Adopting a child is a momentous decision. Understanding your options and the process is important to successfully making an addition to your family.

You may be considering adopting a child through your state's department of children and family services or going through a private adoption agency. You may have the opportunity to adopt an older child or a baby. You may also be considering adopting a child from another country.

Adoptions generally follow one of two general guidelines, open adoption or closed adoption.

Open Adoptions

Open adoption is a term used when the adoption process allows interaction between the adoptive parents and the birth parents. This process allows family members to interact in ways that feel comfortable to them. Each side's wishes are taken into consideration.

The interaction between the birth parents and the adoptive parents includes communication such as telephone calls, emails, letters and visits. Before this can occur the frequency of contact is negotiated between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. The contact can vary for each case. Some contact is open to every month or so or can range to several years. This open contact can ensure that as the child grows and has more questions about his or her adoption the questions can be answered.

Open adoptions give direct access to the adoptive child's birth parents. This helps to answer the common questions that adoptive children will eventually ask their adoptive parents. Although this can be a great asset to the adoptive child, it also comes with some disadvantages. Some of these feelings include feelings of abandonment, no clean break from the birth parents, etc. This sometimes also allows the adoptive child to play the birth parents against the adoptive parents and vice versa.

Closed Adoptions

Closed adoption (also called 'confidential' adoption and sometimes 'secret' adoption) is the process by where an infant is adopted by another family, and the identity and records of the birth parents is kept sealed and confidential to only the courts. Rarely, but in some cases, the birth father is not recorded on the birth certificate. In some cases the adoption of an older child who already knows his or her birth parent(s) cannot be a closed adoption.

This formerly was the most traditional and popular style of adoption. It still exists today, however, its use is rapidly declining in favor of open adoptions. The sealed records prevent the adoptee and the birth parents from finding, or even knowing, anything about one another. This was especially true before the Internet. However, the rise in non-profit organizations and private agencies to assist adoptee and birth parents with the sealed records has been effective in helping adoptee and birth parents reunite in various ways.

Historically, the primary reasons for married couples to adopt a child via closed adoption have been due to infertility, having concerned for the child's welfare, social attitudes, etc. The State of Minnesota, in 1917, was the first U.S. state to pass an adoption confidentially and sealed records law. Shortly after, nearly every state had a similar law. These laws were enacted to protect the birth parents and also to protect the adoptive child and the adoptive family.

Prior to adoption, the child or infant would be placed in temporary foster care or transitional care within an adoption agency until the adoption was approved. The time in care would be dictated by medical or legal issues that were to be resolved prior to placement. This ensured no loops in the adoption process that would enable the birth parents an appeal their decision not to parent.

Once the adoption has been approved, the agency transfers the infant from foster or transitional care (if used) to the adoptive parents. Depending on each state, the local judge will formally and legally approve the adoption. This can range from several weeks to several months depending on that state's statutes. The infant is then issued an amended birth certificate that states the adoptive parents are the actual birth parents. Of course, the adoptive family will have no access to the original birth certificate and the birth family will have no access to the amended copy. This protects all parties involved in the adoption process.