4320. Open Adoption Agreements

Approval: Jennifer Strus, Assistant Secretary

Original Date: July 1, 1991

Revised Date: March 1, 2017

Policy Review: March 31, 2020


Open Adoption Agreements provide communication with or contact between child adoptees, adoptive parents, siblings of child adoptees and a birth parent or parents when it is appropriate and in the child adoptee’s best interests.


This policy applies to Division of Children and Family Services staff.


RCW 26.33.295 Open adoption agreements—Agreed orders - Enforcement.


  1. Before an Open Adoption Agreement (OAA) can be considered for a dependent child, the caseworker must conduct a Shared Planning Meeting prior to the termination of parental rights hearing. Attendance must include:
    1. Child’s caseworker and supervisor
    2. Adoption caseworker or supervisor
    3. Adopting family and attorney if family desires
    4. Birth parent if applicable and attorney if birth parent desires
    5. Sibling if applicable and developmentally appropriate
    6. Sibling’s parent if applicable
    7. Each child’s GAL/CASA as applicable
    8. Youth aged 12 or older or as developmentally appropriate
    9. Youth’s two identified participants other than the caseworker or caregiver
    10. Child’s attorney if one is appointed
    11. Service providers for child as appropriate
  2. An OAA can be considered with birth parents and/or siblings when CA and the GAL/CASA determine that post-adoption contact and/or communication is in the child’s best interest now and in the future. Best interest of the child includes, but is not limited to, the following:
    1. Continued contact/communication supports the child’s:
      1. Sense of well-being and security
      2. Need to maintain connections with biological family members
      3. Stability in the adoptive placement
      4. Desire to maintain contact
    2. Continued contact/communication does not interfere with the physical safety and welfare of the child and the adopting parents.
  3. Prior to the court establishing an OAA, the caseworker will discuss with youth age 14 and over (younger if developmentally appropriate) the youth’s interests in maintaining contact with birth parents and/or known siblings. The discussion should include:
    1. Type and amount of contact the youth feels would be beneficial.
    2. The youth’s understanding of an OAA.
  4. A birth parent must have the developmental capacity to understand the terms of an OAA.
  5. An OAA with a sibling must have the sibling’s parent or guardian consent.
  6. An OAA is not legally enforceable unless the terms of the agreement are set forth in a court order.
  7. The court will not approve an OAA unless signed by the parties, including the adopting parent(s) and birth parent, but only if parental rights have not been terminated. The agreement must be approved by the child’s attorney if applicable, CA and the GAL as being in the child’s best interest. Note: CA is not a party to the agreement and is not required to sign the OAA.
  8. The caseworker will advise the birth parent and adopting parent to consult their attorney’s prior to signing an OAA. Note: The caseworker must not advise the birth parent and adoptive parent on legal matters.
  9. The costs and services related to negotiating an OAA may be considered a non-recurring expense under the adoption support program.


The caseworker will:

  1. Conduct a Shared Planning Meeting at least 30 days prior to a termination of parental rights hearing to determine and document in FamLink the following on the Shared Planning Meeting form, DSHS 14-474:
    1. The child is in an adoptive placement and an OAA with the birth parent and/or sibling is in the best interest of the child. Document in a case note:
      1. The benefits to the child’s well-being of maintaining contact and/or communication between a birth parent and/or child’s sibling and the adopting parent and child. If the OAA is with a sibling, that the sibling is placed separately and has an established relationship with the child;
      2. That youth age 14 or older (younger if developmentally appropriate) was consulted about the OAA and the youth is in agreement; and
      3. The OAA must specify:
        1. The type of on-going contact and/or communication that is most appropriate for the child now and in the future.
          1. The contact and/or communication must include at a minimum a letter and photo one time per year and may include:
            1. Letters
            2. Limited visitation
            3. Phone contact
            4. Electronic correspondence
            5. Additional Pictures
        2. A physical, mailing, or email address for each legal party if correspondence is a part of the agreement;
        3. That the OAA is effective from the date the adoption is finalized and that any contact in the intervening period shall be at the discretion of the CA; and
        4. That should there be a change in adoptive parents the OAA is not legally binding on future adoptive parents.
    2. If a Shared Planning Meeting decision does not support an OAA with:
      1. A birth parent, the caseworker will proceed with the termination of parental rights petition.
      2. A known sibling, the caseworker will document the decision in the child's case record and the sibling's case record if applicable using an Exception to Policy form.
    3. A Letter of Intent can be agreed upon in a shared planning meeting with a birth parent for a child that is not placed in an adoptive home prior to termination of parental rights. The Letter of Intent:
      1. Is not a legally binding contract with CA;
      2. Allows the birth parent to express his/her wishes in terms of contact/communication he/she feels is in the child’s best interests;
      3. Must document agreement by CA and the GAL/CASA that the OAA is in the child’s best interest;
      4. Will include a statement that CA will make reasonable efforts to locate an adoptive family that will agree to the Letter of Intent conditions;
      5. Will not delay permanency for the child; and
      6. Will identify the type of ongoing communication with the birth parent, parents or siblings that is most appropriate for the child which may include:
        1. Letters
        2. Limited visitation
        3. Phone contact
        4. Electronic correspondence
        5. Pictures
  2. Notify the AAG regarding CA’s position on the OAA or Letter of Intent and the outcome of the Shared Planning Meeting.
  3. Prior to filing in court, the OAA must be signed by:
    1. Adoptive family
    2. Birth parent if applicable
    3. Sibling’s attorney or GAL if applicable
    4. GAL/CASA
    5. Child’s attorney if applicable
  4. The signed OAA may be submitted to both the Juvenile Court at the termination hearing and the Superior Court at the adoption hearing.
  5. Maintain a copy of the OAA in the child's adoption file (legally free).


Shared Planning Meeting DSHS 14-474