Closed adoptions remain common in international adoptions and were the norm in adoptions in the past, when families usually used an agency to adopt a newborn. The prospective adoptive family would put their name on a list, and wait for the social worker to make a match. The adoptive parents didn't know where the child came from, or who his or her birthparents were. The child might not have even known that he or she came into the family through adoption.

Even if the adoptive parents and birthparents know of each other at the time of the adoption, they do not stay in touch after the adoption takes place. The child often will not know who his or her birthparents are, especially before turning 18.

When adoptions are closed, the files are usually physically sealed