Just in case you missed it, I wanted to bring to your attention a recent and exceptionally thorough report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which cast a bright spotlight on an interesting growth trend related to adoption – birthparents’ involvement in meeting and “selecting” prospective adoptive parents for their child [also featured in the Associated Press .] As someone who has dedicated many years to providing critical social service support to children and families, I am thrilled by the continued growth of the “open” adoption movement.
Making an adoption plan has never been an easy decision for birthparents – for most the decision is made after countless hours of heart-wrenching introspection, reflection, and consideration for ultimately what they believe will be best for the child – but the continuous shift to open adoption gives birthparents some peace of mind in knowing that they can remain a part of their child’s life, whether it’s through photos, letters/emails or occasional visits with the adoptive family. In an open adoption, children grow up knowing that they are loved by all of their family members: the parents who adopted them and the parents who gave them life. Additionally, open adoption gives adoptive parents the best opportunity to answer their children’s questions most effectively and to share their children’s stories.
As the Donaldson Institute report indicates, the move to open adoption has not occurred overnight. The practice originally started to gain traction in the 1980’s and gained momentum in the 1990’s as adoption professionals, researchers, birthparents and adoptive parents began to discuss the numerous benefits to all parties. One question many may have after reading the report is - why has it taken so long for open adoption to become the norm? The primary reason is the tradition of secrecy previously associated with adoption. As the report highlights in its executive summary, “Not long ago in historical terms, nearly everything relating to adoption was hidden, with some parents not even telling their own children that they were adopted.”
Bethany has been a huge supporter of Open Adoption, and it has not been easy breaking down the walls of secrecy, but adoption today is drastically different than it was just 20 years ago. According to the report, “The number of ‘closed’ infant adoptions in the U.S. has shrunk to a tiny minority,” as closed adoptions make up only 5 percent of placements. Today, parents and children involved in an open adoption communicate directly, without a third party. This allows both families to nurture their relationships as they naturally develop. Information is shared easily, questions are answered fully, and there is a greater understanding of the child’s history.
The Associated Press story highlights research indicating that most participants find open adoption to be a positive experience. “In general, the report said, adoptive families are more satisfied with the adoption process, birthmothers experience less regret and worry, and the adopted children benefit by having access to their birth relatives, as well as to their family and medical histories.”
Ultimately, how birthparents and adoptive couples choose to move forward with the adoption process should be left to them. However, I, for one, am happy to see that the majority of families continue to opt for open adoption in some form. And while the shift is surely a positive one, the Donaldson Institute’s sobering conclusion to their report is something we all should keep in mind: “Putting an end to secrecy in adoption does not erase the grief or loss embedded in the experience; it does, however, empower participants by providing them with information and access so that they can face and deal with facts instead of fantasies. Adoption-related laws, agency policies and clinical practices should support the autonomy, self-determination, truth-telling and family connections of adopted people and their birth and adoptive relatives. Greater education and training, along with ongoing research into how different kinds of open adoption journeys affect their participants, can help to guide and improve policy, practice – and lives.”