Academic journal article Family Relations

Paths to the Facilitation of Open Adoption

Academic journal article Family Relations

Paths to the Facilitation of Open Adoption

Article excerpt

The present study was designed to test a model of the paths leading to the facilitation of open adoption. Professionals used open facilitation if they held optimistic attitudes about its effects. Belief in the positive effects of openness were in turn associated with liberal placement boundaries and short list criteria. A second path described older, better educated and employed birth mothers choosing urban, fee-charging facilitators who were more likely to have incorporated openness into their adoption practice.

In two seminal works, Kirk (1964, 1981) introduced the role of openness in adoptive family life. He argued that the success of an adoptive family was primarily dependent upon two factors: the acknowledgment by adoptive families and the wider community that adoptive families need to address many issues that differed from those faced by consanguineous families; and communication between adoptive family members needed to be marked by openness around adoptive issues. For Kirk, openness pertained only to communicative relationships within the nuclear adoptive family and not to individuals outside of this family group.

Over the past four decades, there has been an expansion in the use of the concept of openness in adoption. No longer limited to communication between adoptive family members, the notion of openness has been broadened to include accessibility to information and potential relationships between adoptive and birth families. Furthermore, rather than referring to one particular kind of arrangement, openness is currently viewed as a continuum that ranges from birth parents choosing adoptive parents from preselected non identifying files, to meeting potential adoptive parents without the exchange of identifying information, to the exchange of letters or information through a mediator after placement, to frequent unmediated face-to-face contact. Given the multitude of openness arrangements, it is not surprising that there is little agreement about the meaning of the concept (Alty & Cameron, 1995). Furthermore, interpretation and comparability of this literature are often plagued by operational inconsistencies (Gross, 1997).

The merits and problems associated with open adoption have been debated in the adoption literature for some time. As often the case with conflicting evidence, the debate has been political and often polarized (Byrd, 1988; Churchman, 1986; Watson, 1988). Those who support open adoption cite evidence that indicates that openness gives birth parents more control over the adoption process, enhances adoptive parents' ability to raise their adopted children, reduces fear of loss, enhances empathy toward the birth mother, and assists healthy identity formation of the child. Advocates who support maintaining confidentiality argue that open adoption interferes with proper grieving for the birth mother, has negative effects on the child's development, leads to adoptive parent insecurity and uncertainty, and is more likely to result in identity confusion for the adoptee (for good summaries of these positions, see Alty & Cameron, 1995; Avery, 1998; Berry, 1991).

As a social practice, open adoption has received mixed support within the public domain. In a study of community attitudes toward adoption, Miall (1998) found little support for open adoption with only 29% of respondents indicating that birth parents and adoptive parents should know each other from the earliest stages of adoption. Concerns were raised about conflict between birth and adoptive parents, confusion in the child, and the addition of an unnecessary dimension to adoptive family life. Interestingly, in an earlier study, Rompf (1993) reported somewhat higher support (52% either strongly approved or somewhat approved) for open adoption. However, this still left almost half of the cohort indicating that they did not support openness.

In spite of the lack of strong community support, most recent evidence points to the advantages of openness within the adoption constellation. …

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