Openness and Adoption

A Few Definitions

The subject of “openness” in the context of adoption can be easily muddled: it can pertain to the degree adoptees are told by their parents that they’re adopted, and it can pertain to the depth of relationship between the adoptive parents, birth parents, and adopted child (known as the triad). We’ll address both here, but before we do so, it can be helpful to settle on definitions.

In a completely closed adoption, there is no contact between the birth parents and the adopted parents or adoptee. Names, addresses, and other identifying information are not disclosed to the parties involved. In some states, records of the adoption may be sealed, and original birth certificates may have been altered or only made available to the adoptee through a court order.

In an open or “fully disclosed” adoption, everyone is given identifying information about each other, all the parties involved meet one another, and often maintain ongoing contact.

Mediated adoptions fall between the two with a third part (such as an agency) managing contact between the parties.

Open vs Closed Adoptions: Impact on Adoptees

Historically, most adoptions were “closed”, and adoptive parents went to great lengths to hide evidence of the adoption from their children. Researchers have come to the conclusion this approach correlates with worse mental health outcomes for the adoptees.

Below, you’ll see data from one study of 253 adoptees plotting their quality of life scores against the ages at which they learned they were adopted. While it’s hard to prove causation, countless studies reflect a meaningful correlation.

As a result, the vast preponderance of adoptions today are not “closed”, but are either mediated or more fully open.

Openness on a Continuum

However, an adoption that is “not closed” doesn’t necessarily mean there is ongoing and vibrant communication between birth parents and the adoptee/adoptive parents. There are varying degrees of communication, and experts tend to think of “openness” existing on a continuum.

Continuum of Openness In Adoption

Openness and Satisfaction

In a 2008 study of 170 adoptive families, investigators saw a clear correlation between the level of contact between adoptive families and birth families and each adoptive family member’s level of satisfaction with the arrangement.

Typically, adoptees value having information about their birth family, and this provides a greater sense of self and identity. Studies show adoptees who are satisfied with their level of exposure to their birth family are far less likely to exhibit “externalizing behavior”.

Studies have also shown that while most adoptive parents are initially hesitant to commit to greater degrees of openness, in time, they’re the party most eager to see the relationship expand.

Finally, birth parents tend to be happier with greater levels of exposure. Investigators from Columbia University saw a clear correlation four years post-adoption between more communication and lower levels of worry.

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In this course we cover the costs for domestic infant adoption, as well as the timelines, crucial steps and major decisions to be weighed. We also focus on post-adoption aspects namely levels of openness with birth parents, coping with microaggressions and how this process can look for single and LGBTQ adoptive parents. Finally, we take a high-level look at the process of intercountry adoption.