Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting for another and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities from the original parent or parents. Unlike guardianship or other systems designed for the care of the young, adoption is intended to effect a permanent change in status and as such requires societal recognition, either through legal or religious sanction. Historically some societies have enacted specific laws governing adoption whereas others have endeavored to achieve adoption through less formal means, notably via contracts that specified inheritance rights and parental responsibilities. Modern systems of adoption, arising in the 20th century, tend to be governed by comprehensive statutes and regulations.
Forms of adoption
Contemporary adoption practices can be open or closed.
- Open adoption allows identifying information to be communicated between adoptive and biological parents and, perhaps, interaction between kin and the adopted person. Rarely, it is the outgrowth of laws that maintain an adoptee’s right to unaltered birth certificates and/or adoption records, but such access is not universal (it is possible in a few jurisdictions – including the U.K. and six States in the U.S.). Open adoption can be an informal arrangement subject to termination by adoptive parents who have sole authority over the child. In some jurisdictions, the biological and adoptive parents may enter into a legally-enforceable and binding agreement concerning visitation, exchange of information, or other interaction regarding the child. As of February 2009, 24 U.S. states allowed legally enforceable open adoption contract agreements to be included in the adoption finalization.
- The practice of closed adoption, the norm for most of modern history, seals all identifying information, maintaining it as secret and barring disclosure of the adoptive parents’, biological kins’, and adoptees’ identities. Nevertheless, closed adoption may allow the transmittal of non-identifying information such as medical history and religious and ethnic background. Today, as a result of safe haven laws passed by some U.S. states, closed adoption is seeing renewed influence. In safe-haven states, infants can be left, anonymously, at hospitals, fire departments, or police stations within a few days of birth, a practice criticized by some adoptee advocacy organizations as being retrograde and dangerous.