All About Adoption for LGBT Couples

by Katharine Swan

Closed, Open, and Everything In Between

There are many options to consider, once you and your partner – or perhaps you alone – have made the decision to adopt. Terms like “closed adoption,” “open adoption,” and “semi-open adoption” may make your head spin as they are bandied about by friends, co-workers, and adoption agencies. In addition, there are many issues to deal with during the adoption process, including the decision of whether to disclose your sexual orientation to the adoption agency. However, it is important to know what these terms mean and what the process entails, so that you can choose a style of adoption that your entire family can be comfortable with.

What Method of Adoption Should I Choose?

There are several different kinds of adoption available for birth parents and adoptive families. Closed adoption is a more traditional method of adoption, in which birth parents and adopted parents are not given any information about each other, and even adopted children do not have access to information about their birth parents until they come of age. Open adoption, which has become increasingly more popular in recent years, allows birth mothers and adoptive families to choose each other and maintain a relationship of their choosing. Semi-open adoptions – adoptions in which the contact between birth parents and adoptive families is limited and mediated by the agency – are also an option.

The Traditional Method: Closed Adoption

Closed adoption is generally considered the traditional method of adoption, since it was widely used in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, as adoption became a socially acceptable way for infertile couples to start a family. However, adoption was still only marginally acceptable, as the practices of closed adoption reveal: information about the birth mother was withheld from the adoptive family, and vice versa. Birth parents had no choice of who adopted their child, and adoptive parents had no choice in the child they were given; that type of decision-making was up to the agency alone.

Adoption ChoicesAlthough in recent decades, open adoption – a practice that promotes shared information and regular contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents – has become increasingly more popular, closed adoption is still in practice. Many adoptive parents – and even some birth mothers – are not comfortable with the idea of their identity being known, let alone the prospect of an ongoing relationship with the other party. Proponents of closed adoption sometimes call it “confidential adoption,” to emphasize the relative privacy the process offers.

The Child-Focused Method: Open Adoption

Open adoption is a type of adoption that allows the maximum amount of choice and awareness in all parties involved. The birth mother is respected as the natural mother of the child, and as such has the right to choose the family that is to raise her child. Once the birth mother has met with and chosen an adoptive family, the latter also has the right to choose. This process ensures that both parties are suited for a long-term relationship with one another.

How “open” an open adoption is usually depends on the agreement between the birth parents and adoptive family. Some families may choose to limit their involvement to a regular exchange of pictures and letters, while other families may welcome the birth parents as members of an extended family. Generally, the birth parents and adoptive family maintain the relationship on their own, with little or no involvement from the agency.

The Middle Road: Semi-Open Adoption

For adoptive families who are put off by the secrecy of a closed adoption, but are wary of the open-door policy of an open adoption, there is semi-open adoption. Semi-open adoption allows birth parents and adoptive families to select each other and form a relationship, just as in open adoption; however, the relationship is mediated by the agency, allowing both parties their right to privacy. In a semi-open adoption, all communication – such as pictures and letters – are forwarded through the agency, and the agency provides a neutral ground for any meetings between the adoptive family and birth parents. This arrangement ensures that the adopted child does not suffer from any secrecy surrounding his or her adoption, but maintains a comfortable distance between the adoptive family and the birth parents.

Choosing a Child-Focused Adoption

When choosing what type of adoption you and your partner will pursue, it is important to remember that you are doing this for the child, and not just for you. This is not to say that your wants or needs are not important; it is vital that you are comfortable with your level of involvement in the adoption and your child’s biological past, as your attitude toward the adoption will surely affect the child. However, in this – the first act of parenthood – it is important to make your decision one that will serve the best interests of your child.

What Else Do I Need to Know About the Adoption Process?

Choosing which kind of adoption you want to pursue – closed, open, or semi-open – is only the beginning. There is much to consider and accomplish between the time that you decide to adopt and the time that you actually do adopt. Although the lengthy process may seem intimidating, every part of it is there for a reason: ultimately, so that your family and the child benefit from the best match possible.

The Home Study

In order for the courts to place a child with you, you will need to have completed a home study. Although the home study takes an average of three to six months to complete, the actual time frame can vary. A private agency may finish the study a little faster, but the cost is typically around $1,000 to $3,000 just for the home study; public agencies usually don’t charge, but may take longer to complete the study.

