Research about the Impact of Openness on Adoptees

Current research on open adoption shows that adoptees in open adoptions have better psychosocial outcomes than adoptees in semi-open and closed adoptions.

Researchers: Learn how to collaborate with IAC on your adoption related research.

There are three longitudinal studies on openness in adoption. One is a small qualitative study and the other two are large sample research projects. All of the studies started data collection in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The findings of the three studies are strikingly similar.

Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project (MTARP).
Conclusions: In the first wave of research when the children were between the ages of 4 and 12 with two thirds between ages 5.5 and 8.5 years the researchers found there was no relationship found between adoption openness and self-esteem, either positively or negatively. There was also no relationship or a very weak positive relationship with adoptive father’s perceptions of socio-emotional adjustment and adoption openness. Not surprisingly, children’s understanding of adoption increased as they reported having more information about their birthparents.

In addition, there was no relationship found between the satisfaction of adoptive parents with the adoption and the level of openness. Finally, all the children exhibited curiosity about their birthparents regardless of the level of openness, but girls were more curious than boys. Finally, the research showed that adoptees in which their adoptive and birthparents had collaborative relationships were doing better on ratings of psychosocial adjustment.

During the second wave of research, the children were ages 11-21 years with most between 12.5 and 15.5 years. Five different sets of researchers used this data to investigate various outcomes for adoptive children and all of the findings build on and reinforce one another. The first finding was that adolescents who had contact with their birthparents maintained higher satisfaction with their contact status than those who did not. Not having contact with birthparents is generally, though not universally, associated with dissatisfaction with the amount of contact. Also, adopted adolescents and adoptive parents who had contact with their birthmothers were the most satisfied of all the groups with the level of contact, and those with no contact were the least satisfied.

Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of all adopted adolescents and adoptive parents in all the groups wanted more contact with birth relatives in the future. The number of participants wanting to see contact decrease in the future was extremely low: only one adopted adolescent and two adoptive parents. In addition, none of the adopted adolescents who had contact with their birth mothers felt any fear, hatred, surprise, anger, or confusion about who their parents were. The data also showed that adoptees in open adoptions reported significantly lower levels of externalizing behaviors than those in closed adoptions.

Finally, this second wave of data also showed that adolescents who were satisfied with the contact they were having with their birthmothers had positive feelings toward them, felt the contact contributed positively to their identity formation, and had a desire to meet other birth relatives. Those who were not satisfied with their contact overwhelmingly wanted more contact, and felt gratitude toward their birthmother for the adoption plan. Those adolescents who were not satisfied because there was no contact with their birthmother had negative feelings toward their birthmother because the birthmother had not tried to contact them, very much wanted contact, and often had made unsuccessful attempts to contact her. Finally, the smallest group consisted of adolescents who were satisfied with no contact. These adolescents generally felt their adoption status was unimportant, often because their family did not discuss the subject. They also felt fortunate to be adopted, but did not connect this to feelings of gratitude toward their birthmothers, and did not feel contact was necessary. They also had negative associations about what contact with their birthmother would be like.

Research Method: The MTARP is a large-scale longitudinal mixed methods study that has completed two waves. As the total population of families in open, semi-open, and closed adoptions is unknown, the researchers developed an innovative sampling technique intended to minimize the impact of a non-random sample. They contacted 35 adoption agencies that facilitated voluntary infant adoptions with all three levels of openness. Each agency then stratified their total population so that the researchers could randomly select a representative sample of families for each level of openness.

The final sample included 190 adoptive parents, 171 adopted children and 169 birthmothers. The sample was overwhelmingly, White, Protestant, and middle or upper class, from 23 states representing all regions of the United States. It included representative samples of families in open, semi-open, and closed adoptions.

California Long-Range Adoption Study (CLAS):
Conclusions: The first three waves (two years, four years and seven years post-adoption) of the research consistently found that openness did not have any impact on parental satisfaction with the adoption or their feelings of closeness with their child. Wave 4 (14 years post adoption) of the study found similar results. Crea & Barth (2009) found “Respondents’ perceptions of their children’s well-being over time had little to do with having an open relationship, although greater family well-being predicted openness. As such, this study adds to a body of research suggesting that open adoptions at least do no harm and may contribute positively to adoptive families well-being” (p. 618).

Research Method: The CLAS is a very large-scale, longitudinal, quantitative research. There were four waves to the study. The sample is not random, but its large size makes it more likely it is representative, but as it turned out an overwhelming majority of the sample was White and middle-class causing concern about how representative it truly was.

Of the 4,916 children adopted in the California between July 1988 and June 1989, inclusive of public, private, and independent adoptions, a letter mailed to 2,589 of these adoptive families asked them to participate in the study. Of these, 1,219 families agreed to participate in the first wave two years after adoption. wave 2 included 764 families, four years post-adoption. Wave 3 only included 231 families, all of who adopted from foster care, which is different than the private infant adoption that the Independent Adoption Center does. Wave 4 included 469 families, fourteen years post-adoption/

DH Siegel: Open Adoption of Infants Research
Conclusions: In the first wave of the study when the children were under a year, the researcher found that adoptive parents were overwhelmingly and strikingly positive about open adoption often because they believed it was in the best interest of their child.

This trend continued in the second wave of the study when the children where six and seven years old. Strikingly, no adoptive parents indicated they wished they had less openness. Any wish for a change in openness was for more contact, not less. Again, parents believed that openness was in the best interest of their child, but the researcher did not tackle this issue in depth.

In the third wave when the children were 14 and 15 years old, however, perhaps because the children were adolescents, adoptive parents were explicit in how they believed openness benefitted their children. All of the adoptive parents saw openness as helping their child deal with identity issues, and none felt that openness exacerbated the issues of adolescence. All of the adoptive parents expressed positive feelings about open adoption and noted that no child had run away to live with their birth family.

Adoptive parents even felt positively about contact with birthparents who had mental health or substance abuse problems, noting that birthparents did not engage in threatening behaviors during contact, and that the benefits of contact was still important for their adolescent.

Research Method: This longitudinal qualitative study is limited to the perceptions of outcomes for adoptees as seen by the 21 sets of adoptive parents interviewed in three Waves. The sample was not random as the researcher used a snowball sampling technique. The sample was composed almost entirely of White, middle to upper middle class, heterosexual, two parent families who adopted White children. The research included semi-structured interviews with the adoptive parents. Two different research associates coded and reviewed the interviews.

References for 'Research on the Impact of Open Adoption on Adoptees'

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  • Mutual consent: Balancing the birthparent’s right to privacy with the adoptive person’s desire to know. (2009, March). Adoption Advocate. Retrieved from https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/infant-adoption/best-practices.html
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