Open Adoption Terms


Adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a child with someone other than the child's biological parents.


Open Adoption includes birth and adoptive parents meeting one another, sharing full identifying information, and having direct access to ongoing contact over the years. In open adoption, birthparents and adopting parents select each other. They have control over all critical decisions in their adoption, including the amount of ongoing contact.

Open adoption has been the subject of intense study in recent years, and it has been found to be psychologically the healthiest form of adoption for birthparents, children, and adoptive families. Research has shown that the more open an open adoption is the healthier it is.

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Closed Adoption, on the other hand, requires that there be no exchange of information or contact of any kind between the adopting and biological parents. All decisions about who adopts which baby are made (in part or in full) by others. Variations of closed adoption remain in use despite overwhelming evidence that open adoption is the healthiest form of adoption for birthparents, children, and adoptive families.

The origin of secrecy and the practice of sealing records began in the early 1900s. Unlike today, there were many destitute children available for adoption, but few potential adoptive parents. In those days it was largely believed that social ills such as poverty, sexual promiscuity, alcoholism, and crime were passed on to children, genetically. For that reason, middle class families feared adopting a child of questionable parentage.

What started as a process to make adoption more attractive and to protect the child from being haunted by his "illegitimate" birth status became inextricably linked with the mandate of secrecy. By 1950 most states had laws forever sealing original birth certificates and court records, not only from the public but also from the adoptive parents and the adopted child.

Pressure for change began mounting in the l970s and increased in the l980s and l990s. When adoption was the sole alternative to a lifetime of shame, a birthmother had little choice but to accept closed adoption. However, as the social mores against unwed motherhood disappeared, so did young people's tolerance of these attitudes. Just as other non-traditional alternatives for social change emerged in those decades--from the civil rights movement to alternative schools--so, too, did open adoption.

Today open adoption has become the norm in the U.S. for infant adoptions even while forms of closed adoption live on.

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The Adoption Triad includes birthparents, adopted children, and adoptive parents, the three major parties in an adoption. The term "triad" refers to the fact that the three participants in the adoption process are connected to one another.

Terminology related to the Adoption Triad has changed over the years. However, the terms birthparents, birthmother, and birthfather have become accepted nomenclature for referring to the mother and father who gave birth to a child who was placed for adoption (A. Brodzinsky, 1990).

Approximately seventy percent of birthmothers move through the adoption process without the involvement of a birthfather. Adoptive parents are, typically, comprised of couples and singles that are prepared, emotionally and financially, to raise and nurture a child but are unable to conceive.

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Open Adoption Counseling is a vitally important component of the open adoption process because open adoption brings disparate people into a familial arrangement, it involves loss, and it creates a nuclear and, potentially, extended family. IAC believes that open adoptions work best when birthparents and adoptive parents control all of the major decisions. Each adoption -- like each family -- is unique. It establishes its own rules and boundaries and has its own sets of challenges. For this process to be successful for all parties, it requires professional counseling and an understanding that family connections are being built.

  • Counselors help birthparents and adoptive parents deal with grief, stress, role and boundary issues, and identity issues as it relates to their adoption.
  • As mandated by state licensing requirements, prospective adoptive parents -- working with a professional counselor -- complete a home study to ensure that they have the capacity to parent and that a child will be placed in an environment conducive to their development.
  • Counselors engage birthparents prior to and after the birth of their child to ensure that they are comfortable placing their child for adoption. IAC believes that open adoptions are best when birthparents are confident about their decision to place their child for adoption.
  • Counselors help birth and adoptive parents develop the level of openness and frequency of contacts with which they are both comfortable.
  • Counselors also provide counseling and mediation in the event of any misunderstandings between adoptive parents and birthparents.

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A Birthparent is the biological mother or father of a child being placed for adoption.

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An Adoptive Parent is a person or couple who chooses to grow their family through adoption. They will be voluntarily raising a child as their own that was birthed by a birthmother. This is not a foster parent in that an adoptive parent is providing a permanent home to the child.

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An Adoptee is a child who was placed for adoption by their birthparent(s). They have been raised by their adoptive mother and father.

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