Open borders


Fiona Trotter and Laura Carin from CHOICES Adoption & Counselling
Focus on Adoption magazine

Open domestic adoptions, where the birth family and adoptive family get together regularly for visits with the child, are the norm in British Columbia. In between visits they stay in touch through emails, phone calls, and text messages. If this is what an open adoption looks like, how can openness be possible in an international adoption where time zones and geography create barriers and birth parents may be unknown?

The answer is that while it may look a bit different, openness is possible in international adoption, and in this age of advancing technology, the options are becoming endless.

What is openness?

There are two parts to openness. First, openness is a state of mind; in that sense, all adoptions are now open. We are long past the days of adoption secrecy, and there is an increasing awareness of the benefits for children in knowing how a forever family was formed. Adoptive parents now talk to their children about adoption from the moment they become a part of their family and lifebooks are created to record life events and memories.

The second part to openness is maintaining a connection to birth family members or to those who were an important part of the child’s life. This could include orphanage caregivers, foster parents, or other children in the care home as well as neighbours, mentors, and extended birth family members.

Connect with their country

Increasingly, we see families adopting internationally being able to have direct contact with their child’s birth family. If the opportunity to meet birth family members or previous caregivers comes up while you are in your child’s birth country, please do everything you can to make the meeting happen. Afterwards, journal about the experience because so you can share your memories with your child. Birth family is always going to be a part of a child’s identity. By maintaining openness, you will be helping your child develop a positive identity.

While in the child’s birth country, take photos of important places, people, and events. Seek out these important people and places when you go back to the country in the future. If possible, take photos of the child’s room in the orphanage or foster home and of the other children with whom they were close. Each person – the driver, the translator, the judge – is an important part of the child’s history.

Be creative

Many of families have developed creative ways of staying in touch with people from their child’s past. We even see adoptive families keep in touch with birth families in other countries via Skype or FaceTime! Even when direct contact is not possible, there are many ways to create openness in your family. Often birth family members are aware that they can visit the orphanage to receive updates on the child. Send photos and updates to the orphanage/foster home regularly. Even if birth family is not in contact now, they may be at some point in the future. We have seen many families receive replies from birth family through the child’s orphanage.

Use technology to your advantage. Stay in touch through Skype, text messages, and social media. Use Google Maps to zoom in on important locations. Try to find out where your child’s friends from the orphanage or foster home have gone, and make efforts to stay in touch. You may end up with friends all over the world through these connections.

If you have no contact with your child’s birth family, one way to connect indirectly is to find charities in the country that support people or services that may be of benefit to the birth family. For example, if you know that your child’s birth mother was a young, single mother, find organizations that support young, single mothers in her community. Learn about the history, culture, food, and traditions of the birth family’s community. Share this information with your child.

We understand that there are many complications in figuring out openness in international adoption, especially when the child’s birth country has differing views on openness. Please stay in touch with your agency about this so they can support you in navigating the complexities and coming up with a plan that works for everyone involved.

CHOICES Adoption & Counselling Services is a nonprofit, non-sectarian licensed adoption agency offering services to birth parents and adoptive parents throughout B.C. since 1989. CHOICES is committed to providing a comprehensive, client-centered adoption service which best meets the needs of everyone in the adoption constellation with paramount consideration given to the best interests of the child. Visit them at