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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Information to help prospective parents considering open adoption

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This guest post was written by Kendra Hanson.

open adoption.jpeg [Photo by LavenderLuz]

Susan M. Wolfgram's article, "Openness in Adoption: What We Know So Far - A Critical Review of the Literature" is a valuable resource for prospective adoptive parents considering open adoption. While its publication in the 2008 April edition of the journal Social Work (Volume 53, Issue 2) may not have reached the average prospective adoptive parent, the full article can now be accessed here:

The article provides a brief overview of the historical trends leading to openness in adoption, clarifies adoption related jargon, discusses developmental outcomes for adopted children in open adoptions, and presents a summary of findings from 13 empirical studies that focus on factors contributing to maintaining contact between adoptive and birth parents in open adoptions. Some of the key findings are:

  • Research supports that contact is in the child's best interests for socio-emotional development.
  • Contact results in adoptive parent empathy for the birth parents, which in turn helps to maintain ongoing contact.
  • Face-to-face meetings with birth parents before and after the adoption takes place leads to higher levels of satisfaction and comfort with the contact.
  • Adoptive parent perception of having some control over the contact situations facilitates ongoing contact.
  • Role clarity, regulation of boundaries, preparation and planning for contact, and formal written agreements for contact help adoptive parents cope with fear, give a sense of control, and promote ongoing contact while also leading to more positive perceptions about the adopted child's behaviors.
  • Contact promotes open communication and honesty with the child about the adoptive circumstances and increases access to their medical histories.

Wolfgram does an excellent job of presenting these findings in a succinct and easy to understand way that one can appreciate in comparison to the formal and jargon-laden style of many journal articles. Outside of its user-friendliness and wealth of valuable information, the article's main strength is in confronting and dispelling myths that adoptive parents may have regarding open adoption contact. The prospect of ongoing contact with the birth parents commonly brings up many fears for the adoptive parents. Some common myths are that the child will have self esteem and identity issues, will be confused about who their "real" parents are, will have poorer quality relationships with the adoptive family, and that the birth parents will intrude too much on their lives.

Wolfgram's literature review helps dispel these fears and myths by providing adoptive parents with empirical evidence that suggests otherwise. Once these fears are confronted, the adoptive parents can focus on how to best support and maintain birth parent contact, which in turn promotes the child's best interests. However, one weakness of the article is that though it thoroughly discusses fears and questions adoptive parents may have, the discussion on positive developmental outcomes is relatively sparse, and adoptive parents may need more information to feel comfortable with those conclusions. However, despite this shortcoming, the overall information presented is invaluable for adoptive parents in considering whether open adoption is right for them and if so, how to best support ongoing contact with birth parents.

1 Comment

Good writeup of this important literature review!

A couple things stand out for me:

1) So much of the success of an open adoption relationship seems to stem from setting the right expectations. When all parties have a chance to identify and express where their comfort levels are, there is that much less chance of miscommunications or other obstacles coming up later on.

2) The fears many potential adoptive parents have about open adoption tend to evaporate under scrutiny and in the light of research. This tells me that there remains a lot of work to do in education and advocacy for openness in adoption. Thank you for being a part of those efforts.

- Ryan Schwab

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