Approximately ninety-five percent of domestic infant adoptions in the US have some degree of openness with varying levels of ongoing connections between adoptive families and their children’s birth families. Although less common, it is also possible to have an open adoption in foster care adoptions and international adoptions.
In the vast majority of domestic infant adoptions, the adoptive and expectant parents considering adoption meet each other, and the expectant parents pick the new family for their baby. In many infant adoptions, openness continues on some level once the adoption is finalized. The level of openness varies from sending letters and pictures through an adoption agency, to online connections via Facebook, to periodic phone calls and texts, to scheduled visits. It is important that both the expectant and adoptive parents are informed of their options for open adoption before they are matched, and that both parents find the right level of openness going forward.
Openness in adoption has evolved over the last 25 years because of the input from adult adoptees and research by mental health professionals. Longitudinal adoption research has shown that open adoption is better for adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents.
- 55% had identifying and contact information fully shared between birth and adoptive families
- 40 % had contact mediated by the adoption agency
- 5% were closed adoptions (confidential adoptions)
- Most participants in open adoptions report positive experiences, and greater openness is associated with greater satisfaction with the adoption process (Grotevant & McRoy, 1998; Grotevant, Perry, & McRoy, 2005; Ge, et al., 2008).
- Birthmothers who have ongoing contact with their children report less grief, regret, and worry, as well as more peace of mind, than do those who do not have contact (Cushman, Kalmuss & Namerow, 1997; Henney, Ayers-Lopez, McRoy & Grotevant, 2007).
- The primary benefit of openness is access by adopted persons – as children and continuing later in life – to birth relatives, as well as to their own medical, genealogical and family histories. Adolescents with ongoing contact are more satisfied with the level of openness in their own adoptions than are those without such contact, and they identify the following benefits: coming to terms with the reasons for their adoption, physical touchstones to identify where personal traits came from, information that aids in identity formation, positive feelings toward birthmother, and others. Youth in open adoptions also have a better understanding of the meaning of adoption and more active communication about adoption with their adoptive parents (Berge, et al., 2006; Grotevant, et al., 2007; Wrobel, et al., 1996 & 1998).
- Adoptive parents as a group report positive experiences with open adoptions and high levels of comfort with contact. For them, greater openness is linked with reduced fear of and greater empathy toward birth parents, more open communication with their children about adoption, and other benefits in their relationships with their adopted children (Berry, et al., 1998; Grotevant & McRoy, 1998; Grotevant, Perry, & McRoy, 2005; Grotevant, et al., 1994; Siegel, 2008).
Many people at the beginning of their adoption journey have never heard of or considered open adoption and thus are often wary. It is very important that both adoptive and expectant parents become educated on open adoption and their options for creating an ongoing relationship that will work for all parties in the child’s best interest.
Creating a Family has many resources to help you learn more about Open Adoption. A few recent ones we think might be helpful include:
- Open Adoption and the Holidays (article)
- How Do You Manage Relationships with Birth Parents with Substance Use Disorders? (article)
- 5 Tips for Navigating Sticky Situations with Birth Parents (article)
- Birth Parent Experiences in Adoption (1 hr. podcast w/ experts)
- Talking with Children about Adoption at Different Ages (1 hr. podcast w/ expert)
- Navigating Sticky Relationships with Birth Families (1 hr. podcast w/ expert)
- Best of the Best Children’s Books on Open Adoption (booklists)
Many more Creating a Family podcasts, articles, and fact sheets on open adoption can be found at the icons below.
Sources: Creating a Family radio shows below; www.adoptioninstitute.org