Open adoption is one in which the child's birth parents are involved in the life of the child as he or she grows up. The concept of open adoption intrigued me, so I decided to investigate.
Pleasant Hill is home to one of six Independent Adoption Center locations. Founded in 1982, the IAC has found families for approximately 4,000 children.
I spoke with Erin Grimm and Ryan Schwab, the Center's creative directors of marketing, about the benefits and prospective downfalls of open adoption. The most important question, of course, is whether open adoption benefits the adopted children. It seemed plausible that children involved in open adoptions may find it difficult to feel as if they are truly part of either family, adoptive or biological. Grimm and Schwab assured me, however, that they have observed quite the opposite. The children, they said, have the advantage of knowing who their biological parents are and receiving emotional support from them.
"Children in open adoptions have fewer questions about their identity and who they are," said Schwab.
While the biological parents take part in the child's life, they do not make parenting decisions. This, Grimm said, allows the children to feel as if their adoptive parents are, in fact, their immediate family.
"The biological parents are often like extended family," said Grimm.
Indeed, IAC's website cites several studies measuring the psychological well being of families involved in open adoptions. The studies indicate that open adoption has either no impact or a positive impact upon the psychological state and self-esteem of the child. The adoptive parents participating in the study also reported no feelings of dissatisfaction with their choice of an open adoption.
So why would prospective adoptive parents choose an open adoption? What advantages does it hold for them? According to Grimm and Schwab, parents choose open adoption because they believe it is in the best interest of the child and because it eases any concerns they may have about not knowing the background of the biological parents.
"Open adoption gives adoptive parents peace of mind because they know who the biological parents are," Schwab said.
In addition, IAC is one of the few adoption agencies that provide services to prospective LGBTQ parents.
"[LGBTQ adoptive parents] don't encounter any more barriers than our heterosexual families," said Grimm.
IAC also offers an online community for birthmothers whose children have been adopted through IAC or who are considering open adoption. Having peer support in addition to the support of a counselor, Grimm and Schwab said, is quite important to many mothers.
"[Birthmothers] always have the help of a counselor, which is important, but the counselor hasn't necessarily been through what they are going through," said Grimm.
My conversation with Grimm and Schwab demonstrated to me the many ways in which families may be constructed. While adoptive parents may have some concerns about open adoption, it seems there are many advantages, as well. The lesson I took away from this interview is that children can lead happy, well-adjusted lives regardless of whether they are raised in traditional, biological families. What is important is that parents provide loving homes.