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Secrecy gone: Most adoptions today are ‘open,’ report says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — A new survey of adoption agencies confirms that the secrecy once associated with adoption is no longer a reality, with 95 percent of all domestic adoptions now being “open” or “semi-open” — that is, the birth parents and adoptive parents having at least some level of contact.

The data is a virtual reversal of what was once common, a time from the 1930s onward when families on both ends of the process did not tell others about the adoption. That secrecy even extended to the children. A number of factors forced adoptions into the open, according to the survey: adoptive children searching for information about their past, birth parents wanting updates on their child, adoptive families requesting biological medical history, and the stigma of illegitimacy decreasing.

The survey of 100 adoption agencies by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute is part of a 50-page report on open adoptions posted on the institute’s website (AdoptionInstitute.org). The research found:

— 55 percent of domestic adoptions now are fully open, with ongoing contact between the birth families and adoptive families.

— 40 percent are semi-open (“mediated”), with an adoption agency serving as a third-party to facilitate the exchange of pictures and letters between the families.

— 5 percent are closed (“confidential”), with no contact between the families.

Adoption experts say open and semi-open adoptions can be beneficial for all parties involved. Kris Faasse, adoption services director for Bethany Christian Services, said she has been part of the adoption community for nearly three decades and has seen a dramatic rise in the percentage of open and semi-open adoptions. For adoptive parents, Faasse said, the benefits go beyond simply having access to a child’s medical history.

“[Adoptive parents will] feel empowered to be parents, because not only have they been selected but they know the person that selected them,” Faasse said of the adoptive process, in which birth parents typically select, by looking at profiles, the adoptive parents. “And [the adoptive parents] don’t go through life looking over their shoulder thinking, ‘I wonder if ….’ It’s very freeing, because that birth family is a known, not an unknown.”

Open and semi-open adoptions also are beneficial for birth parents, Faasse said.

“We know that moms who place their kids grieve the loss, but when they can see their child, they see them in that placement, they really have a healthier grief process,” Faasse said. “They can come to that point where they can have that peace. They also have that affirmation — ‘I made a good choice, look how my child’s doing.'”

For an adoption to be considered open or semi-open by Bethany, Faasse said, there must be face-to-face contact between the birth parents and adoptive parents at least once on the front end.

Despite the popularity of open and semi-open adoptions, Faasse said, adoptive parents often walk into an adoption agency fearful of having any contact with the birth parents, which typically is only a birth mom. The reason is simple: “Adoptive families often will tell us that they’re afraid that the birth family is going to come back later and take their child.” Such adoption “horror” stories might make headlines, Faasse said, but they’re “very, very rare.”

“I was talking with people about baby Jessica for about 10 years after it happened, because it was still getting recycled,” Faasse said of a hyped 1990s case. “So those fears last.”

It often eases adoptive families’ concerns if they hear testimonies from adoptive parents and/or birth parents who have been part of a successful adoption.

The report said adoptive parents “as a group report positive experiences with open adoptions and high levels of comfort with contact.” In fact, openness often lessens the fear felt by adoptive parents, the report said.

“For them, greater openness is linked with reduced fear of and greater empathy toward birthparents, more open communication with their children about adoption, and other benefits in their relationships with their adopted children,” the report said.

Youth in open adoptions have a “better understanding of the meaning of adoption,” the report said.

The report is only the first in a series of reports the Adoption Institute plans on releasing about domestic infant adoptions.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Read the report online at http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2012_03_openness.php.

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  • Michael Foust