude of reasons. Factors such as the wishes and comfort levels of the birth parents and the adoptee need to be taken into consideration. Adoption arrangements can vary widely, and it’s essential for all parties involved to discuss and establish clear boundaries, expectations, and consent regarding the level of openness desired. Relationships also change over time. There may be times of communication and others of silence.
How can you retain the benefits above and still respect the birth parent that might want to have a closed adoption?
- Understand the reasons behind the birth parents’ preference for a closed adoption. This can help you empathize with their feelings and concerns.
Pre-placement Information Gathering:
- Getting as much information as possible from the birth parent regarding their background, heritage, and biological family to help answer any questions an adoptee might have in the future which can help their self identity.
Letters or Non-Identifying Information:
- Some birth parents may be open to providing non-identifying information, such as medical history, family background, or personal characteristics. This can be helpful for the child’s well-being without compromising the birth parents’ desire for privacy.
Birth Parent Box
- With your child, get a box and decorate it. This box can be a place where the child can draw pictures, write letters, or put little trinkets in for their birth family. This allows for the child to express their feelings and create a connection to a birth parent that they might not be able to otherwise.
Professional guidance from adoption agencies, social workers, or counselors experienced in adoption can be invaluable in facilitating and navigating these discussions and helping to establish a framework that works best for everyone involved. If you are considering adoption, you can reach out to ACI directly, we would be happy to help you wherever you are on your journey.