“Adoption is not a one-time transaction… Adoption is a lifelong journey.”
– Deborah Siegel & Susan Livingston Smith, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
Until the 1980s and ‘90s, secrecy in adoption was common practice. Most adoptions were closed or confidential adoptions, with some children never being told that they were adopted. The belief was that a closed adoption would empower the adoptive parents and allow them to bond better with their adopted child without having the presence of birth parents. Closed adoptions were believed to protect adopted children from being stigmatized as “illegitimate.” In recent decades, however, research in adoption has revealed that closed adoptions have a negative impact on children who were adopted. Children in closed adoptions report feeling shame about their adoption and are left with many unanswered questions about their life and identity.
Thankfully, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of open adoptions in response to the growing understanding of the negative impacts of closed adoptions. Today, 95% of agencies offer some form of open adoption.
Adoptions are on a spectrum from completely closed (or confidential) adoptions, to completely open adoptions (or fully disclosed). Closed adoptions do not have any contact between the birth family and the adoptive family and the birth and adoptive families have little to no knowledge of each other. Completely open adoptions involve ongoing contact between the adoptive family, adopted child and birth family. Mediated adoptions are in the middle of the spectrum. In mediated adoptions, an adoption agency facilitates the exchange of pictures and letters between the birth families and adoptive families and typically there is no direct contact between the families. For more information on open adoption visit our page here for a full article.
A 2012 study from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute found that there are several key factors that make open adoption good for kids:
- Open adoption involves open communication within the adoptive family. Communicative openness is then a key factor in determining the adoptive child’s positive adjustment to the adoption. Furthermore, adopted children who have greater communicative openness in their adopted family reportedly trust their adoptive parents more, have less feelings of alienation and appear to have better overall family functioning.
- Children in open adoptions report having higher levels of self-esteem and their adoptive parents reported less behavioral problems.
- In open adoptions, children are able to connect with their birth relatives about their history and communicate with them directly to answer any questions they might have about their medical and genealogical background and identity. Adopted children are also able to hear directly from their birth parents about the birth parents’ decision to place. Direct access to their birth parents for information on their identity and background is integral to adopted children’s identity formation.
- Adopted children in open adoptions also have access to an additional supportive adult besides their adoptive parents to further help in their identity formation and development.
As Deborah Siegel and Susan Livingston Smith identify in their study, adoption is a process and experience that changes over time as the needs of the adoptive family, birth parents and child change over time. The end goal is not the final decree of adoption. The final decree is the beginning step in the lifelong journey of adoption between the adoptive parents, birth parents and the adopted child.
 Deborah H. Siegel and Susan Livingston Smith, “Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections,” Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, (New York: NY, 2012).