Despite what the name might imply, the home study is about more than just an inspection of your house. In fact, the home study is an in-depth analysis that allows the social worker, the courts, and the adoption agency to ensure that you and your partner are fully prepared for the responsibility of raising a child.

As might be expected, the home study will look at all the cold, hard facts: your job security and financial management, your physical health, references, criminal background, and the condition of your home. The social worker’s intent is to ensure that physically and financially, you can handle the responsibility of raising a child. However, the home study is also concerned with determining if your home will be a place where a child can feel emotionally secure, as well. Therefore, the study will also involve interviews in which topics such as your own upbringing, your relationship with your partner, your feelings about not being able to have a biological child (for whatever reason), and how the new child will be integrated into the family – particularly if there are already children living in the home. Once all of this information has been gathered, the social worker will write his or her recommendation of whether you and your partner are fit to adopt.

Naturally, the home study can be an extremely stressful time for the adoptive family. You and your partner might feel a great deal of pressure to behave, answer questions, or have your home look a certain way. However, it is important to remember that the social worker’s goal is not to discredit you, but to ensure the child you adopt will gain a safe, loving home.

There are a few things you can do to make the home study easier on you and your partner. It may help to ask questions and know what information the social worker will need ahead of time, so that you have plenty of time to get everything together. Many people find the inspection of the home to be the most stressful part of the process; however, rather than judging your cleaning skills, the social worker is looking for things like smoke detectors and an evacuation plan in case of emergency – things that will help create a safe environment for a child.

Most of all, it is important to be yourself with the social worker. Be positive about what you and your partner can offer a child, but be honest too. Remember, the information contained in your home study is part of the process of matching you up with the right birth mother and/or child. Additionally, if you are caught lying during the home study, you may be disqualified from adopting a child.

Dear Birth Mother: Writing a Letter of Introduction

In an open adoption, the birth mother ultimately has the choice of who will raise her baby. To help her narrow down her selections, the adoption agency will give her letters of introduction from the prospective adoptive families, also known as “Dear Birth Mother” letters. These letters are designed to give the birth mother an idea of what each adoptive family has to offer her child.

Obviously, there is a lot riding on your letter of introduction. Since a birth mother will make her preliminary decisions based on the information contained in those letters, you should make sure that the letter contains what you feel is most important. Most “Dear Birth Mother” letters contain information about the adoptive family’s work, lifestyle, neighborhood, and religious preferences. You also may be asked to select one or more photos to accompany your letter of introduction.

When preparing your letter of introduction and accompanying photos, it is important to remember that your goal here is not to find a child, but to find a birth mother. Your letter of introduction should be friendly and honest, as it is the first step of a relationship that will last many years.

Making the Decision to “Come Out”

As a gay or lesbian adoptive parent, you have an additional consideration that traditional families do not have: whether to “come out” to the adoption agency. Some gay or lesbian adoptive parents may worry that their sexual orientation could affect their chances of adoption – and in some cases, this concern may be valid.

Your state of residence’s legal position toward gay and lesbian adoption may play a major part in your decision to reveal – or disguise – your sexual orientation. There are several states in which gays or lesbians are restricted from adoption in some form: for example, Utah prohibits all singles and unmarried couples from adopting, while Florida has passed laws that prohibit openly gay and lesbian people from adopting. Even in states that have not attempted to restrict gays and lesbians from adopting, adoption agencies or social workers may be reluctant to place a child with a gay or lesbian family. Additionally, only certain states allow second-parent adoption, which allows both you and your partner to legally hold the same rights as parents. Therefore, it is important to research your state’s laws and previous cases regarding gay and lesbian adoption.

Unless you find yourself in a situation where you will be unable to adopt otherwise, any form of pretense during the home study or adoption process is not advised, as it can disqualify you from adopting a child; lying about your sexual orientation, even in a state that does not restrict gay or lesbians from adopting, can be grounds for the courts to refuse to place a child with you. In order to allow you to be forthcoming about your sexual orientation, you should seek out an adoption agency that has a track record of placing children with gay or lesbian parents. Get recommendations from other gay or lesbian parents, or even ask up front, when you are meeting with an agency for the first time, what their success rate is with gay and lesbian parents.

Starting Your Family

Adoption is a big decision for you and your partner. To compound the seriousness of the decision, you may find yourself bombarded with impressive sounding terminology and legalese. As these issues represent important decisions for you and your partner to make during the process of adoption, it is important to be able to see beyond the big words and the fine print, and consider what will be best for you, your partner, and the child you will adopt.


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