John, Katie, Grayson and Gabe

What Does Open Adoption Look Like?

The term open adoption is often still misunderstood outside of the adoption world. In simple terms, an open adoption is one in which the expectant parents identify who they want to adopt their child, begin to form a relationship with them, and then after placement they have some level of mutually agreed upon contact with the adoptive family and child.

Open adoptions can vary widely in the types and amount of contact shared between parties. It can range from frequent contact through text, email, phone or more to just a yearly email update. No matter the level, research has shown that children do better in an open adoption.

“Each adoption is unique and each situation is different, those involved make decisions about what their relationship will be. What is important is for children who’ve been adopted to feel comfortable talking and asking questions about their adoption,” explains Laurie Lawton, director of adoptions for Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois (LCFS).

This November during National Adoption Month, let’s celebrate the many unique families that have been created through open adoption.

Families like John Leonard and Katie Palmer’s.

John and Katie’s family includes their two sons, Grayson (6) and Gabe (2), who were both adopted as infants, but under very different circumstances.

“We’ve always been very open with Grayson about his adoption story. He loves hearing it and telling it back to us and correcting us if we don’t get it right,” shared John.

In 2016, John and Katie connected with an expectant mother who was making an adoption plan for her soon to be born child. The two sides began their relationship through text messages and met for the first time just a week later when Grayson was born.

John and Katie were thrilled to finally be parents, but they also understood the loss that Grayson’s birth family must have been feeling. With advice and support from their LCFS adoption social worker Tara Dull, John, Katie and Grayson’s birth family made a plan for their on-going relationship.

“LCFS and Tara have been a great support as we navigate our adoption,” explained Katie. “We’re really fortunate that we have a strong and open relationship with Grayson’s birth family, sending texts and photos a few times a week.”

John and Katie’s second adoption journey took a different path. Almost two years into looking to adopt again, the couple’s LCFS adoption social worker Tara contacted them with a unique situation of a ten-day-old boy, who was available for adoption. They brought Gabe home less than 48 hours later.

While John and Katie don’t have the opportunity for an open adoption with Gabe’s birth family, they still do their best to share Gabe’s adoption story with him and honor his birth family and their decision to choose adoption for him.

“Grayson has the advantage of photos, calls and visits, but we keep them all in our prayers every night,” said Katie. “We refer to Gabe’s birth parents as Mommy Angel and Daddy Angel. We hope that one day we can have a connection with Gabe’s birth parents, if they decide to.”

To learn more about Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois’ adoption services, visit