Last week, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released a new study showing a continued trend toward open adoption and growing openness in relationships between birth families and adoptive families. The study cites several smaller small studies and a survey of 100 adoption agencies. Some of the study’s findings include:

  • Of the 14,000-18,000 annual domestic infant adoptions, 55% are fully open adoptions, 40% are mediated or semi-open adoptions and 5% are closed adoptions.
  • In the vast majority of infant adoptions, the adoptive and birth parents meet each other, and the birth parents select the adoptive family for their child.
  • Open adoptions are fluid, particularly in the first several years of an adoption. Some relationships become more open , while others are curtailed, over time.
  • Most participants in open adoptions report positive experiences; greater openness is associated with greater satisfaction with the adoption process.
  • Birth mothers who have ongoing relationships with their children report less grief and worry, and more peace of mind, than do those who do not have contact.
  • The primary benefit of open adoption is access by adopted children to birth relatives, and thus medical, genealogical and family histories. Adolescents with ongoing contact are more satisfied with the level of openness than those without contact. They cite coming to terms with their adoption, being able to identify physical features in biological family, knowing information that aids in identity formation and positive feelings toward their birth parents as benefits of open adoption.
  • Adoptive parents report positive experiences with open adoption and high levels of comfort with contact. In adoptive parents, greater openness is linked to reduced fear and greater empathy toward birth parents, more communication with their children about adoption and other benefits in their relationships with their children.
The study concluded that the following factors were important to achieving successful open adoption relationships:
  • A shared understanding (by birth and adoptive parents) about what open adoption is and is not.
  • Foundational relationship qualities and values, such as honesty and respect.
  • Ability of all parties to have a say/self-determination in choosing and shaping open relationships.
  • Development by all parties of “collaborative” communication in planning for contact and in conveying needs and feelings.

The study also offered the following recommendations for professionals in cultivating healthy relationships between adoptive and birth families:

  • Everyone involved should receive counseling and training on the range of options related to openness, including the challenges, benefits and present/future implications of various levels of openness.
  • Participants open adoption should receive training on the factors that are important to achieving successful relationships, including strategies for working through tensions and maintaining a child-centered focus.
  • Both adoptive parents and birth parents should be offered post-adoption services in order to work through any challenges they encounter in relation to openness.
  • Additional research should be conducted to better understand the factors that promote successful open adoption relationships and ways in which practitioners can support them.

You can read about the Adoption Institute’s study here in the Washington Post. Or read the study itself here. You’ll notice that the study makes distinctions between communicative openness (free expression and discussion) and structural openness (level of contact between birth and adoptive families).

Please Note: The study uses vocabulary that differs from American Adoptions’ language. The study calls closed adoptions “confidential adoptions” and defines them as adoptions where no identifying information is shared, and there is no contact between parties. What American Adoptions calls semi-open adoptions are referred to as “mediated adoptions” in the study; mediated adoptions are defined as adoptions where only non-identifying information is shared, and letters/pictures may be exchanged through an agency. What American Adoptions calls open adoptions are called “fully disclosed adoptions” in the study; these are defined as adoptions with direct communication, participation of the child and full exchange of identifying information.

To learn more about open, closed and semi-open adoptions and what they mean at American Adoptions, visit our website.