Talking point: Ten principles for open adoption


Mary Martin Mason
Focus on Adoption magazine

In this excerpted article, adoption expert Mary Martin Mason proposes how she thinks open adoption should work. Some of her suggestions may make some adoptive parents and social workers uncomfortable, but all of them are interesting.

  • To fulfill 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 birth parents who insist on confidential adoption. Ethical standards require that agencies refuse to do a confidential adoption, even if it means losing a client.
  • 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.
  • Birth fathers, 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 birth fathers.
  • Services such as pre-adoptive education, legal representation and post-adoption mediation or counseling should be equalized for birth and adoptive parents.
  • Open adoption should never be used to entice, pressure or coerce anyone experiencing a crisis pregnancy to choose adoption.
  • Post-adoption contact agreements should be standard and fully enforceable for both independent and agency adoptions.
  • Legal counsel should not be shared between parents considering adoption and prospective adoptive parents because they have conflicting interests.
  • 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 is solid, then it should serve adoptions moving forward as well as adoptions that took place in the past.

Excerpted with permission from: