Speaking with Sharon Roszia: Open Adoption Pioneer

Sharon Roszia is a licensed social worker and has worked in the adoption field for 50 years. Sharon was at the forefront of open adoption in the 1970’s and continues to push for post adoption contact, when appropriate, to this day.

Recently, Sharon sat down with Adoption STAR to speak about her early days as a pioneer of open adoption, and how the changes she has seen in the adoption field in recent years.

Sharon’s answers have been edited due to space constraints.

Adoption STAR (AS): What was your first experience with open adoption?

Sharon Roszia (SR): ““My earliest memory was a little girl who’s mother was not interested in raising her and was part of a nomadic lifestyle. Her father re-married and the new wife wasn’t interested in raising the daughter. The girl found herself in foster care and I was her social worker. When she was turning 8 she looked at me and said ‘when am I going to have a family again?’

What slowed it down was there were several families interested in her and everyone had attorneys and slowed everything down. I’ve always been a bit of an iconoclast and had everyone meet on a Sunday without attorneys. Everyone met and liked each other. The girls grandparents said ‘what I want is to be grandparents’, and the dad just wanted her to have a family and the foster parents wanted to be an aunt uncle so she was placed with AP’s and all worked out. That was first introduction to open adoption and how it could bring down fears and break down walls.”

AS: How did people originally react when you started pushing for more openness between birth family’s and adoptive families?

SR: “My experience was dramatic, I was at an adoption conference in Texas and had just come out with a book and some people were angry. If they had tomatoes they would have been throwing them…Today, when I’m out and about, people come up and talk to me about their open adoption. We’ve come a long way. We’re re-defining family terms of kinship. We’re not just considering the direct people; adoptive parents, birth parents, adoptees, but we’re considering the whole extended family and how it impacts them. It’s just a 180-degree difference.”

AS: How did you begin Parent Resources (an adoption support group)?

SR: “I Started Parenting Resources in the 80’s. The group was very small but it grew and grew and grew and is still going today. It wasn’t unusual for 50 people to show up and all members of the adoption journey came and it was powerful. They helped educate each other and called each other out on their fears and difficulties. That was another step forward towards open adoption.”

AS: What would you say are the benefits of open adoption?

SR: “There is less fear all the way around and more honesty in the relationships. There’s a stronger sense of identity for the adoptee, who isn’t forced into choosing one family or another, or choosing nurture over nature.

One family I worked with recently had a crisis; there’s a young man who was placed at birth and is now 21. He’s struggled and has severe bi-polar that runs in birth family. Knowing that he wasn’t the only one and that he’s dealt with it better then some birth family members was helpful for him and the adoptive parents. The Family he grew up with is Jewish, and the birth parents are not. (The families) have forged this great relationship that when the young man was Bar Mitzvah’d, when it was time to carry him on the chair (he’s 6’6) and they couldn’t get him in the air, the birth family helped the adoptive family get the chair up. It literally took both families to get him up in the air. That has stayed with me for a long time.”

AS: How do you feel social media has effected open adoption relationships?

SR: “Direct communication is preferable to indirect communication, which is what Facebook and email is. I have a lot of families that Skype. Social media is a blessing and curse.

The problem I find with Facebook, is that words can be misinterpreted because there’s no emotion behind it. Sometimes adoption that weren’t open, they were mediated or semi-open, sometimes they get blasted open and people aren’t prepared it.

The Upside is that it’s an inexpensive, and easy way to have access with Birth family. It’s a blessing and curse.”

AS: What do you hope to see more of as open adoptions continue?

SR: “I know it’s difficult culturally in some countries, but I hope more openness can evolve in International Adoption. I was reading about a documentary about four chinsese adoptees, and it was interesting that the comment from the director was that all four girls want to know their birth families and how impossible that is in China. My hope is that we would begin to influence international placements.

(I also) hope that states that are not so open to (open adoption and open adoption records) will begin to pay attention to research and work and begin to shift and that will take shifting in attorney community who still don’t trust openness and aren’t open to it. (Everyone) needs to recognize fully why openness is additionally important with all the transracial adoptions we do. (Open adoption) gives opportunities to children to integrate, and youngsters need to see reflections from themselves while still gleaning what they can from adoptive parents. There is a lot of work to do in transracial and international adoptions.”

For more information on open adoption, your can visit the open adoption section on the Adoption STAR website, or contact Adoption STAR by email or phone (866)691-3300.