Authors: Deborah H. Siegel, Ph.D. and Susan Livingston Smith, LCSW

Published: 2012 March, New York NY: Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
Document Type: Practice Perspective
PDF Full Report

A major new report depicts just how extensively adoption in the U.S. has changed over the last several decades – from a time when it was shrouded in so much secrecy that birth and adoptive families knew nothing about each other, to a new reality today in which the vast majority of infant adoptions are “open,” meaning the two families have some level of ongoing relationship.

The core of the report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, “Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections,” is a new Institute survey of agency practices relating to infant adoption placements. Our study, along with a review of other relevant research, yielded these key findings:

*  “Closed” infant adoptions have shrunk to a tiny minority (about 5 percent), with 40 percent “mediated” and 55 percent “open.” In addition, 95 percent of agencies now offer open adoptions.

*  In the overwhelming majority of infant adoptions, adoptive parents and expectant parents considering adoption meet, and the expectant parents pick the new family for their baby.

*  Adoptive parents, like most participants in open adoptions, report positive experiences; more openness is also associated with greater satisfaction with the adoption process.

*  Women who have placed their infants for adoption – and then have ongoing contact with their children – report less grief, regret and worry, as well as more peace of mind.

*  The primary beneficiaries of openness are the adopted persons – as children and later in life – because of access to birth relatives, as well as to their own family and medical histories.

“The good news is that adoption in our country is traveling a road toward greater openness and honesty,” said Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Adoption Institute. “But this new reality also brings challenges, and there are still widespread myths and misconceptions about open adoption – so we have a lot of work to do in educating the public, professionals, the media and the families themselves so that we can continue making progress for the millions of people involved.”

Among its components, the Institute’s 50-page report identifies factors that are important to achieving successful open adoption relationships and offers research-based recommendations for overcoming the fears, misconceptions and other barriers that the affected parties often face. The recommendations include counseling and training for all the parents involved (expectant and adoptive), as well as post-placement services to help them and their children work through any challenges they encounter.