Open Adoption: noun : an adoption that involves contact between biological and adoptive parents and sometimes between biological parents and the adopted child.
Decades ago the term “Open Adoption” was non-existent, in fact after the biological mother chose adoption she was advised to not see the newborn, let alone hold them. After giving birth and placing her child for adoption, the birth mother was told to permanently put those past nine months behind her and move on. When it came to the child’s birth father, in the eyes of society at that time and the law, he was seen as irrelevant. “The original fathers were irrelevant, obstacles, and annoyances; their parental rights were even less legally protected than they are today,” said Dr. Deborah H. Siegel within her article titled “Adoption Trends Today” in the November/December 2015 issue of Social Work Today.
“The adoptive parents were trained to not entertain the fact that the child was an adoptee. Not telling a child they were adopted was due to “an effort to “protect” the children from the stigma of illegitimacy and the adults from the shame of not having been able to conceive,” said Dr. Siegel.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that there was a shift toward more open adoptions when research began suggesting that openness was better for children. During the 80s, open adoption began to catch on as it proved to be beneficial to both the children who were adopted as well as their birth parents. Adoptions From The Heart Maxine Chalker was part of this big movement in adoption when she opened “The Adoption Agency” which later became Adoptions From The Heart in 1985 as one of the first open adoption agencies in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
AFTH is has been a big advocate for open adoption for the past 33 years because of how an open relationship benefits everyone in the adoption triad starting with the child.
“The child has the ability to more fully incorporate their identity as they have all the pieces to the puzzle- their biology from their birth parents and their upbringing with their adoptive parents,” said Ashley Kodet, AFTH’s Domestic Program Manager Not having constantly think over the question “Who do I look like?” makes a difference.
Dr. Deborah H. Siegel, Ph.D. Professor in the school of social work found within her studies about adoption that most young adult adoptees (Ages 18 to 23), preferred knowing their birth parents over not knowing them.
For adoptive parents, having open communication with their child’s birth parents not only gives you answers to questions your child may have one day but also access to vital medical information. In the long run it would be important for the adoptee to know and have this information as they grow up and certain health issues arrive. “When Adoptees Uncover Their Medical History” published in the U.S. News & World Report is a great article for perspective adoptive parents to read.
While many prospective adoptive parents may fear that an open adoption relationship essentially opens the door for family disruption, studies have also shown that this rarely the case. The outcome of the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project revealed that when compared to families in a confidential adoption agreement, families who established an open adoption agreement reported higher levels of empathy towards the birth mothers, acknowledgement of the child’s adoption and less fear that the birth mother might change her mind and try to reclaim the child.
Adoptive parents often assume that for a birth mother to see her child be raised by others would only worsen their post-placement grief. In terms of birth parent grief, studies showed from the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project that birth mothers who opt for open adoption plans have in fact lower adoption related grief and loss than those who chose a closed adoption.
“Contrary to popular belief, the VAST majority of birth mothers love their children deeply and place them for adoption to give them the best life possible, not because they don’t want them. Placing a child for adoption is a heartbreaking loss and open adoption helps with this. Being able to have a relationship with your child, even if it’s not the role of a parent is incredibly healing,” said Annaleece Merrill, a fellow birth mother and contributor for Adoptions.com.
An open adoption agreement has potential to grow into relationship with lots of understanding, acknowledgement and love between the members of the adoption triad.