top of page

What is Open Adoption?

Adoption Practices: From Closed to Open 

Adoption practices in the past were based on shame and secrecy, where unmarried women experiencing an unintended pregnancy were sent away until the baby was delivered and “given up” for adoption. Women were not allowed to choose whether to parent or to place their baby due to the societal stigma of being an unwed mother. Birth moms were encouraged to move forward, to return to “normal” and forget that they had given birth and placed their child for adoption. All too often they were not allowed to see and hold their babies because it was believed that bonding with their child would prevent them from healing and moving forward.  

Whether it was the preference of the birth mother or the adoptive parents, most of these adoptions were “closed”, meaning there was no exchange of identifying information and records were sealed. It has been demonstrated in the last few decades that these practices have contributed to difficulties for all members of the adoption triad. Birth moms were unable to grieve and heal, resulting in disenfranchised grief and further shame and secrecy. Adoptees were prevented from knowing the circumstances of their birth and where they came from. Adoptive parents were unable to answer their child’s difficult questions and help them process their adoption. 

Thankfully, there has been a massive shift in adoption practices since the closed era of the 1960’s and it has been shown that there are a multitude of benefits for adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents who function in an open adoption.  

Significant benefits of openness in adoption for adoptees as stated by The Inclusive Family Support Model include:  

  • Openness strengthens an adoptee’s sense of identity. 

  • Openness encourages an adoptee’s attachment to their adoptive parents. 

  • Openness can decrease an adoptee’s sense of abandonment.  

Openness in Adoption: 

There is a difference between open adoption and openness in adoption. Lori Holden, M.A., an adoptive mother and an advocate for openness in adoption has stated that “adoption creates a split between a person’s biology and biography, and openness helps adoptees heal this split.” Openness in adoption is an attitude of mind and heart towards the adoptee’s biological family. It can be characterized by holding space for the first family, speaking respectfully of them to the adoptee, and being comfortable with both easy and difficult conversations, where the adoptee can feel safe with their adoptive parents as they process hard emotions. One may think that open adoption, where contact between the families occurs, is the same. However, it is possible to have an open adoption with contact and visits with the birth family and yet maintain a “closed” stance in thoughts and beliefs. Openness of heart leads to valuing birth parents, whether they are present or not. The goal is for openness in the adoption relationships along with contact. Openness does not necessarily equal contact, because contact may not always be possible. “However, adoptive parents can still cultivate a sense of openness that their child feels and benefits from”. 

Below is the Open Adoption Grid from The Inclusive Family Support Model which highlights four quadrants along the Openness/ Contact continuum:   


Not all families will be able to operate in Quadrant 4, but the goal should be to move up in elevation, bridging the gap between an adoptee’s adoptive and birth family.  

We will continue the discussion of Openness in Adoption and the benefits to all members of the Adoption Triad in future posts  


Cindy, Birth Parent Advocate 



For more information on this topic, please see Adoption Advocate August 2023, Issue No. 174  

Improving Open Adoptions: Three Shifts to Bridge the Gap Between Birth Families and Adoptive Families for the Adoptees We Love, by Lori Holden, M.A  

National Council for Adoption at  

Inclusive Family Support Model 


bottom of page