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Open Mason Article

Top Ten Ethical Considerations In Open Adoption Practice

by Mary Martin Mason

Open adoption is designed to be a child-centered arrangement based upon the premise that humans need genetic continuity to attain a healthy identity. Open adoption benefits children by providing a lifelong, authentic relationship and a genuine connection to their lineal heritage, ongoing answers to questions, and healing for the losses that permeate adoption. Open adoption benefits birthparents because the grieving process that follows all adoption need not be complicated by having to live with the ambiguity of not knowing what happened to their children. Adoptive parents feel parental entitlement in open adoption and have access to the continuing genetic, medical and family information needed to raise the child.

Open adoption is a standard, common practice today as revealed by the November, 2006 White Paper written by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, "Safeguarding the Rights and Well-being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process." Researchers found that 90 percent or more of contemporary birthmothers have met the adoptive parents of their children, and almost all of the remaining birthmothers helped to choose the new parents through profiles. (Source)

The ten principles that follow are guideposts for open adoption practice and policy:

  1. To fulfill in the goal of benefiting the child, an open adoption should be a fully disclosed adoption and should move beyond the practice called mediated or semi-open adoption in which an agency serves as an intermediary to exchange information between parties.
  2. The child should be given the option to be a full participant in the open adoption rather than the adoptive parents maintaining contact with birth family members without the child's knowledge.
  3. Agency workers need to be educated and overcome fears about allowing clients to be in contact without agency control. An agency that simultaneously practices semi-open adoption and fully disclosed adoption communicates its distrust of the foundation of openness, often communicated as, "We let clients make that choice." Professional standards require that agencies provide guidance and education to clients, including the few birthparents who insist on confidential adoption. Ethical standards require that agencies refuse to do a confidential adoption even if it means losing a client.
  4. Systemic change must take place in agencies that practice open adoption, requiring a shift in policies, in job descriptions for workers and ultimately, in post adoption services that will eschew secrecy as the foundation for adoption.
  5. Birthfathers, as in other forms of adoption, need to be identified, notified and invited to participate in open adoptions. Father-friendly inclusion should be the mission of those practicing and participating in open adoption. Professionals frequently need training in revamping services to be father-friendly before successfully engaging birthfathers.
  6. Services such as pre-adoptive education, legal representation and post-adoption mediation or counseling should be equalized for birth and adoptive parents.
  7. Open adoption should never be used to entice, pressure or coerce any one experiencing a crisis pregnancy to choose adoption.
  8. Post adoption contact agreements should be standard and fully enforceable in all states, for both independent and agency adoptions.
  9. Legal counsel should not be shared between parents considering adoption and prospective adoptive parents because they have conflicting interest.
  10. Agencies that practice open adoption while opposing the right of adoptees to have access to their original birth certificates "serve two masters." If a foundation of truth and full disclosure is solid, then it should serve adoptions moving forward as well as adoptions that took place in the past.